The State of Social Customer Service in the UK

As part of the warm up to this week’s webinar on Social Media Monitoring for Customer Service, I asked leading UK consultant, Martin Hill-Wilson to provide a guest post...

Social Customer Service

As part of the warm up to this week’s webinar on Social Media Monitoring for Customer Service, I asked leading UK consultant, Martin Hill-Wilson to provide a guest post on how he sees social customer service shaping up. 

Social Customer Service

Why So Slow

First comment I would like to make is that as usual for the UK Customer Service space, the induction and integration of social channels is taking its time to arrive. There are some good reasons as always.

A lack of capital expenditure is an issue. Unless of course your cloud partner has a new release that now ‘does social’. But that is not true for the majority. Hence most early adopters, as evidenced from the last few webinars I spoken at, show a strong reliance on ‘freemium’ solutions to get them up and running. Business cases are still nascent and funding is scarce.

Does this matter?

Generally speaking ‘freemium’ solutions are light on features and tend to act in isolation. So yes, from the perspective of cross channel management and integrated customer data, these early adopters will need to consider some of the fundamentals of seamless service once they have the proof that a presence in social channels is needed. But for now they are at least operational.

Sort of

The second reason why Customer Service is dawdling somewhat are priorities. Given their mindset and necessary obsession around numbers, social traffic hardly registers. According to Amex’s Global Customer Service Barometer 2012 just 14% of UK consumers said they used social channels for customer service reasons – though looks high relative to other sources (which more typically peg volumes around the 5% mark).

However there is a strong upward trend in adoption, which means brands are going to be caught out before the year is out if they have not got on with the basics. For instance, Alex Loach, Head Of Customer Service over at Serif who sell consumer grade software online updated me recently on their volumes…

Last year, Serif’s social interactions registered just 1% of their overall traffic. By the end of the year they expects to see that rise to 8%.

Another telling stat comes from Fishburn Hedges who published research in May this year from 2,000 UK consumers…

According to Fishburn Hedges, use of social channels to interact with brands has risen from 18% to 36% between August 2011 and April 2012.

Add all that together and we can see the incoming wave quite clearly.

Marks out of Ten

So how well are we coping with that wave? On the whole pretty badly. Brand still largely ignore social interaction. I won’t bore you with more stats but it’s a common problem in all regions still. If you are looking for best practice, then you need a microscope to spot the odd individual brand getting it right. I guess that is because the transition from monologue to dialogue is still mid point at best and Marketers (still the owners of social customer service by and large) are overwhelmed with this new demand.

One brand of course that did a great job and must still be recovering from the emotional roller coaster is the O2 social media team: who by all accounts acquitted themselves admirably (see image above). The courage to reply, add humour and be human, appears to be a winning formula. Particularly for large brands that remain in the public gaze for more than a few hours doing something bad or stupid. Their ‘end of public beating’ report can be read here.

I certainly know of one instance during the recent Libor scandal in which clickable words clouds were provided every 120 minutes for executives to read the mood of social chatter about what was happening.

The Bigger Issues

Certainly social customer service does not make life any easier for traditionally formed organisations. The debate about who owns it is really a symptom of a larger debate. This is all around discovering the most appropriate business model now that the conversion to ‘all things digital’ is upping the performance benchmark to ‘faster than real-time’! A scary thought if you are charged with trying to figure out how to do that.

This is particularly so when the dynamics of change management remains pretty constant. People resist change, need time to adapt and an encouraging culture in which to make mistakes. No one yet knows what this type of business looks like, but plenty are embarked trying to find out through active experimentation.

I have one contribution to this debate we may get into on this week’s webinar. It is simple. We need to break down the big picture changes into ones we can digest in the customer facing teams. Hence the notion of ‘One Agenda’. This acknowledges that Sales, Marketing and Service teams are ‘chalk and cheese’ as far as focus and culture is concerned. But we must find a way to improve collaboration in pursuit of radically better customer engagement.

Finding ways to develop a common agenda is a practical way forward. If you fancy delving into that idea in more detail, then I’ve written out the idea in its full glory here. In the meantime, be sure to join me on the webinar.

Martin will be in discussion with Ben Kay (Head of Digital Strategy, Everything Everywhere), Luke Brynley-Jones (Founder, Our Social Times) and Naomi Trickey (EMEA Sales Director, Brandwatch) this Thurs at 4pm UK time. You can register for the webinar here.

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