From ‘tiresome reaction mode’ to ‘pleasingly proactive’: How customer service on social media is evolving
We interview Crimson Hexagon’s Head of Services Dana Miller on social media for customer service, the morale-sapping “react and recover” mentality and best practice examples of how to be proactive.
Everybody has caught up now, right? We’re all sporting future proof, feature-rich, omni-multi-cross-channel contact centre and customer service technology solutions that do just about everything except make the tea, correct? All businesses can answer any complaint that comes in across any channel, immediately and satisfactorily, every time—can’t they?
Well, I’m sure we’ll get there eventually. Maybe.
In the meantime, CallCentre.co.uk has sought out Dana Miller of enterprise social media analytics firm Crimson Hexagon to help us get a grip on where we’re at and where we’re going with customer service delivered over social media.
Social media listening v1.0
Social media as a support channel has looked a lot like traditional channels but more instantaneous and bringing higher expectations.
Miller explains: “Version 1 of ‘social media listening’ was using social media as a support channel, as a way to react to something that’s happening, for instance, the customer is in your store or on your site they’re talking about their experience on social media.” It might constitute an opportunity to react to what’s happening in the moment or shortly thereafter.
“Social media in this first generation, from a support standpoint, really looks like a similar support channel to the others but with an amplified expectation of response times and overall visibility. More people see your issue and are vocalising similar issues, so it’s been a lot of issue resolution in that first iteration.”
“That’s a natural first step as social media started to take off and large retailers could take advantage of that.
“Initially it was more about playing defence—having to incorporate a social media support channel because customers were driving that approach more than anything. We’ve got through a lot of that. There are some organisations that do that better than others.”
Best practice example: WestJet
“This Canadian airline have done a good job managing social media as a support channel by laying out the expectations on Twitter about how you can engage with them.”
“They give their customers direction on when the feed is monitored, what kind of response time they can expect and signing on and off so people are clear about what kind of response and timing they can get from that channel.”
“I always that was a really great way to be clear with customers about what to expect so that can sidestep any frustration that the customer may have.”
“More and more organisations are incorporating that as a way to help manage that channel.”
The second wave: Proactive customer service
V2 moves from social media being a reactive channel to a data source that enables proactive improvement of the customer’s overall experience.
Miller is excited about the concept of proactive customer service. “This is the one that I feel a lot more passionate about, having worked in customer service for a long time [with a large sporting brand and retailer].”
She draws on a real world example: “I used to spend a lot of time wandering through my store thinking about ‘what is the grand opening going to look like tomorrow? How do I need to handle this queue of people? What are we going to do if we run out of this?’ I tried to be as proactive as I could. My general manager would come to my store, take me out into the parking lot and say ‘this is where your customer’s experience starts—when they’re parking their car.’”
Customers’ experiences leading up to the shop would affect how they react and interact with the business.
“With social media, we can look at all of the grand openings that have gone before, all of the product launches, all the big sales, the campaigns. We can see how people reacted to them—what went well, what went poorly because people are always very vocal about that.”
“That data can inform a better experience the next time so that rather than apologising on social media because something went wrong and the customer wrote an angry post, businesses can get ahead of the curb and proactively manage problems before they happen.
“That’s the next wave, and it’s a lot more enjoyable for the customer.”
Being on the front foot can boost morale
A reactive approach to customer service can become wearisome over time and erode staff morale, especially in the call centre. Being able to delight a customer can make everyone’s day sunnier.
“For those of us who continue to work in customer service, we always say ‘It’s all in the recovery’. That’s a very common thing for people in my business to say,” Miller recounts.
This status quo has side effects, however: “It gets a little bit tiresome over time to only be in recovery mode.”
“There’s always that opportunity to turn a bad customer experience into a great one. You can often win customers as great advocates but it becomes a lot of work.”
“What it does over time is take a customer support team, puts them in total reaction mode and while you’re busy making one customer’s experience much better, you may be ignoring or under-serving another segment of your customers who deserve that same level of service.”
In order for everyone to do better asserts Miller, it makes far more sense to be able to look at things proactively.
“Not to mention it helps the morale of your staff. If you’ve managed a call centre, you know that 90% of your job is keeping your team in good spirits and making sure that they’re able to deal with a difficult job everyday.
“Giving them the opportunity to delight a customer rather than having to turn a less than optimal situation around is a far more fun thing to do from the customer support person’s perspective.”
Imperfect tech can trip up customer service teams
Unless you have a perfect tech solution—and who can truly boast of that?—things can get missed and problems exacerbated.
CallCentre.co.uk asked Miller about what companies find most problematic about social media customer service, technologically speaking.
“The difficulty with social media as a support channel is the lack of ability of the call centre or support team to manage or control that channel entirely. You never really know where comments are going to come from, or even how to get them.
