2015: Tapping Into Big Changes Taking Place In Social Customer Service

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Now we are entering 2015, I thought it would be interesting to review how social customer service has evolved during the last twelve months. In particular, any insights that can tell us what we might expect more of during this year.

My own experiences from my 2015 master classes and speaking engagements are that rapidly evolving expectations remain the engine for driving innovation in all forms of customer engagement. Social customer service is no exception. The range of channels and how they are used keep evolving as a result.

For instance, over a number of master classes, I learnt from Air France that Instagram had become a service channel for them with volumes scaling rapidly. Later in the year, Safaricom in Kenya revealed that WhatsApp is being trialled based on customer demand.

This means we are past the traditional twin mix of Twitter and Facebook. I’ve also heard that social platform owners are now waking up. They can see just how well their services suit digital consumers wanting real time access to an organisation’s attention.

What does this imply? First expect more service channels to surface. For instance Snapchat versus Facebook usage within the 15-19 age groups clearly shows how different generations gravitate to their preferred social platforms. Secondly we may start to see more service capability from the platform owners themselves as they start to understand that service enquiries are a crucial ingredient in the overall engagement mix they provide for brands.

Tapping into An Expert Viewpoint

Outside my own perspective, who else has a vantage point to see what’s happening? There are now plenty of vendors to choose from: another encouraging sign of a growing industry. I ended up choosing one of the original brands in the social customer service space who, in my view, has remained a seminal influence on how best practice has developed thus far.

As EMEA VP for Conversocial, Julian Johns hears the heartbeat of the industry every day and knows who is buying and what’s motivating them. Certainly I hear the brand’s name on the shortlist pretty much every time an organisation needs to beef up its capability. So given that exposure, I happily trotted down to Conversocial’s City of London office late last year and interviewed Julian.

This is what I learnt.

Martin: Reflecting on what’s been happening, what’s your headline from 2014?

Julian: I guess it would be that the biggest sectors just kept growing. In particular retail and travel (trains, planes and car rental). I’m expecting the same again this year. The reasons are pretty straight forward. In these situations, consumers now expect to get their questions answered on social. This has allowed the best brands to develop a positive reputation which in turn keeps attracting more consumers as the word gets out that social is the easiest way to get service resolution. Our top UK retail clients are now using between 20-35 seats to service this demand.

Martin: That certainly tallies with the volumes I’m aware of. Global headcounts now run into the hundreds for the most active brands. So I guess that means the proportion of social interaction is due to keep rising through organic growth in well established sectors. But that rings alarm bells for me since consumer expectation is bound to spill out across sectors, even if they have yet to get serious about social customer service. But before getting into that, is anything else you’ve noticed in your core markets?

Julian: There is an emerging trend amongst some clients which may gain more traction during 2015. We have noticed that in some cases social channels are starting to replace Chat. From the brands’ perspective, it is a lot faster to ‘plug and play’ social capability than it is to integrate the chat channel into the corporate web site. Not sure how this greater convenience will play out, but it could be interesting to those who need to quickly offer real time text engagement.

Martin: OK that’s interesting. If this preference is reciprocated by consumers, then maybe we are seeing the beginning of some types of customers now relating to social as their primary channel. That’s worth tracking during the year for sure and something service designers will need to factor into their multi-channel plans.

Julian: The other feedback we get from organisations is that they need to be confident that they can manage growth before encouraging more customers to go social. This is where a dedicated solution for social customer service makes all the difference in terms of responsiveness and productivity. You have to be able to prioritise and then route effectively for this to happen.

Martin: Yes I agree. Thinking through what you need once you are responding at scale marks the difference between those organisations who are still at the earliest stages of testing customer demand and those that have moved on. I see this in those that come to my masterclass.

Julian: The other point worth making is a new focus on outcomes. Traditionally social listening has been just that. Nothing more than observing what’s going on. But I’m now seeing a transition from ‘reach’ to ‘resolve’. We talk to new customers about best practice across the whole ‘reach-respond-resolve’ cycle. Of course this is helped by having ‘one view’ via their inbox. This assists triaging and provides access to a threaded interaction history which advisors can refer to as they are helping customers to a service resolution.

Martin: One of my ongoing themes is how to break down silos since the public nature of social engagement shines a spotlight on any gaps. Have you seen any encouraging signs that we are starting to converge onto ‘one agenda’?

Julian: Yes, the best are now becoming more sophisticated in that respect. Once they start achieving their core service aims, they naturally start looking beyond specific brand mentions to the broader spectrum of customer engagement. Our top retail brands are picking up any relevant opportunity to capture and convert consumer interest in real time. For examples airlines are tuning into named destinations as triggers for real time pitching and discounting. It is the difference between only listening for specific brand mentions versus listening for more general customer needs which can then be responded to with promotional voucher codes via one to one messaging.

Martin: That’s an exciting development. It validates that we are now looking at fusing together certain aspects of selling, marketing and service into an integrated operational capability. What have you seen in terms of how this is working out in practice?

Julian: Some of the brands are extending their advisors’ remit beyond service. That is one approach. Others are putting different teams onto a common platform and then applying smart routing rules. This is certainly the case with our digital agency clients who are buying more seats. Not for themselves this time but for their end customers. It’s a hub and spoke strategy. The agency stays in direct control of moderation and brand awareness but hands off service issues to the end customers’ own team.

Martin: So that raises the old question of ownership. What changes if any have you seen on that well discussed topic?

Julian: Well the more ambitious use of the platform is certainly changing the type of people we meet during procurement. Traditionally sign off has been entrusted to operational management roles. But a greater strategic interest at director level has now emerged. Also the functional interest is broader. Marketing remains a strong influencer. But when volumes reach a certain threshold, they are ready to hand off to operational teams. We are certainly seeing more decision makers from customer services. But others are also involved. For instance customer experience people and IT are now showing strong interest in the strategic opportunities.

Martin: Give me some more examples of the strategic potential.

Julian: It depends on which sectors we are looking at. For instance local and national government interest is rooted in their digital first strategy. Given ongoing budget pressures, social engagement is much more cost effective than face to face interaction. Many embassies are launching social initiatives to enable global connection to their citizens which makes a lot of sense. Universities are getting involved given millennial contact habits which are naturally #socialfirst.

Then there are broader market changes that social can help a brand respond to. The UK banking sector is facing new competitive threats and sees social engagement as helping their loyalty agenda. Manufacturers want to make sure they have direct contact with end consumers as much as the retailer. It’s a question of who owns the relationship. Social is starting to play a key role in that struggle. Even the luxury brands are getting involved to make sure they stay ‘front of mind’ and deliver on the service promise that’s implicit in their premium pricing. For each of these sectors, it’s all improving their engagement capability.

Martin: Thank you, those are some great examples to think about. Bringing things to a close, I’d appreciate a final wide lens view of things. Can you give me an insight into both the fast and slow lane of social engagement

Julian: OK. In terms of the slow lane I still see the rest of Europe in catch up mode. This is especially true in non English speaking countries which have not been able to so easily pick up on these kinds of conversations. That’s one of the reasons we are investing in much more education for these markets during 2015.

At the other end of the spectrum, I’ve already seen interest in using social data for real time personalisation. In other words, use trending topics to dynamically personalise web sites.

Martin: Thanks Julian that’s a powerful note to finish with. Social provides another key opportunity to drive an organisations’ digital transformation. Thank you for your time.

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