How to Use Social Media for Customer Services

Most of the buzz around employees using social media has been negative. News stories have focused on bored desk-workers wasting hours on Facebook, Domino's pizza employees posting revolting...

customer-service-jpgMost of the buzz around employees using social media has been negative. News stories have focused on bored desk-workers wasting hours on Facebook, Domino’s pizza employees posting revolting videos on YouTube, or idiots bad-mouthing their bosses on Twitter, thus earning their P45 form. Now that we are seeing the officially sanctioned use of social media by employees – largely in the form of company Twitter accounts – these are being siloed into “Customer Services”, giving them the aura of that overly-transactional, inhuman user experience we all know and loathe.

The problem here is the same one companies have on Facebook (which doesn’t allow “corporate” accounts).  Social media happens between people, not companies-and-companies or companies-and-people. It’s a people thing and it doesn’t work well within clearly defined systems and processes. So the question is: how should companies manage social media interaction to ensure that protocols are followed and the process is achieving the desired results?

The answer is simple. They shouldn’t try. Social media doesn’t work within systems because, to state the obvious, companies can only control one small part of the process. For example, they cannot control:

  1. Where the interaction occurs ( it needs to follow the conversation wherever it is)
  2. When the interaction occurs (customers talk out of office hours)
  3. How the interaction occurs (it might be limited to 140 characters, or not)
  4. The duration of the interaction (the customer might continue it beyond the point of “resolution”)
  5. Who the interaction occurs with (it might be completely public, involving customers and non-customers)

Now, in fairness,  “corporate” Twitter accounts are producing some very satisfactory results for customers. But very few companies are harnessing the true value of social media for customer services. If companies could harness the loyalty and passion of their staff to spread goodwill online, without over-regulating it (i.e. using a fair degree of trust) and without imposing restrictions on who, where, how, why and when –  I believe the benefits would greatly outweigh the risks.

Some large companies, such as Zippo’s – which encourages all staff to engage with customers on Twitter – are ably demonstrating this, but these tend to be isolated examples. Interestingly, the companies leading the way in this area are smaller ones that are quick on their feet and both trust and value their employees enough to empower them as advocates. This is where the real value of customer- oriented social media engagement lies.

I read an article in The Guardian by John Naughton some time back, where he asked the question – “how would you design the world’s first global encyclopedia?”  The traditional corporate response was to assemble an editorial board of the world’s foremost thinkers who would then solicit and assemble high-quality articles from respected authorities. But, of course, we now know, through wikipedia, that you can do this more effectively using social media by sticking up a wiki and letting the world fill in the gaps. Less structure, fewer rules, more trust. That’s how we work best together.

We’ll be discussing this and more at Monitoring Social Media 09, 17th Nov. London

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