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The rise of social customer service – (#SMWLDN)

Posted by Joe McNamara on 3rd October 2012

I recently went to an event at Social Media Week discussing the use of social media as a customer service platform, outlining some of the dos and don’ts of engaging with customers directly through social channels. It covered some of the strategies being employed when managing online communities by companies such as Sony, BT and O2.

As a tech PR agency, it is only natural for us to talk about how social media can be used as a marketing and brand awareness tool. However, we are increasingly helping brands using social networks as a means of engaging directly with their customers to answer queries, handle complaints, and encourage sales.

Nowadays, when we think about social media, there is a tendency to think Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Google. Lest we forget that, despite clunky interfaces, online forums are still an extremely popular way for customers to seek counsel or share their thoughts on products and services.

Make your community run itself

Nico Henderijckx, European Forums Communities Manager at Sony, described how the company has found an innovative solution to the problems it encountered involving staff regularly in community management. The answer is simple – show your customers how to help your customers.

This isn’t a case of giving super sharing fans a few freebies to paint the brand in a good light. Around 40% of the entire forums and communities’ budget is spent on training and entertainment expenses to educate Sony super users so that they themselves can respond to technical queries and complaints online. Super users are classified as those individuals that spend two hours a day on the forum, making multiple visits.

So far, the strategy seems to be working for Sony. Approximately 85% of all problems raised on forums are acknowledged, with 60% of these issues actually being solved. This compares extremely well to the average rates across social media platforms which, according to customer service consultant, Martin Hill-Wilson, is only in the region of 40%.

The growing pains of social for brands

During his time at Brainfood Consulting, Martin has seen both success and failure from brands using social platforms as customer service tools. According to his research, the perception of the power social media brings is not an accurate reflection of the reality.

Let’s quote some statistics: over one in three of us have interacted with a brand on social media, and nearly two thirds think that it is better than a call centre. Incredibly, 30% of customers expect a response on Twitter within half an hour, 81% say within one day is fine. In reality, 72% of brands are not responding to anybody. Amongst those that do, very few are doing so within the hour.

There are success stories that we can take heart from, of course. During the London riots, BT reduced ‘999’ call waiting times from 41 seconds to 0 seconds with its tweets of advice and support. Furthermore, 54,000 calls are deflected from the call centre each month using social media. Similarly, O2 almost doubled its Twitter following during the network outage during July thanks to its crisis management via social.

As with social media marketing, the best brand content and personalities win the day. For consumer brands, showing the real people behind the tweets can be a winner, as we see with the example of Virgin Money, with tweets being attributed to the CEO.

It is still important for brands to get the rest of their customer service right as well as social media. According to a study conducted by Click Fox, only 3.5% of customers are unaffected by negative comments on a brand platform, meaning that brands cannot afford to have annoyed customers sharing their disgust towards other customer service channels on social networks. Ultimately, social network and online community management must form one part of a wider customer service strategy.

Joe McNamara