THE SOCIAL CUSTOMER
The rise of social media as a customer service channel has often been de facto, in that customers have actively sought out the company’s Facebook page or Twitter account to communicate with it, even if the company originally had a social media presence only to disseminate information. For the foreseeable future, ContactBabel expects social media to remain a relatively minor channel in terms of overall number of interactions compared to telephony, but one with the potential to be strongly negative – to punch well above its weight – and many senior executives within most companies are treating the channel with a great deal of respect.
Despite the relatively low levels of customer interactions via social media, the high-profile nature of this channel and the possible magnifying effects of negative comments means that social media is viewed as being far more important than baseline interaction statistics would suggest. Some savvy customers, knowing that their public complaint or issue will be dealt with quickly, prefer to go straight to a social media channel rather than wait in a telephone queue. Others might choose the social channel after they’ve had a bad experience on another channel, such as waiting on hold for a phone agent.
Uniquely, social media has taken off as a customer service channel as a result of customer demand, rather than businesses’ enthusiasm for promoting a cheaper service channel. For some customers, social media can provide a very positive experience with a very low pain point, and at virtually no cost of time or money: the customer complains, loudly and in public, so the business reacts quickly and effectively.
For the customer, this is great: it is the business for whom the popular methods of social media handling are not optimal: not only do they have to carry out their business in public, reacting quickly and without being able to authenticate the customer’s identity, but they often cannot handle the query without resorting to another channel such as phone or email, which provide more privacy and functionality. In such cases, they are not even seen by the outside world to be reacting quickly and effectively or to have solved the problem. Both customers and companies are finding out what works with social media and what does not. Crucially, as with any channel, success will only come when a channel delivers a successful experience for both sides of the equation.
SOCIAL MEDIA MANAGEMENT AND OWNERSHIP
The role of social media, and how it is managed, is heavily influenced by who holds the budget. For the majority of respondents, it has been the marketing department that held the money for social media, with the customer contact department only responsible for this channel’s investment and finances in a small minority of cases. As social media continues its move away from being primarily a marketing channel towards being a key part of the customer contact mix, it makes sense for the contact center and customer support operation to take more responsibility for the strategy and budget of this channel, and there is some evidence of this now happening.
The evidence that the social media channel was originally set-up as a marketing route rather than as customer service support can be seen in this section. Despite the increasing numbers of customers choosing to use social media for customer support, 37% of respondents report that social media is handled by an in-house team based outside the contact center, usually marketing, PR or corporate communications, with 2% letting an outsourcer handle it.
46% of respondents reported that they have a dedicated social media team working within the contact center, and a minority have a dedicated multichannel team working within the contact center location, may or may not answer telephone calls as well (NB multiple choices were allowed, so totals may add up to more than 100%).
However, these figures show a movement away from the original marketing-led nature of social media, as this is the first year that more respondents have stated that the contact center ‘owns’ social media, rather than the marketing department.
The propensity for customers to complain on social media is actually seen by many businesses to be helpful: 69% of respondents that offer social media as a customer service channel consider it to be extremely useful for acting directly on negative comments and complaints picked up from customers.
Of concern for both businesses and customers, there seems to be very mixed opinions on whether social media is actually providing customers with a fully-supported customer service channel. While 29% feel strongly that they are doing so, 17% feel that they are not.
Social media is not felt to be supporting the business to learn more about its competitors: it may be that businesses are focusing their efforts upon learning what their customers are saying about their own products and services, rather than worrying too much about the competition.
There is some debate about the best way to handle social media inquiries. While it is possible for requests via social media to be analyzed (often by keyword spotting), prioritized and then routed to the agent team most capable of dealing with these specific inquiries, it is not just the same as a phone call or web chat. A quick response is expected, with the attendant pressure that such a service level places upon the organization, but social media does not exist within the same one-to-one paradigm as other customer service channels.
