Why Social Media is the New Customer Service Channel (Part 3)

In my first post of this three-part series, I covered the basics of customer service and social media. The second post made the case that social media is the newest customer service channel and that it needs your attention. Below is the third and final post in this series on protecting the brand by providing customer service in social media.

There is encouraging news that companies see the need to move into social media as a customer support channel. In fact, 80% of companies were planning on utilizing social media as part of their customer service strategy by the end of 2012; something they know is important as 62% of their customers are already there (source). While companies are moving to this space, that does not mean they know how to approach the problem. Here are my recommendations on how to proceed.

1. Go with Speed

In most sports, the faster an athlete executes plays, the better the results. The same applies to monitoring for issues online. If an employee can quickly address a problem, they can prevent the complaint from becoming a public relations disaster. Rather than waiting to build the brand’s overall comprehensive social media strategy, the contact center team should create a Twitter handle and target a few of their contact center agents to handle contacts, preferably those that are already engaged in social media themselves. If no such agents are available, consider targeting tech-savvy agents, who will be able to quickly grasp social media concepts. An escalation plan is also important, as customers can be unpredictable, in particular after a poor experience. Agents should not be afraid to pull in more experienced personnel to assist.

However, one caveat to “going with speed” is being prepared. Bradley Leimer of Mechanics Bank stresses banks should not set up a presence on a social media site unless they are equipped to deal with customer expectations in that medium. “Once you’re on a platform, you’ve got to be ready to go (source: Crosman, P. (2010, July). Social Butterflies. Bank Systems & Technology, pp. 33-34).” A study by A.T. Kearney found that in 2011, 56% of the top fifty brands didn’t respond to a single comment on their Facebook pages. On Twitter, brands ignored 71% of customer complaints (source).

2. Have a Social Media Manager for Coordination and Direction

Simply being a user of social media does not qualify someone to manage a company’s social media program any more than a driver of a car is qualified to lead the release of a new car platform. A proven Social Media Manager will have a track record of not only creating professional Facebook pages, but also coordinating engaging programs that increase the number of online followers, turning many of those followers into champions of the brand. This role not only coordinates social media activities between the marketing and support departments, but also provides guidance and process to teams on how best to perform their function in the new channels.

While Facebook and Twitter are the clear heavy-hitters of the industry, an experienced professional will know which other channels to pursue depending on market requirements (LinkedIn, Google+, Pintrest, YouTube, blogging, etc.). With this broad knowledge base, a Social Media Manager can develop a strategy for how to manage the overall brand(s) of the company in this new marketing channel.

Note: At Avaya, we have a great SM Manager, Jaime Schember.

3. Collaborate on a Social Media Strategy

While past customer service interactions were mostly one-to-one, actions on social media are all public, thus handling a complaint is not just customer service, but also branding/marketing. As such, the marketing, social media, and customer service teams all need to collaborate on the company strategy.

A comprehensive strategy should start with the company’s purpose for using social media: a mission statement that serves as the commander’s intent for all involved in social media on behalf of the company. Whenever an employee or hired agent acts on behalf of the brand, they should understand not only the tactical purpose of their efforts, but also the company strategy. While understanding that a blog post can convey needed information, understanding the larger intent is vital. For instance, a goal that their blog should drive traffic to the website from users who would not typically interact with the brand, would guide the author to include keywords and links to mentioned topics, thus increasing the odds that the blog post will be picked up by as many people as possible.

The social media strategy would outline what sites to be used, which tools will manage content and how analytics will be collected, reported, and then actioned. A good strategy is based on researching which networks customers use and find the best match to reach the customers effectively.

4. Selectively Respond

It is important to evaluate the context of a brand mention and decide if it warrants a response. A one off complaint about the temperature in a company’s retail store does not deserve a response. However, a negative review of the company by an analyst or a legitimate complaint from a customer should be addressed as quickly as possible and within the same channel (Twitter, Facebook, etc.). “Generally the best practice is to acknowledge the issue on social media, but to move attempts to resolve the issue offline,” said Gartner’s Carol Rozwell (source). Determining the right hours of operation is important as well. A small Mom-and-Pop-Shop may only need to staff their presence during normal business hours, but larger companies like an airline, need to staff their social media desk 24×7 because social media users expect real-time response rates.

