Should social customer service focus on driving loyalty or advocacy?

Brands are often encouraged to use social customer service as a marketing opportunity, but fixing issues in advance is where real gains can be made.

social customer service

The theory goes that if you truly delight a customer by going that extra mile to help them, they may recommend you to their friends and their endorsement could drive sales.

There is strong evidence that getting satisfied customers to endorse your company on social media is a good thing. A Nielsen study from 2013 found that 92% of us trust recommendations from friends and family and that 77% of us are likely to buy a product as a result of that recommendation.

Many brands have taken it upon themselves to generate positive social media endorsements. After taking a service query off Twitter and into private chat, Citi will leave the customer with an option to Tweet their satisfaction at having their problem resolved (and many do).

In the UK, white goods seller, AO, actively encourages its delivery drivers to secure positive Facebook reviews by going above and beyond when installing fridges and washing machines across the country.

Yet recent research suggests that ‘delighting’ customers shouldn’t be the main objective of social customer service teams. A report from The Harvard Business Review found that ‘reducing customer effort’ is the single most valuable thing you can do to win the heart of your customer. In other words: it’s not about fixing the problem, it’s about making it easy for the customer.

Certainly, if you can delight a customer and make their life easier, you may be able to drive advocacy and increase retention at the same time. Yet given the resourcing (and scalability) challenges that most customer service teams are faced with, the case for ‘going the extra mile’ to create online advocates becomes much harder to make.

Proactive customer service

Interestingly, though, the dynamic switches again of you seek to resolve a customer’s problem before they’ve even experienced a problem.

Proactive customer service involves organisations predicting and fixing problems before the customer has made contact. As a practice it sails remarkably close to the surprise-and-delight tactics that are currently absorbing many digital marketing teams.

At the Social Customer Service Summit in 2015, Transport for London announced that they were starting to use social media monitoring tools to track and store details of specific customers’ journeys, so that in the event of disruption they could send each customer a personal message with a warning and suggested re-route.

The critical difference between this and surprise-and-delight marketing is, of course, that unlike the marketing target – who simply receives a free goody bag for being an active ‘fan’ – the beneficiary of pro-active customer service has had a problem prevented before it’s hit home.

Their effort has been reduced to practically zero and, according to the Harvard study, their likelihood of staying loyal has been boosted.

In the knowledge that keeping a customer is between 5% and 25% cheaper than acquiring a new one, logic suggests that the primary goal of customer service – including social customer service – should be customer loyalty, rather than advocacy.

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