Social Support – Serving Customers in Channels of Choice

Traditional customer service has often been run as if companies don’t want to talk to their customers. Because contact centers have been considered to be sunk operational costs rather than run as profit centers with an integral role to play in delivering customer experience, companies have failed to impress customers as their needs and preferences have evolved.

The 2012 American Express Global Customer Service Barometer found that sentiment is split with 32% saying they believe businesses have increased their focus on customer service and 32% saying that they have not. But this sentiment sways toward the lack of improvement side with 29% saying they see no change at all in customer service. Only 7% of customers say that their customer experiences are excellent.

One reason to take a solid look at how well your company is supporting customers across channels is that 66% of customers say they would spend an average of 13% more with companies that provide them with positive experiences. A big opportunity to capitalize on improving customer service, as well as to solidify brand affinity in a public arena, is social support.

According to the Barometer, 56% of customers will tell an average of 24 people when they have a bad experience. This is up from 16 people a year ago. Social networks likely have a multiplier effect that’s not taken into consideration in this study.

Social Support Requires Expertise

As customers become more demanding and channels multiply, so do the options available for connecting with customers. However, social support is not phone support. It cannot be treated the same as inbound calls to the call center for a variety of reasons, including:

  • Channel variables: If a customer Tweets requesting help, they expect at least the initial response to come via the same channel. Each channel has a different style, tone and etiquette that must be addressed appropriately. For example, Twitter handles don’t translate on Facebook or LinkedIn.
  • Response times: While it may be appropriate to respond to an email within 24 hours, customers using Twitter expect a response much more quickly—within hours. Unfortunately, 23% of customers say they rarely or never get an answer or have their complaint resolved.
  • Communication types: Questions on social support channels can range from direct requests for assistance to asking customers for opinions to general queries. Your social support team must have a strategy and plan for how to address different communications in different channels.
  • Setting precedence: How you choose to respond via social support can set expectations that may not be what your company intended. For example, trying to silence a detractor by making an appeasement offer of a discount or replacement item may cause others to complain via the channel where they see the most personal benefit.
  • Public forum: Social support is much different than inbound calls to the call center because it’s publicly viewable—or at least will start that way. Your team must be trained to uphold the brand promise, but also to be cognizant of the impact of whatever they “say” on social networks as a representation of your brand.

Your Contact Center Vendor Must Bring Social Competency

Contact center vendors should be able provide for the support needs of your customers in the channels they frequent. While many companies assign social media to a team related to marketing, providing support in social channels requires a different skillset and attention level. Social support is not a short-term campaign; it’s an ongoing relationship effort to effectively engage with those who sustain your business.

While customers can—and will—vent their frustrations, the point is that the right social support approach will lessen that emotion as a motivator for expression. It’s also important to realize that, of the 17% of customers who have used social media in relation to a brand, 50% used it to seek support, 48% used it to praise a company for a great service experience and 33% praised the individual who provided the enjoyable experience.

Once you decide to provide social support, it’s not something you can backslide on without repercussions. And it’s also a service that needs to reach proficiency quickly. A vendor with social support expertise will have the ability to craft social support strategies that dovetail nicely with the other channels of support they already provide for your contact center. They will be able to ramp quickly and competently, without the stumbles and learning curve that may be experienced trying to do so internally with a team that’s more adept at marketing or selling socially than supporting customers and resolving issues.

Using your contact center vendor for social support also provides:

  • Consistency for the support experience—irrespective of channel
  • Fast and focused response times that set and deliver on customer expectations
  • Engaging customers in their preferred channel and guiding them to the most appropriate channel for swift, end-to-end resolution
  • Restraint from knee-jerk responses not thought through in the heat of the moment
  • Ability to silence naysayers by providing great experiences that turn them into advocates

If your company has customers looking for support and service in a social setting and it’s not being delivered or not being done well, it’s likely you’re losing business you may not even have recognized. Fifty-five percent of customers said they have intended to conduct business with a company or purchase a product but decided not to because of a poor customer service experience.
Can you really afford to take the risk of being present in a channel but not being responsive enough to support needs?

Nick Sellers

Author Nick Sellers

Nick Sellers is the Senior Director of Strategy & Marketing at SYKES. An outsourced contact center and customer experience veteran with almost 30 years of understanding and satisfying the needs of companies and their customers, Nick focuses on customer service through online channels (chat, social media, community forums, self-help) and support solutions for technology sector companies. Please feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn or on my personal blog at www.journey2excellence.com.

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