Back to Basics Before Going Social

Back to Basics Before Going Social

By Blair Pleasant October 17, 2011 1 Comments
Interactive Intelligence
Back to Basics Before Going Social by Blair Pleasant

The social media rage has companies of all sizes re-evaluating their customer service strategies, with many companies trying to determine where social software fits into their contact center and overall customer service programs. As Nancy Jamison discussed in her recent article, not every company needs to rush out today and start adding social media to their customer service mix. While social media has received its fair share of buzz and hype, the number of companies implementing a social media customer service strategy is still very limited, although this number is expected to grow rapidly in the coming years. Nancy pointed out that it is important for certain types of organizations, especially those that are high-profile consumer brands, in certain verticals or where customers are actively using social media sites, to use social media as an additional channel for customer interaction and support. Companies that focus on businesses rather than consumers, are in more “traditional” vertical markets, or where customers are not yet utilizing social media to a great extent may not need to add social media to the mix yet, and should instead focus on improving their existing customer service channels. Whether you’re a high-profile consumer business or a B2B business, it’s important to focus on your traditional customer service channels, as the vast majority of your customers will be contacting you through those channels for the foreseeable future.

Fix the Problem Before it Gets Viral

As social media gets all of the attention these days, it’s important to understand why customers are turning to social media for customer service and support. While some younger consumers may be more naturally inclined to use social media, the primary reason for most people is that they didn't get good customer service to begin with through existing traditional channels, whether in person, over the phone, or by email or the web. Companies should focus on preventing this from happening in the first place, and focus on improving their customer service operations so that customers don’t have to escalate the situation via social media. While you can’t control how people feel about your company’s products and services, you can remove causes of frustration that would cause them to use social media to complain about your company.

In most of the well-known viral social media examples, such as “United Breaks Guitars” and Heather Armstrong’s blog about her washing machine service experience (warning – some foul language and lots of sarcasm -, these customers turned to social media sites such as Twitter and YouTube as a last recourse because traditional customer service channels were not working for them. In Armstrong’s case, her brand new washing machine broke, a repairman went to the house a few times over the course of several weeks, and was still unable to fix the machine. When Armstrong called the company, she was greeted with a customer service agent who was unable or unwilling to help, and then escalated to a customer service supervisor who was also unhelpful. In desperation, Armstrong resorted to Twitter, where she suggested that her many followers refrain from purchasing the company’s products. Within hours, Armstrong was contacted by someone at the company’s corporate headquarters, who worked with Armstrong to get another repairman to fix the machine the next day.

While the story had a happy ending, the situation should never have gotten to the point where Armstrong felt that her only option was to complain on Twitter. The same is true for Dave Carroll, who famously created the YouTube viral sensation, “United Breaks Guitars.” If United had provided adequate customer service initially, Carroll would not have had to resort to YouTube to complain about his poor treatment by United’s customer service agents.

Prevent the Problem from Happening

The implications are clear – if companies can provide optimal customer service and be responsive to customers through the traditional channels that customers are most likely to use, there will be less need for customers to turn to social media channels to complain. Yes, there will always be complaints about planes being delayed, cable service being out, or a rude sales person, but the more companies can do to improve their traditional customer service operations, the less likely a customer will be to complain via social media.

In some cases, customers turn to social media for support in order to avoid a frustrating experience through the other channels. For example, I’ve used Twitter as a customer service channel rather than calling certain businesses for customer support, knowing that I’ll probably be placed on hold for a long time, and I would get a faster response via Twitter.

Here are some tweets I found in just a few minutes while searching Twitter for “customer service” (some tweets have been edited due to profanity, and the company names have been omitted):

Why should I spend so much time explaining and re-explaining to customer service. It's exhausting, really.

4 Different Customer Service Reps & they ALL didn't solve my problem. Except to tell me to wait & hour or 2 & see if it works then?!

And I already called the customer service number, but I had to leave a voicemail b/c they were closed for the day.

I'm not happy that I've emailed Company X twice in the last week and still no one replied... BAD customer service!!

When you have to wait between 57 and 80 minutes isn't customer service a bit of an oxymoron?

