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Social Customer Service Using Social Media to Revolutionize Customer Service


What Social Media Can Reveal

Although many organizations not using a social component to their overall CRM strategy claim to know what their customers are thinking, the reality is that unless they’re involved in the conversations their customers are having, they’re in the dark. A study from the Society for New Communications Research found that 72 percent of customers use social media to research a company’s reputation for customer care before making a purchase, and 74 percent said they choose to do business with companies based on the customer care experiences shared by their peers through social media. At the same time, 59 percent said they regularly used social media to "vent" about their customer care frustrations. And, alarmingly, only a third of consumers believe that companies take online complaints seriously.

The amount of discussion taking place in the social media space about customer service issues represents an opportunity to build knowledge about a company’s products after they reach their customers’ hands. "The reality is that the customer often knows more about the product or service than the company selling it – the customer lives with the product, and uses it every day," says Brent Leary, President of CRM Essentials and a noted commentator on social CRM.

For those able and willing to listen, this can reveal significant data that can save millions of dollars and help preserve long-standing customer relationships. One example of this occurred when a major appliance maker detected multiple complaints about the same defect in a brand-new model of washing machine. Since the washer was just starting to come off the assembly lines, the manufacturer was able to catch the defect early –saving millions by avoiding a major recall – and was able to contact those affected by the defect and those who might be affected by it in the near future with a fix in a proactive manner.

While the manufacturer received calls through the traditional means, the volume of comments on blogs and in communities was far greater and far more direct – and, more significantly, received far more quickly.

Tying social media into customer service can reveal patterns in manufacturing, as in the case above, but more often it can reveal human issues with service. Complaints about service processes are the most obvious issues; broken processes generate commentary online, making social media a useful tool for monitoring areas that need improvement. At first blush, this seems like a negative, but the same channels that raise complaints also can bring solutions that may have never been considered before. It can also reveal which service personnel are doing particularly good or bad jobs and provide you details about their performance that your in-house metrics may overlook.

How Service can Harness Social Media

What are essentially the mechanical means for monitoring online channels already exist and are being employed for marketing and social CRM in many organizations. Products like's Radian6, Microsoft's NetBreeze or standalone products such as Scouts Lab, Visible Technology’s TruCast and TruReputation allow their users to scan thousands of online discussions to discover areas of strong sentiment, both positive and negative. If service organizations can employ the same tools – or if they can drive the implementation of these tools within their companies – the same insight that sales and marketing are harnessing can be brought to bear on customer service.

Listening for customers with problems is helpful in taking care of the "squeaky wheels" among your customers, whose continued unheeded complaints could result in damage to your organization’s reputation. But this is only the ground floor of social service.

"Some service organizations have seized on social media, but not out of a sense of sweeping change, but maybe out of a sense of public relations," says Leary. "They’re reacting to the guy who’s tried to get service through traditional channels and has made phone calls to the people they thought were there for them but has had no reply. Frustrated, he puts his complaint on Twitter and gets a reply in 30 minutes. Companies might like to talk about how social media’s resulted in better service, but often what’s happened here is that what are supposed to be the regular channels for service have totally failed. There might be dozens of other customers who are stuck waiting for a call, but there’s a PR win in that one who used Twitter."

The next level of involvement requires your customer service team to get involved in the conversations as they’re happening. This goes well beyond the squeaky wheels to get to a far larger pool of customers. "The most fundamental issue in customer service is not the solution of customer problems and successful ticket closures but in fact, what I call, keeping the ordinary ordinary," says Greenberg. "That means that since 90 percent of all service interactions are not complaints, but inquiries, it is vitally important that those inquiries get answered in the way they are expected to – quickly and in as close to real time as it seems it should be."

Since the social customer is more inclined to go to his or her peers for these answers, the opportunity to be seen as a great provider of service can erode if your company allows that process to proceed without any input from your service team. Getting involved in the conversations not only allows those customers with questions to get answers but helps them to see your service team as part of their broader peer group, thus strengthening their affinity to your company.

"But that indicates a willingness to accept the new role of agents, the transformation to a culture that is problem solving proactively rather than reactively and a whole new set of key performance indicators (KPIs) that reflect the transformation – and thus how service people are compensated," Greenberg cautions. "We’re not there yet in most companies, though the seeds are planted and many companies are beginning to explore if not implement new service models."

Paradoxically, one of the keys to engaging in these new ways is that businesses can no longer present themselves as the ultimate authorities on even their own products. "The technology and consumer culture is running ahead of corporate culture," says Leary. "If you want to succeed in social service, you have to own up to customers that you don’t know it all, and that you aren’t the ultimate repository of knowledge – the greater community is. And when you do that, you have to be confident that customers won’t think you’re stupid. Companies didn’t have all the answers before, and the fact that everyone knows this and is instead working together toward answers is a good thing for customers and a good thing for business."

Next: CRM & Social Service Approach >>

CRM Social Customer ServiceCRM Social ServiceCRM Social Service ApproachCRM Social Service Pitfalls



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With social media, how the customer is handled in either a crisis situation, or one that can lead to making that customer an ardent advocate of the company, takes on more than just a “we have to solve the problem” one- to-one. It has brand implications and future sales implications.

—Paul Greenberg


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