If the group handling “mentions” on social media cannot handle all relevant comments in a timely first-come-first-serve fashion, then they should consider prioritizing them.

5. Prioritize Responses

Given the cost to the business of customer churn, one approach to prioritizing is to determine if the user is an existing customer and focus on her. Another approach is to use the person’s social influence to determine whom to respond to first. One such rating service is Klout which measures a user’s network reach and their ability to leverage it on platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, Pintrest, WordPress, and many more. Many social media tools, such as HootSuite, enable the employee to see a user’s Klout score as part of the tweet and filter and sort tweets using this as criteria.

Such an approach would have helped when Jayne Gorman, a travel writer, who was struggling with British Airways online reservation. She was unable to reach the company via telephone, so she reached out to them on Twitter.

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BA could have done a better job at identifying Jayne early on as an online influencer. With over 5,000 followers on Twitter and a Klout score of 63, they should have prioritized the handling of her tweet. Instead, BA took thirteen hours to respond, leading Jayne to write an article on the experience for The Huffington Post. You don’t need to necessarily resolve an issue the way the customer wants it resolved, but what you cannot do is ignore them.

6. Integration with CRM and the Contact Center

The days of treating social media independently from a company’s operations are gone. It needs to be integrated into most, if not all business functions. Some organizations just getting started in social media have implemented the first stages of a social media engagement process, only to make the mistake of treating engagements as ad hoc. These interactions can be much more effective if you are able to match the online user to a customer in your customer relationship management (CRM) tool.

In the previously mentioned DMG study, while 63% of respondents were using social media to provide customer support, only 37% were using a contact center approach. The consequence of not integrating social media with a contact center means that the company experiences missed gains in productivity and customer satisfaction. Without contact-center functionality, the team responsible for monitoring and responding to social media will need to have the skills necessary for supporting customers. Contact center applications provide a work assignment engine, making sure each item is assigned to one and only one employee, helping to determine average response times. “It’s important not only to keep records of individual conversations, but constantly to analyze the interactions to see what insights can be gleaned from them,” said Gartner’s Ms. Rozwell (source).

What tools to use will vary depending on what CRM and contact center tools may already be deployed in the enterprise and the size of the brand. As companies get started, especially smaller organizations, the default Twitter interface may be a starting point, but users will quickly need at least a product like Hootsuite to provide more control. While more than half of monitored brands still use these off-the-shelf tools (source), they provide limited ownership and reporting.

Avaya’s Social Media Manager is an example of suite that provides more advanced tools. It acts as an analytical funnel for all the potential mentions of a brand online and then feeds the actionable items to contact center agents through its integration with Avaya’s Interaction Center or Aura Contact Center applications. A key component of this product is its ability to consume social media mentions, determine which are actually relevant to the brand since approximately 30% are usually spam, and then determine which of those are actionable. Rich LeGrand of Avaya estimates that of 100,000 hits in a social media search, less than 2% are actionable by the brand.

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Having a tool that narrows down the actions from 100,000 to only 1,400 can clearly reduce the cost to monitor these channels. The tool can be expanded to integrate with an existing CRM database, linking actionable items to real customer information. This tool also provides real-time and historical reporting capabilities, allowing both the contact center and the Social Media Manager to know exactly what is going on and how to handle it.

7. Don’t be mistaken for a Robot

Users of social media are not just there to complain. They have joined these networks in order to socialize with other people. To help build relationships and loyalty for a company’s brand on social media, the online presence must be humanized as well. A call center agent who is used to running through a structured script will need to be trained to properly represent the brand. These individuals need to balance making the experience both an enjoyable experience for them and the customer, while also keeping within the branding guidelines. One company that does this well is HootSuite, a maker of social media tools. They tweet “shift changes” of who is responsible for their Twitter account. The individuals are encouraged to introduce themselves and have a little fun.

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“If your customers have an emotional attachment to your products, make sure your social media agents have that same passion. Even in 140 characters, it shows” – Jeffrey Cohen (source).

