Whatsup With Social Customer Service?

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02-08-2015 22-05-54

I’ve come across quite a few of the brands that offer social customer service here in the UK. Some have attended my masterclass. Others are regulars at the annual conferences hosted by Our Social Times.

There are also award winners such as Barclays, Ocado and Air France who have achieved certain standout capabilities.

And then there are those that feature in Lady Geek’s social leaderboard such as Direct Line, Sainsbury, Next and Tesco. All of whom managed to dominate the top five positions in the last quarterly review of most socially empathetic brands on FTSE 100, 300 NASDAQ and NYSE. A proud moment to be a Brit!

Topping up the list are urban legends such as KLM who just keep innovating across the social spectrum with great panache. And of course O2’s stellar 48 hour social crisis a few years back which is now a textbook case study in how to stay cool under pressure.

Above And Beyond

More often than not, these teams are handpicked for attitude and communication skills. They tend to be seasoned customer service pros maybe with a personal track record in social engagement. But each has to be trusted for sound judgement and be able to learn the front foot style of engagement that is the hallmark of effective social customer service.

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Given this, I hope that in the not too distant future this elite skill set is matched with equivalent salaries and benefits. Given the responsibility expected of them to protect and promote their brands in addition to their usual customer service duties.

Recently I’ve noticed these teams are being co-located with digital service teams sometimes even cross skilled. In effect they are being formed into the vanguard of next generation service strategies.

I also know that the leaders of these teams are deeply passionate about their mission. Determined to serve their customers’ interest and do battle with all the internal barriers preventing rapid first time resolution.

To that end many of them such as Emma, Bian and Clare are determined iconoclasts: bending the rules to make it work, despite the challenges thrown up by corporate culture and rulebook. They are often act as diplomats ‘taking tea’ with those ruling other corporate fiefdoms. Calling in favours when workflows clog up or the official answer is no. They create the shortcuts that make the customer journeys work.

But if they are really smart, they will have developed ambitions beyond ducking and diving. They want things to be fixed both for the customers’ sake and their elite team. The psychology of encouraging a 110% commitment from the team while expecting them to tolerate the same old kinks in the customer journey just does not add up. Stuff needs fixing if enthusiasm is to be maintained.

This is why volumes of social interaction can plateau and dip for a while before growing again. A particular reason for customers needing to make contact is taken off the table by virtue of being fixed.

Surely Time For Something New?

Apart from the motivational impact on advisors, I’ve always argued that doing social customer service without an effective improvement workflow plumbed in is as crazy and dangerous as running blindfold into the path of motorway traffic and hoping for a positive outcome.

What’s the impact on other customers and observers seeing the same issues turning up on a Facebook timeline? Or the same cut and paste apology on Twitter? The message is crystal clear. This organisation does not care.

Maybe it is incapable of even listening as in General Motors’ case when it took almost a decade for the executive level to finally get to grips with certain design flaws in one of its models that meanwhile resulted in multiple injury and deaths. Reputational damage from this organisational failure to listen is still impacting the brand.

Hearing, understanding then resolving important customer issues is often an opaque and slow moving process when attempted within the decision making boundaries of command control organisations.

The net effect is to soundproof the customer’s voice.

Traditional call centres have become convenient dumping grounds for issues that originate elsewhere. It has suited everyone (bar the call centre) to shoot the messenger for whatever bad news they just delivered. However with social interaction there is often a smoking gun. The evidence is public. Analytics can season the pot with further insights.

Therefore social customer service leaders should have a sense of historic purpose as they justify the need for an add-on continuous improvement strategy. It is a pivotal point in organisational behaviour. Moving away from a mindset that tries to isolate the mess by processing it in the most efficient, low cost way (traditional call centres). Towards a mindset that aims to reduce the mess in the most effective collaborative way so that ideally only interactions of mutual value remain.

This new mindset remains a rarity even amongst those leading examples I called out earlier. It’s tough getting the buy in. Executive eagerness for getting on with this is not as frequent as it should be. That said, the cocktail of reduced cost to serve combined with increased customer advocacy ought to be a no brainer business case.

Evidently we need more executives showing leadership by being interested in engaging with the world as it has now become. Meanwhile, social interaction continues to grow because customers like its convenience and ability to amplify their individual needs.

So to answer my own question – “Whatsup with social customer service?” – I would say not enough! Even the celebrated brands are still early in their journey. Those that should now be engaged with their customers on social need to overcome whatever reluctance has held them back and get on with it.

And finally we as consumers are fools if we do not exercise the unique power of criticism and advocacy that social engagement empowers us with. Like the privilege of voting, we run the risk of losing it by not using it.

Customer experience might be getting better. But poor examples pop up everywhere as my recent holiday experience in Florida confirms. Therefore getting social right is essential for any organisation’s overall CX strategy.

Next in this conversation.

Social Is The Soul Of Digital

Why Social Customer Service Is Your First Real Digital Milestone

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