The Challenges and Opportunities of Social Media for Utilities

We recently hosted a free webinar on Social Media Monitoring and Engagement for Utilities, featuring British Gas, Bord Gais Networks and Sentiment Metrics. We’ve written up some of...

Social Media for Utilities

Last week Our Social Times hosted a webinar on Social Media Monitoring and Engagement for Utilities. For those of you that weren’t able to attend, we’ve written up some of the key takeaways.

social media for utilities

We were fortunate enough to be joined by an expert panel of speakers including Charles Stanton (Social Media Manager at British Gas), Bernard Mooney (Customer Care Manager at Bord Gais Networks) and Leon Chaddock (CEO of Sentiment Metrics) who drew on their experiences to highlight the challenges and opportunities of social media for utilities.


The Challenge

There’s no hiding from the fact that utilities face some particular struggles where social media is concerned. Both customers and the media tend to be far more critical of utilities than other brands, so presenting a likeable image isn’t going to be easy. That said, if it’s done well social media offers a great opportunity to do just that.


Social Customer Service

One area that many utilities have focused on is using social media to provide quality customer service and mitigate negative news coverage.

As Charles Stanton explained in a recent interview:

“Our customers will naturally have questions when they read stories in the press that convey a negative impression of our company, and our key strategy is to engage each customer individually on their level.”

To help make this a reality, British Gas has established a standalone social customer service team that actively monitors for and engages with customer queries 7 days a week. They’re acutely aware that many of these customers will have turned to social media as a last resort, so quick, clear responses are vital. What’s more, responses need to be tailored to the individual and actually help to solve their problems.

To enable this, the team can draw upon a large collection of engaging content including videos, reports, blog posts and statistics.

British Gas

Pro-active vs Reactive

Whether or not a utility should pro-actively engage with customers on social media is a contentious issue. If a customer is talking about a company (rather than posting a query directed to them) it may feel intrusive if that company jumps in uninvited.

This wouldn’t be acceptable in most other social settings, so utilities should take care if they plan to do it on social channels. There’s no magic formula, it simply comes down to a personal judgement, but if you get it right it can go a long way to developing a positive relationship. As Charles pointed out, it’s amazing how quickly customers attitudes change once you actually engage with them on a human level.


Scaling Up Social Customer Service

A spike in activity can occur at any time and it’s not always possible to predict when this will happen. A key consideration for any utility is how they can scale-up and respond to customers when this happens.

The most renowned example of this came from O2 during last year’s network outage. After thousands of customers took to Twitter to complain that their service was down, O2 was able to mobilise a back-up team that included staff from across the organisation. They had been trained to engage on social media even though it wasn’t part of their every day job. The impact was remarkable and it went a long way to reducing the negative impact of the crisis.

o2 tweets


Industry Regulations

There are some industries that have to be aware of regulations affecting what they can and can’t do on social media, and utilities is one of them.

Leon Chaddock highlighted a recent example where OfGem issued a heavy fine to a utility as a result of poor customer service. The utility had failed to keep a record of all the complaints they’d received and they had failed to provide an adequate system to deal with complaints. This example should be driving utilities to embrace social customer service as it provides an simple route for customers that can be easily tracked.

Utilities should also be mindful of the importance of protecting customer data. Recent research shows that the protection of confidential data is viewed as the biggest social media legal risk, so it will often be necessary to move conversations into offline channels.


Measuring Social Media ROI

How to measure the results of your social media efforts will inevitably vary depending on the specific nature and goals of your business. Some companies will look at money saved as a result of deflecting phone calls; some will look at response time and the number of complaints solved; and others will focus on quality by measuring customer satisfaction, resolution time and sentiment analysis.

British Gas has developed their own system by creating a unique Social NPS that combines reach, engagement and sentiment.


Integrated Social CRM

Many brands assume that social customer service is about solving one-off issues, not nurturing a long-term relationship. The result is that when a customer gets in touch with a brand using social channels, the company are often clueless as to who the customer is, when they were last in contact, what was said, who dealt with their query and how it was left.

A quality customer engagement tool is able to provide all of this information, as well as tie in to traditional CRM software.

The final point that was emphasised is that social media should always tie in with a wider customer engagement strategy. Social media is not a silo and there should be a consistent approach across all channels, whether in-person, on the phone, using email, webchat, Facebook or Twitter.

We’ll be taking an in-depth look at Social CRM during next month’s conference on July 8-9th, featuring speakers from eBay, Sony, EE, Now TV and IBM. Visit the website to book your ticket.

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