8. Segregate your Presence

After a company’s social media presence is established and processes are in place and have been shown to work, some companies choose to create multiple Twitter handles and Facebook pages for different parts of the business if the social media load increases. Research shows that in 2012, 35% of brands use more than one Twitter account, up from 7% in 2011 (source). The most common split is to give customer support their own presence, allowing users the ability to self-segment the types of interactions they want to have with the company. Such segmentation may also occur if the company lacks proper social media coordination and a business function wants to operate independently.

9. Market your Customer Support

You should be communicating to your followers your new support offerings, not just responses to complaints. Expose your personality and your value. It is important for users to know where to turn if they have a problem, and it helps establish the brand as one that takes care of its customers. For example, if a customer tweets about how wonderful support is, retweeting that to the company’s followers not only markets your support, but also further strengthens the emotional bond between that customer and the brand.

10. Don’t Overcommit

The proactive use of social media by marketing departments has increased dramatically over the last decade. The danger is that its use may leave people too dependent on using technology to speak, not allowing enough time to listen to customers. Social media is a key part of most companies’ strategy going forward, but it should not be the lynch pin…

So, what will the future bring? As available tools improve, further online channels can be monitored to provide brands with more information about what users are saying about them. For example, when a software developer runs into an apparent bug with Microsoft software, they do not typically call up Microsoft for support. Instead, they search for others who have reported the same symptom and hopefully there is a documented solution. These are often found in blogs and online forums. While one of those discussion boards may be Microsoft’s, there are countless other sites that contain that data. If Microsoft could crawl those sites, identify that a user found a potential bug, and then route that action to an employee to investigate and fix, they could improve their software quality. Consumer-focused products could take a similar approach with online retailers like Amazon, pulling product feedback either into the support team or to the marketing team for future action.

As social media technologies continue to grow in use and reach, companies must consider their integration and how they impact their brand(s). This is no longer the exclusive realm of the marketing department. Customer service teams must play an active role in monitoring the brand’s online presence. In order to get the most value and scale out of these activities, the effort should be integrated with CRM and contact center technologies, delivering the right contact, to the right employee with the right context. Solid execution of this approach will allow for quick and effective responses to negative brand impressions, not only allowing for image control, but also converting brand detractors into promoters.

Contact or follow me on Twitter @CarlKnerr.

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Trust: The Fuel Driving Digital Transformation

Though they are heading in a similar direction, all of the CIOs I work with are on their own individual roads to transform digitally whilst ensuring they stay ahead in the race to satisfy their end customers.

None of these roads however, are a cruise through the countryside. It’s up to us as their vendor partners to figure out how far into their journeys they have come, to create clear road maps, steer them safely around sharp corners, and keep them grounded on rough terrain—all whilst keeping eyes on the objective: the satisfaction of a smooth drive across freshly laid tarmac.

Inevitably, on this winding road, UK CIOs hit a number of barriers. In particular, there’s one challenge that can end a journey before it’s even managed to clock up a few kilometers. It’s the ability to build trusting relationships with decision makers, internal lines of business, and external vendors and partners. They all play an integral part in creating the right ecosystem, alliances, and consensus towards the journey of DX. Gaining their trust is a complex and delicate process—and it is a necessity.

It is incredible what leading CIOs in the UK are achieving as they work at building enough trust internally to bring their internal audience into the journey. After all, the value of this transformation needs to be articulated, measured, and organization-wide. When this is achieved, the journey of digital transformation becomes an enterprise wide initiative, internal champions are brought into the process, support from cross organizations is established from the start, and the political and financial barriers begin to disappear.

Once trust is established, automatically, technology stops leading the conversation but supports it. The discussion between the CIO and his internal ecosystem becomes business objective centric, defined by the use cases that his internal customers see value in bringing into the business. The technology is then used as a highway to connect defined checkpoints in order to create the shortest most efficient route.