$150/month for 30 years = $54,000. That’s a lot of my $ to lose due to awful customer service system.

There were also some “kudos” tweets commending companies on their excellent customer service, but the point is that customers are now turning to social media to praise or criticize your company’s customer service. If you can provide a good customer support experience through the “traditional” channels (phone, email, web chat), customers are less likely to complain about your company via social media. If customers have to wait on hold too long, emails don’t get responded to, after-hour options are not available, or the customer service agent is rude or does not have the information needed or the authority to solve a customer’s problem, then it is more likely that the customer will turn somewhere else to complain or get the issue solved.

Focus on the Basics

It’s important to remember the customer support basics – focusing on the more “traditional” channels, such as telephone, email, web chat, and web call back, before adding social media to the mix. More consumers and customers are likely to turn to email and chat in order to reach a company for service and support than social media, particularly for customers that are in certain demographics. Email and chat have been available as contact center channels since the 1990’s, but many companies are still struggling with how best to serve customers via these channels. In cases where companies use email and chat, they are not always used in an optimal way. For example, as a consumer, I generally avoid web chat for customer service because the interactions are less productive than calling and speaking with a live agent. They usually take too long, as the agents are often involved in several chat sessions simultaneously, and it takes several minutes before the agent responds to my inquiry. If companies implemented best practices, such as not allowing agents to interact with more than three web chat customers at a time, the customer experience could be vastly improved.

Email is another example of a traditional channel that companies should focus on improving for customer service before exploring social media. Often times, customers send an email to a company for support, but it can take a couple days before getting a response, which is very frustrating to the customer.

The “call back” option is perhaps the channel that needs improvement the most. Many companies offer the option for customers to press the “call me back” button on a company’s website in order to receive a call back from a customer service agent, or can opt for a return call rather than waiting on hold when they’ve called the customer support center. While this is great in theory, in practice it doesn’t always work, and customers are left waiting for hours for a return call.

Tools such as screen pop and skills-based routing have been around since the early days of CTI in the 1990’s, yet most companies are not implementing these tools. Nine times out of ten, callers still have to tell the agent their account number, even if they already entered it via the IVR system.

The point is, these technologies have been around for several years, and have gained popularity with customers as a way of interacting with companies for service and support. However, many times the technologies are not implemented properly, and customers don’t receive the service they expect.

Rather than adding yet another channel to the mix, one that is currently being used by a small portion of the overall population, most companies should be focusing on improving existing channels that your company uses for support, and adding social media after that.

Practical Steps

Here are some practical steps to take. First, look at the current customer trends for contacting your contact center – how many customers are contacting you through the phone, email, chat, SMS, video, etc.? Next, evaluate your current customer service satisfaction levels by surveying your customers through post-call surveys or other survey methods. Based on the feedback, you can determine where your company is falling short, and work to improve those areas. It may be that your hold times are too long, or that the agents need better training, for example. The point is, your customers are reaching out to you in many ways and through various channels, and it’s important to improve the support you provide through the channels that your customers are currently using today.

If you’re not servicing customers properly through the channels they are more likely to use today, adding social media won’t be enough. If you take care of your customer service issues first, then you’re more likely to have customers that praise you via social media – and hopefully that praise will go viral!

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1 Responses to "Back to Basics Before Going Social" - Add Yours

Art Rosenberg 10/21/2011 1:01:34 PM

While I certainly agree with you about the role that social networking will play in promoting customer satisfaction with their contacts with business and government, I think that mobile, multi-modal devices (smartphones, tablets) will impact the need for having a voice conversation immediately with a call center agent. Whether it is simply to get useful information through self-service applications or to get help or complain about a problem, the increased flexibility of mobile access and multi-modality will help eliminate some of the pain of waiting in a queue or talking to someone who cannot provide what the caller wants.

Customers want to be quickly acknowledged when needing assistance, even though it really isn't always necessary to have that assistance provided instantly. That's not the real world!

As long as the response is indicated within a reasonable time frame, based upon the nature of the problem, customers will be satisfied. It's not an "all or nothing" old telephone game that required real-time contacts to be responded to in real-time. If a voice conversation is required by the customer, there is now a "click-to-call" option for self-service applications that is part of UC.

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