Despite this, “there are some things that remain challenges to support teams from a listen and respond perspective because you’re always dealing with two variables: the sense of urgency and the real resolution of an issue.
“If it’s a complicated one, time and expectations can work against you. Therefore if your technology is not perfect, things get caught in the machine and you end up with a worse problem than you had before.”
“Some applications are starting to be a bit more progressive about aggregating all of the support channels and bringing them into a central hub so that they can be triaged and assigned [quickly to the right agent].”
Predict in order to delight
It’s not just about the shop, it’s about the car park—social media data analysis can build up a picture of customer experiences inside and outside a business’s domain.
“What I like about the social listening technology that’s in the marketplace [including Crimson Hexagon] is that it allows you to examine and analyse data to better predict how you can get ahead of these things, so you can minimise the amount of upset customers and less than optimal customer experiences.
“If you can delight your customer long before anything becomes an issue or they have a problem with your brand, you can build up some very good will.
“You build up a lot of equity, in that if something ever does go wrong, the customer is going to be less likely to react negatively. They may give you the benefit of the doubt now and again. They may advocate you to some of their friends and stand by your brand for longer because they relate to you and the things that you do for them resonate above and beyond the products and service you put on the shelf.”
“This whole proactive idea gets you out of the mentality of ‘I’ve got to make sure I’ve got this massive piece of software that can reroute and aggregate and triage and do all of these things to help manage problems’. [You] can get to these problems before they even happen. That’s a fantastic way to use technology in a way that makes life a lot easier to manage.”
For Miller, to go back to the car park anecdote, understanding what motivates customers both inside the business’s own space (e.g. shop or website) and outside as well. “[Social media listening tools] brings those two worlds together.”
Best practice example: Manchester City Football Club
“The club recently changed the kind of music played in the Etihad Stadium because they better understood who their customer was and what kind of music they like to listen to. They proactively [changed the stadium playlist] which delighted everyone because it was an unexpected nice thing to do.
“It had nothing to do with the football match, whether they won or lost or the price of the ticket, but it had everything to do with creating an environment that was delightful and unexpected.”
Influencers gonna influence
Social media generates a lot of noise that can drown out traditional channels; after all, an angry tweet is delivered faster and is far more public than a letter.
Responding to the idea, raised in the CallCentre.co.uk interview with FM Outsource’s Martin Brown, that a complaint over social media might get priority over one through another channel, Miller says: “Organisations look at the risk. They think that ‘nobody saw that [physical/handwritten] letter except for us, whereas everybody saw that tweet’.
“The organisation has an obligation to engage with the social channel because it does have such a tremendous reach.” It isn’t difficult to sympathise with a company for wanting to respond immediately to, for instance, a pissy, attention-seeking celebrity tweet of complaint ahead of a less-followed customer or one who sought a more old-fashioned channel.
That said, “if an organisation is really sure of themselves and understands who they are, they understand the opportunity that the letter-writer provides them, which is a way to win a real advocate.
“A letter is a whole other ball game—not just to write but to take the time to buy a stamp and actually spend money in order [to complain]. I think there’s a tremendous opportunity to win this person’s loyalty.
“Solving problems is one thing, but building customer loyalty to let them help you build your brand, is a tremendous thing.”
Indeed, there may well be a social media marketing opportunity in responding courteously to snail mail: “Maybe [the company] might make a big deal about in on social media—make a story of it.”
Are customer service and marketing moving closer together?
Miller agrees that some marketing and customer service KPIs overlap, especially with her concept of proactive customer service, but there is an important difference between driving customer advocacy and traditional upselling.
Miller agrees with CallCentre.co.uk’s notion that the worlds of marketing and customer service might be starting to intersect especially around social media.
She offers an interesting, if not widely illustrative example: “This doesn’t necessarily mean anything in the world of a large enterprise but within my [customer service department] I have the customer support team, customer success managers and coaching staff to help train customers to get the most out of the product.
“I also have an advocacy group—their sole focus is to help turn our existing customers into advocates. That doesn’t necessarily mean talking about us in the press but advocating us within their own organisations.
“That group looks a little bit like a marketing team: they hold events, they maintain a customer community, they get customers to interact with each other. They talk to our customers in much the same way as marketers have traditionally done and the team is also directly aligned with the formal marketing team, spending a lot of time together.
“We are starting to understand that as customer service moves to something more proactive, we have the opportunity to use a lot of marketing KPIs and marketing-type activities to talk to customers.”
There is a line, however: “The one thing that they don’t want is to be sold to.” Or rather, upsold to.
“We do need to be careful. As a marketer, your most successful KPI is an uplift in unit sales. What I’m talking about when we drive advocacy, community, conversation, is about driving loyalty, not directly driving an uplift in sales.
“They’re very clear that they don’t want to have these conversations as a way to make them spend more money. They want to know that we’re on their side and see the world through the same lens.”