Building internal trust is essential to a CIO’s success in driving digital transformation for his or her organization and in delivering results valued by the organization as a whole. A key outcome is the ability of the CIO to shift the conversation with his or her external ecosystem from a technology to a use cases led dialogue. With this shift, the technology is no longer chosen for its features, but for its ability to be to be a malleable vehicle ready to be taken apart at swift pit stops and pieced back together to suit the ever-changing environment. The focus is no longer on the finish line but on relevant and agile roadmaps defined by short- and long-term goals that support their transformation. Roadmaps that are not simply laid out and driven across at full throttle, but consistently checked and measured to ensure they are progressing and on track.

The CIO needs to be confident that their Vendor as co-driver is an experienced mechanic with that roadmap engraved on the back of their eyelids. They have to trust not only in the technology, but that that their co-driver is guiding them in the right direction towards their vision ahead and will remain by their side as their partner on the road to Digital Transformation.

3 CX Stats That May Change How You Think About Digital Transformation

Technologies like Artificial Intelligence, automation, big data, and the Internet of Things have made digital transformation an absolute necessity for organizations. With people, processes, services and things more dynamically connected than ever, companies are feeling relentless pressure to digitize, simplify, and integrate their organizational structures to remain competitive.

But there’s a big hole in the fabric of most digital transformation (DX) plans: the customer experience (CX). The problem isn’t that companies fail to understand the importance of the CX in relation to digital transformation. Rather, most fail to understand their customers well enough to envision a truly customer-centric, digitally-transformed environment. Just consider that 55% of companies cite “evolving customer behaviors and preferences” as their primary driver of digital change. Yet, the number one challenge facing executives today is understanding customer behavior and impact.

A massive part of digital transformation involves building a CX strategy, and yet customer centricity remains a top challenge for most. In fact, I encourage you to be your own customer within your organization. Walk in your customers’ shoes, contact your organization as your customers would. What was your web experience? Was the expert knowledgeable during a chat conversation? How well did the mobile app work for you? Did you have a connected experience? Given your experience, how brand-loyal would you be to your organization?

Here are three statistics that will get you rethinking your CX strategy in relation to digital transformation:

  1. 52% of companies don’t share customer intelligence outside of the contact center. In other words, over half of companies are limiting the customer journey to the contact center even though it naturally takes place across multiple key areas of business (i.e., sales, marketing, HR, billing). Businesses must ensure customers are placed with the right resource at the right time, whether it’s in a contact center or non-contact center environment. The key is being able to openly share customer data across all teams, processes and customer touchpoints.
  2. 60% of digital analytics investments will be spent on customer journey analytics by 2018. Customer journey analytics—the process of measuring the end-to-end customer journey across the entire organization—is critical in today’s smart, digital world. Companies are rapidly investing in this area to identify opportunities for process improvement, digitization, automation and, ultimately, competitive differentiation.
  3. 60% of customers change their contact channel depending on where they are and what they’re doing. This means organizations must focus less on service and more on contextual and situational awareness. Businesses must work to create a seamless experience—regardless of device, channel, location or time—supported by customer, business and situational context captured across all touchpoints.

The CX should influence every company’s digital transformation story. For more tips, insights, and impactful statistics check out our eBook, Fundamentals of Digital Transformation. Let me know what you think. We look forward to hearing from you.

Let’s Talk about the Modern Business Ecosystem: Why We Need to Open Up

Forty years ago, technology vendors had it all figured out. They would differentiate themselves by continually bringing new proprietary solutions to market—a recipe for success in an age of a closed hardware dependent architecture. By exclusively building their own product portfolio under patent or trade-secret protection, companies could easily secure long-term revenue. This proprietary race fueled business for decades, and it still does today. Consider proprietary software solutions from Apple, which have licensing terms that limit usage to only Apple hardware (for example, Mac OS X).

A proprietary model offers several perks, yet not enough in today’s era of digital transformation. Intelligent, connected technologies like IoT, AI and machine learning have ushered enterprises into a new era of any-to-any communication, one filled with seemingly limitless collaboration and CX possibilities. As companies worked to keep up with the rapid pace of innovation, they came to realize that proprietary solutions stifled their efforts to grow and evolve, and they could no longer rely on one or multiple vendor or their life cycle timelines to develop the next-gen CX and/or vertical-specific services they needed.