Target response times for handling a social media customer service request are somewhere between a phone call/web chat on the one hand and an email on the other.
44% of respondents try to answer within the hour, but 30% state that they will probably take longer than an hour and 14% don’t have any target at all. While there is room for improvement, these targets are certainly improving each year.
Looking at how social media plays a part in the omnichannel customer experience, 41% of respondents offering service via social media will put the interaction into the customer’s file as if they’d made a phone call, with analysis of the interaction being undertaken by 27% of respondents to ascertain whether the insight can be fed into the wider business processes.
27% of respondents state that they can escalate this to a phone call if required (note as well the high level of email escalations, suggesting that phone calls are still the ‘go-to’ channel). Only 9% of respondents state that they take customers through security (probably via direct messages).
This low figure for security checking should be viewed in context with the higher figures for those who say they add social media interactions to customer records: it would be imagined that before the customer record is opened and amended, security and identification processes would have been completed, so these findings are a little contradictory as they stand.
Tips on providing customer service via social media
- Despite the pressure that social media puts into a business, younger generations are the most likely to express a preference for communicating with businesses in this way. They are also more likely to complain about problems on social media, so supporting a social media customer care plan is vital to winning and keeping this section of your customer
- Social media does not have to refer only to the likes of Twitter and Facebook. Customers are growing increasingly more sophisticated at seeking out help themselves, with many preferring to attempt to find their own solution via customer communities before contacting a business, although this can be a very hit-or-miss
- Be aware that age has a particularly strong role in the choice of customer communication channels. Generally speaking, older generations are more likely to choose the phone as their primary channel, whereas younger customers will look at digital
- 80% of customers trust recommendations from other The downside to this, of course, is that customers will also take a negative criticism of a product or company very seriously.
- By keeping a Twitter feed or Facebook page up-to-date, an organization can reduce inbound call traffic at a time when a particular issue is causing a spike of calls, for example, if bad weather threatens to close
- Blending social media with other forms of customer communication can mean that agents get a more well-rounded view of what customers are actually thinking. Knowledge sharing between agents, especially where new information is put in a timely fashion into the knowledge base, will assist both agents and self-service
- Just because the customer has initiated a social media interaction does not mean that a business has to stay on that channel to resolve it successfully. Customers may like to receive an outbound call from the agent, as this may provide the opportunity to go into further detail, and to resolve the issue
FACEBOOK MESSENGER, WHATSAPP AND INSTAGRAM
With Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp both having well over 1bn active users and Instagram over 800m, organizations should at least have a watching brief over these tools where customer contact is concerned.
The applications have the benefit of familiarity with customers, and businesses may wish to investigate including these types of interaction within their agents’ web chat screen. As many users live their lives permanently logged into these applications, there is an ease-of-use and ubiquity associated with them.
The applications allow historic records of interactions to be kept (which is not the case with all users of web chat), and there is a great advantage over social media such as Twitter and Facebook: messages are private, which not only allows customer identity verification but also will reduce the damage to a business through public negative messages. Unlike most web chat, these applications allow the sharing of images.
The familiarity of these applications will work in favor of agents as well as customers, which will reduce training time and cost. Businesses will also need to consider what is an acceptable service level for these channels: as detailed elsewhere the report, web chat is perhaps closest to the telephony channel’s service level target, whereas social media is more akin to email. Although Messenger/WhatsApp/Instagram are types of social media, they will be used as a web chat from the customer’s perspective and should be resourced according to similar expectations.
WhatsApp, especially, is often used as a closed, group-based application, and there may be pushback from segments of the customer community that do not currently associate the use of these applications with business communication. The challenge to businesses will be to persuade customers that letting them into their social circle is worth the effort.
Regardless of the familiarity that customers and agents have with new communication tools, channel hopping and the need for these various channels to work together (not siloed) in a unified omnichannel experience will continue to remain a large concern. Organizations must be aware of the customer’s intent and journey as more channels continue to become available.
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