Social Customer Service Insights from Sony and Sainsbury’s

On the opening day of Social Media Week London (#SMWLDN) yesterday Our Social Times and Tempero jointly hosted a seminar entitled: The Rise of Social Customer Service. Our A-list cast...

On the opening day of Social Media Week London (#SMWLDN) yesterday Our Social Times and Tempero jointly hosted a seminar entitled: The Rise of Social Customer Service.

Our A-list cast included Simon Preece, who heads up social media at Sainsbury’s, Nico Henderijckx, who runs Sony’s highly successful customer community, experienced customer service consultant, Martin Hill-Wilson, and Coral Summers, who manages social customer service for several of Tempero’s largest clients. I posed the questions and, occasionally, dug for answers.

While I’d normally offer a commentary of the seminar, our friend Alice Tang (@alicetang) has gallantly shared her notes with us, below. Enjoy! (Note: If you attended the event and have a write-up, photos or other useful feedback to share, please add a comment with a link).

Delivering Customer Centric Service

Simon Preece, Social Media Manager, Sainsbury’s

  •  5% of all Sainsbury’s customer service contacts are through social
  • Social media is cross departmental at Sainsbury’s
  • Social customer service tips – make it personal, helpful, and chatty
  • Not every mention of your brand name on the social web requires a response; can feel a bit big brother-ish if you reply to everything
  • Let a post breathe – allow others to answer from within the community rather than jumping in immediately
  • While only a small proportion of people currently use social media channels to complain, the impact can be greater with more people witnessing the exchange
  • Sainsburys has a centralised customer relationship management (CRM) system & social contacts are fed in
  • Blending social media contacts with a central CRM system is tempting, but can conflict with the social media platform’s terms of use
  • You need to monitor the conversation and then interact—hear the voices of your customers, respond to them, and get to know them. To give them the kind of service that will make them into enthusiastic fans and loyal advocates for your brand.

How to Help Your Fans Help You

Nico Henderijckx, European Forums Communities Manager, Sony

  • Sony had trouble getting staff involved in online community
  • Sony are focusing on enabling help from community members as efficient form of customer service (training their most expert fans to support others)
  • The best support given to Sony users is by other users through their community.
  • Allow end users to help other end users in social customer service.
  • Strategy behind their forum moderators- ‘super active’ Sony fan. Keep ‘super’ fans passionate, educate them about your brand & they’ll make great social media moderators
  • Sony 85% solve rate with peer-to-peer online support and complex problems solved faster than support line calls
  • How do you manage a forum where ‘super’ fans are moderators? Monthly training and catch-ups via online meetings, bi-annual super user conferences and insights on product launches. Super users answer customer enquiries, incentivised by free products
  • 40% of Sony’s forum/community engagement budget goes on bi annual all expenses paid super user conferences
  • Sony’s social media strategy – track down your Super Users and train them to respond on your behalf.
  • Remember you’re working with humans, explain your goals to super users, top management should meet super users
  • ‘Ignite the passion’ in your community – the most important thing is to make ‘super’ users feel special
Martin Hill-Wilson speaking at #smwsoccust

The Growing Pains of Social Customer Service

Martin Hill-Wilson, Brainfood Consulting

  • Latest stats show that 36% of British users have interacted with brands over Twitter – up on last year’s stat of 12%
  • Social media opens a back channel to release customer’s frustration, where other methods of contact have failed. Social customer service is often used as a (di)stress channel!
  • 65% people prefer social media to call centres for customer service – will this increase?
  •  Why do people use Social for cust service? One reason is because they didn’t enjoy the traditional route
  • Is social customer service allowing complaint shy Brits to complain more when previously they wouldn’t? Customers find they have a voice for the first time and they have a say.
  • BT deflect 54k calls via social media each month – 10% of their total
  • BT tweets around London riots reduced 999 waiting times from 41 seconds to 0
  • Virgin Money is an excellent example of social customer service – their CEO answers queries on Twitter
  • Social customer service = best when resourced properly. Which includes emergency plans to manage extraordinary busy periods
  • Don’t try and do social customer service if you haven’t got your traditional customer service right. According to Click Fox, only 3.5% of customers remain unaffected by negative comments on a brand platform. If your traditional customer service channels aren’t up to scratch, don’t trysocial media – it’ll just backfire.

Social Customer Service Discussion Panel

The Rise of Social Customer Service – Panel Discussion & Q&A

  • Should social customer service be real-time? What is your expected response time to a complaint on Twitter? 81% of customers expect a reply on social media within a day, 30% in half an hour
  • Will social media and customer service be part of the induction process in 25 years? Moving to a world where staff are inducted as standard in social customer service = answered possibly by all of the business, not just social media centralised team.
  • What metrics do brands use to determine if their social customer service method is a success? SM metric = “Customer effort”. How easy was it to get each problem solved? Reduce the customer effort and regardless of channel (letter, Facebook, Twitter, phone) and the age-old principles still important in social customer service.
  • “Social is dissolving boundaries of silos (sales, marketing & customer service)” = which impacts on business structure, training, work culture. Interesting theme = It’s early days, we’re still learning
  • “The best social brands are the ones that have already suffered”.
  • O2 attracted 13.5k new followers due to great crisis management – so marketing benefits from customer service method.
  • A 1% inc in customers coming back to a website generates 10% increase in revenues – customer service could be more profitable than marketing

Our Social Times and Martin Hill-Wilson are running a unique one-day Social Customer Service Training Workshop in London on 10th October. Places on this course are limited to early booking is advised.


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  1. Web Development Company Reply

    Interesting facts considering the fast pace world we live in, and where consumers look for an immediate response most of the time.I agree with debng that is completely doable to respond to a consumer within a 60 min. window.Just think about it, an inquiry is an opportunity and the the longer you take to act on it, the higher the risk of loosing it.

  2. Sookie Shuen Reply

    Amazing insights, really glad to see big brands like Sony and Sainsburys using social media as a tool for customer service!

  3. Using Social Media for Customer Service by Michelle Kuhl Reply

    […] to Our Social Times, O2 attracted 13,500 new followers due to great crisis management – so making yourself known for exciting customer service can […]