A Big Change in a Small Amount of Time

Over the course of just a few short years, we saw a massive paradigm shift in which companies began seeking niche vendors to drive revenue and competitiveness. They turned to cloud-based businesses that were born in the digital era. They looked to startups that specialized in vertical-specific strategies. It wasn’t long before the average organization had created a unique, multi-vendor ecosystem in which various solutions were integrated to meet specific customer and vertical requirements. Case in point: the average business now leverages up to six different cloud solutions.

As every market filled with competing vendors, it seemed the most influential players were those that offered engaged, open ecosystems. These vendors allowed customers to freely modify original source code for virtually any purpose, versus retaining copyrights. With so many companies operating complex, multi-vendor ecosystems, open architecture that enabled collaborative app development became ideal for driving desired customer outcomes. We even see customers now acquire their own technology to accelerate the digitization of their business. You can’t do that in a proprietary and rigid architecture.

Multi-vendor Ecosystem vs. Open Ecosystem

This rise of niche vendors isn’t expected to slow down anytime soon. In fact, Gartner predicts that startups will overtake leaders like Amazon, Google, IBM and Microsoft in markets like AI by 2019. If not properly supported, however, a multi-vendor environment can create infinitely more harm than good.

For starters, companies must secure their multi-vendor ecosystems. Research shows that the average organization’s network is accessed by 89 different vendors and partners per week, a number that should send chills down your spine from a security perspective. If that’s not shocking enough, one-third of companies admit they don’t know how many vendors access their systems at any given time. Despite this, over 70% believe their number of third-party vendors will increase by 2018.

In addition to this is the inherent challenge of seamlessly leveraging multiple different vendor solutions. You see, if these solutions aren’t properly integrated, they don’t represent a truly open ecosystem. To build targeted solutions that continually improve outcomes, companies must be able to seamlessly collect, track, share and use the data that exists across all vendor platforms and knowledge bases. None of these systems can be siloed from one another.

Consider the benefits of an open ecosystem within the transportation industry. Picture this scenario: administrators have taken notice that the 7:45 a.m. train fills up every morning to the point where passengers must wait for the next train. In a truly open ecosystem, management can leverage data collected across various integrated solutions (i.e., ticketing platforms, video surveillance systems, Wi-Fi/carrier grade services, mobile app systems, movement sensors, etc.) to identify the root cause of the issue and begin driving better customer outcomes. Data from the ticketing platform, for instance, may show that tickets purchased for 7:45 a.m. exceed the train’s maximum capacity by 15%.

At this point, management can leverage data in various ways to determine the best solution to the problem. For example, they may want to build a sophisticated level of automation to dynamically change the train schedule, monitoring it for continual improvement. They may choose to send automated SMS messages informing customers of anticipated congestion times and suggested alternatives for work travel while displaying updated information in real time on their digital signage systems. They could incentivize daily commuters by offering 15% off monthly passes if used for an earlier or later train time. Regardless of how the experience is enhanced, the entire technology ecosystem should be actively working together to make it happen. As I say, dealing with congestions on highways by constantly rebuilding the roads with more lanes is not exactly the smartest approach. Maximizing and optimizing its usage through smart traffic distribution and management can be proven to be way more effective while meeting the citizen’s experience.

The Future of the Customer Experience Relies on Open, Extensible Architecture

The more open a business ecosystem, the more seamlessly data can be leveraged to drive desired customer and citizen outcomes. The ability to track, collect and share data across dispersed systems is what allows companies to create custom solutions that target exact customer requirements. This open, extensible nature is vital within a next-generation platform.

Differentiating oneself is no longer as simple as rolling out a new proprietary solution. To drive desired outcomes and deliver true value, organizations must be open, agile, integrated and future proof. As the world continues transitioning to an open ecosystem, we become that much closer to eliminating a longstanding dependency on legacy hardware and hierarchal architecture.

So far, I’ve discussed four of five critical components that organizations must start looking at within a next-generation platform: next-gen IT, IoT, AI and open ecosystem. Up next, we’ll take a deep dive into the final and most significant of these: the customer (or citizens) experience. Stay tuned.