While there are plenty of universal standards for delivering great service through traditional customer service channels, there seems to be a lot of variance in how companies engage with customers socially. Many big brands are still struggling to understand which metrics to work against when serving customers through Twitter or Facebook. Should it be a bigger priority to respond quickly, or should businesses work toward improving the quality of their responses?
We’ve talked before about how both are principles for engaging with customers on social media, but we thought it might also be interesting to hear an outside opinion. Ashley Verrill, managing editor of Customer Service Investigator and author of guides for call center software buyers, pointed out in a recent article some ways that can enable social customer service in an era where customers are seeking instant gratification. We spoke with Ashley to ask her thoughts on how social customer service has evolved, as well as tips for developing a strategy for your contact center.
Below is our Q&A:
Aspect: How do you define success when talking about social customer service?
Ashley: A few ways. The first would be the speed of the response. I’ve seen a few pieces of data on this topic, but generally, companies that do a good job with their social customer service response will reply within two hours of the question being sent.
But this isn’t the only important factor. The quality of the response also plays a significant role in social customer service success. I ran an experiment last year where I sent one customer service tweet to 14 consumer brands every day for four weeks and then evaluated their responses. One of the biggest missteps regarding the quality of the responses was sounding like a robot. The customer service agent would tweet back with a really impersonal, canned reply that didn’t show me they valued the interaction or were interested in solving my problem. Another way many brands failed to deliver quality social customer service was in sending me links to pages that didn’t really have the answer I was looking for. Customers in general are becoming increasingly obsessed with instant gratification, but this is especially true for those who reach out via Twitter or Facebook. They want answers immediately. They don’t want to go to a page to hunt down their answer among a bunch of text on a page.
In addition to speed and quality of response, consistency is another essential characteristic of successful social customer service organizations. In the experiment I mentioned, the brands responded an average of just 14 percent of the time. This is slightly understandable considering some of these brands receive thousands of mentions in a given day; however, there are tools companies can use to filter out these customer service questions, using things like keyword triggers (listening for mentions that include question marks or the words “help,” “angry” or “mad,” for example).
Aspect: Do you think the demand for social customer service has increased or decreased in recent years?
Ashley: Absolutely it’s increased. There was a time when customers didn’t really expect to get a response when tweeting or mentioning a brand on social media, but those times have changed. The customer’s preference for contacting a company is quickly shifting with their desire to get answers quickly and with less effort. This often comes with the assumption that they should use anything but the phone–this is why we are seeing similar growth for other channels that offer more instantaneous support (chat and self-service, for example).
Aspect: Are customers’ expectations for responsiveness and quality service the same over social media as with other channels (voice, email, SMS, online chat)?
Ashley: Yes, despite this not really being realistic. As I mentioned, some companies receive hundreds of tweets and mentions on a given day, so it’s difficult to be really timely in every instance without employing a huge response team. Not only that, but Twitter particularly presents a challenge because of the character limit. Not to mention industries with customer data privacy considerations, such as health and banking. I have seen, however, an increasing number of companies really staffing up in this area to meet this demand. AT&T, for example, launched their social customer service team in 2009. They now have a staff of more than 40 who are responsible for responding to customer questions on social.
Aspect: What do you consider the biggest challenges or obstacles to delivering social customer service?
Ashley: Scalability. Companies actively create more demand for social customer service as they increase the quality of their responses. As more customers see they really can get an answer on social, more will likely hop on board. It’s not a zero sum game either–meaning customers that would have called you will instead use social media. Customers who might never have reached out to you, will, as social requires a lot less effort. So you’re not just moving support from one channel to another, you are creating more issues to resolve. It’s up to the company to decide how important offering this level of service on social is to their bottom line. If you provide a helpful response to all social customer service requests, will you see a positive impact on customer satisfaction/retention/sales? If the answer is “yes,” it might make sense to prioritize support dollars within this increasingly popular channel.