Why Social Customer Service Is Your 1st Real Digital Milestone


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I’m fond of pooh poohing those who think that adopting chat or another ‘new’ channel means they have gone digital. This is because classifying channels in this way is arbitrary and technically inaccurate.

On the other hand I can recognise their intent when on a site visit you are introduced to the ‘digital’ team. It’s not just that they sit in their own space; they already look like a different tribe.

Instead I think much more prominence should be given to social customer service as being your digital laboratory. It provides all the core challenges.

Having just facilitated a recent masterclass on the topic, a number of table conversations are still fresh in my mind which a few days further on have now come into perspective.

To give you a frame of reference, the masterclass explores the following competencies. It’s worth slowly reading the full list to give you a sense of the challenge this throws up in everyone’s mind.

As a framework to generate a strategy and roadmap it makes sense. Only it’s a big ask given the organisational context everyone actually sits in every day. Exploring each competency seemed to trigger memories and emotional reactions around how their organisation is trying to cope with becoming adaptive, real time responsive, data literate, customer focussed etc.

For sure, the list of intermeshing initiatives most organisations are currently running is frightening in terms of project management complexity. And yes it is the clearest signal that the need for radical improvement is both recognised and being invested in.

Unfortunately how it all joins up into real world outcomes and benefits for customers and employees is often overlooked.

Change Management Need Fixing As An Urgency

This is a major error is my view. Yet it is the product of conveyor belt change management. Isolate, go deep, stay focussed is the accepted wisdom. To which I say what about joining the dots, sharing inputs and outputs, generating an end state vision?

Command and control thinking continues to infect our plans to escape the management theories of 20th century industrialisation.

Witnessed at ground floor level, old school planning and execution results in a messy, wasteful, often deeply irritating experience. I think what struck me most strongly in the chats I overheard at break time which then occasionally surfaced in the formal group discussions, was the overwhelming need for ‘a better way’. Even more so given the undoubted talent of individuals I’ve met in all the master classes.

Their stories show that every organisational culture seems primitive in terms of bringing out the entrepreneurial talent needed to transition into and then thrive in a digitally interconnected world.

The lifecycle of a typical initiative always seems to attract ‘Faulty Towers’ type dysfunctional behaviour. These are laugh-out-loud, stupid decisions that squash new shoots of green growth. When deliberate rather a result of unconscious incompetence, it’s amazing that such people are allowed to get away with it.

In a family context, it would quite rightly be called out as childish behaviour and punished appropriately. There is still too much immunity in organisational life for this reaction to ‘building a better us’.

Soapbox aside, these fifteen competencies provide a real ‘ironman’ challenge in terms of endurance and focus. None are impossibilities. But it is going to take some to make them happen.

This is why I think the development of effective social customer is a much more fitting challenge towards becoming a digitally competent service organisation than claiming the inclusion of a new channel as being what it’s all about.

Your Milestone Checklist

Therefore in summary I’m suggesting that once the following competencies are up and running, you should take the team out to celebrate reaching your first digital milestone.

  • Your social radar can hear that cry for help or that opportunity to digital ‘high five’ amongst all the online noise. Having popped the bonnet and tinkered with your listening criteria, you are pretty comfortable that the match between the actual voice of the social customer and what you pick up pretty much matches.
  • The way you engage is tight. It does not leave gaps for third party criticism or invite potential consumer activism. The team trusts its collective judgement, instinctively weaves a pattern of front footed engagement to generate resolution as fast as possible with minimum customer effort, and can inject personality into the conversation. The senior team has learnt to bite its nails and not interfere.
  • Social customer service functions as a fast lane service. Certain people and certain topics are expedited relative to standard class service. Ways around the bureaucracy have been established. A network of ‘customer first’ sympathisers are ready to come to the aid of any beleaguered customer cases.
  • Success is measured both in terms of enquiry resolution and customer journey improvement. Getting individual issues sorted fast and effectively are one priority. The other is to learn from those engagements and have a feedback loop able to feed a continuous improvement workflow monitored via aspirational customer journey maps. The net result is that ‘dumb’ stuff disappears over time.
  • Quality assurance starts to track the consistency of experience across channels including social. This is strongly focussed on knowledge management and how a ‘single version’ is maintained across channel teams.
  • Even if there is still ‘big corporate stuff’ going on around making CRM work, some planning has taken place in readiness around how to collect and use social profile data (e.g. for personalisation, interaction analytics etc).
  • The team has developed a sixth sense. They are trained to imagine the impact they leave behind for others to see. Their instinct is to leave a footprint that encourages others to think well of the brand. They run a Goodwill Index. Marketing is smart enough to tap into this word of mouth goldmine and use their storytelling powers to amplify these brand successes.
  • Well thumbed escalation guidelines are used to recognise danger and act accordingly. Everyone knows what to do. It’s a regularly rehearsed competency, dovetailed into a broader business continuity game plan.
  • Whatever is discovered within this much more responsive and outcome orientated team is harvested as lessons for the traditional customer service teams. They are pulled out of their own legacy culture and operating practices as a result. Team leaders and advisors are challenged to start applying the mindset and advanced communication techniques to their own customer scenarios.
  • There is now a degree of alignment across the organisation around how social channels are used. This is likely to involve some combination of the following functions e.g. service, sales, marketing, social media, digital, corporate communications and PR. A few objectives are now common. Maybe even a pooling of budgets is taking place. People turn up in each other meetings to develop cross functional agendas. Social starts to dissolve silo plaque. Its strategic value kicks in as a transformational catalyst.
  • Advisors think working in the social customer service team is the coolest place to be.

Other parts of this conversation are:

Whatup With Social Customer Service?

Social Is The Soul Of Digital


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