The Emergence of Social Media Customer Services

August 23, 2017

Earlier this week Inc.com reported that a Tesla customer complained on Twitter and within 30 minutes Elon Musk the CEO of Tesla personally responded with a promise to fix the problem. The value to Tesla for delivering excellent customer service in the form of a personalised and timely response to direct customer feedback with a commitment to offer resolution is a clear signal  to all businesses, whatever the size, that there is a tangible value in learning and investing in how to use social media to engage with customers. This blog goes someway to review the importance of social media plus the opportunities and challenges that social media represents customer centric brands and service providers.

 

According to We Are Social’s Global Digital Snap Shot for August 2017 there are now worldwide over 3 billion active social media users; over 5 billion active mobile phone users and over 55% of these are active mobile social media users.

 

Facebook is the leading social media platform globally with over 2 billion active users of whom 87% access Facebook via a mobile device on an almost daily basis. It is clear that mobile phones are now the most important device for over two-thirds of the global population.

 

The UK has a population of over 65.6 million and is projected to reach approximately 74 million by 2039 according to the ONS. The ownership of smart mobile phones continues to grow year-on-year and according to Deloitte no other personal device has had such commercial and societal impact on our lives.

 

Following Deloitte's sixth annual edition of the UK Mobile Consumer survey that analyses the current trends in the mobile industry they identified that 31% of smartphone users make no traditional voice calls in a given week - this is up 6% on the previous

year and continues to grow. Therefore phone ownership is up, phone usage is up but actually using the phone to make a telephone call is down. Why? Broadly speaking the "millennial" segment of people born between the 1980's & 2000 predominantly favour to use text messaging, instant messages (IM), email app and social networks to communicate. According to Chase Payment Tech the millennial generation will soon have a larger wallet force than the ageing baby boomers. The shopping preferences of millennials are very different from past generations: there is no longer such a thing as an offline or an online journey to purchase, as every journey is normally a combination of both. This is a generation that is hungry for convenience from both media and brands. Brands now need to connect the dots between supplier, location, customer knowledge, product information and customer support in real-time, anytime. In terms of customer services this shift in customer behaviour means that the traditional channels of telephone and to some extent email are now being increasingly marginalised towards those of an older generation. Millennial's aged between 20 - 35 years that now account as the third largest segment in the UK with over 14 million individuals after Baby Boomers aged between 51-69 years are driving change.

 

The challenge for contact centres, ticket agents and retailers whose stock and services span across multiple consumer lifestyle segments and ages is to adapt and deliver a consistent approach to communicating with customers in a contemporary manner whilst realising the full commercial benefit of providing “Social Customer Services”.

 

According to JD Power approximately 67% of US consumers now turn to social media for customer service requests and Forrester Research forecasts that marketers will spend US$15.5 billion on social marketing in the US alone compared to £1.25 billion in the UK (IAB). Social media is having a material impact upon the entire customer lifecycle and the customer services journey and in many cases it is forcing companies to humanise their brand to better meet customer expectations for authenticity, empathy and connection when they require assistance or raise an issue.

 

Based upon a recently published meeting convened by e-consultancy with senior UK marketing executives from travel, financial services, non-profits, B2B and FMCG businesses to discuss Social Customer Services the following findings were noted. 43% of customers  now expect social customer services to be integrated by the brand; 27% of customers expect to get a response within 30 minutes and 30% of customers expect first contact resolution from social customer services. It was also pointed out that a significant number of online stores currently only offer customer services through FAQ, email or contact form and up to 55% of all social media customer service queries in the UK go unacknowledged or unanswered. A 2016 review by InternetRetailing Media in their TOP 500 DIMENSONS REPORT NOVEMBER indicated that of the top 500 UK retailers 83% and 78% had Facebook and Twitter accounts whilst other channels of communication including telephone (55%), Email (25%) and live webchat (6%) were simply functional. Therefore are  retail businesses on the whole meeting the expectations of customers?

 

Customer service expectations include customers wanting to take control of the communication to ensure they are being listened to, feel understood, feel cared about, help make sense of the issue above all feel connected. Developments in consumer technology mean that customers expect convenience, accessibility and choice in how and when they can communicate their enquiries or raise issues. Customers expect transparency and truthfulness as critical components of customer service and customers expect a timely speed of response and expedient resolution.

 

As a Contact Centre our job is not only to deliver expedient sales and first time resolution on enquiries but also act as “brand guardian” tasked with delivering consistently high standards of customer service to maintain and grow customer loyalty and advocacy on behalf of our Clients and independent of communication channels including social media. There is an obvious opportunity so why it not being adopted more rigorously? Are there any good case studies to learn from?

 

KLM is a 95 year old Dutch airline brand servicing over 67 countries worldwide. KLM is a well-documented case study in providing Social Customer Services as part of its already established strategy for providing excellent Service, Brand and Reputation and Commerce. In 2012 KLM became the first airline to reschedule a flight following a request from a user on Twitter and subsequently introduced a program called “Meet & Seat” allowing passengers to link their social media profiles to their check-in information and choose their seating. Today KLM has over 100,000 mentions a week on social media. KLM has over 235 Social Customer Service agents (up from 150 in 2015) who answer all questions in public, even if they have negative connotations. In 2015 they were receiving 70,000 queries per week of which approximately 10,000 needed further investigation. KLM manages to average response time of 23 minutes (though can take longer in busy periods), they communicates in 14 different languages and publishes an up-to-date average response time every five minutes in its Twitter header image. In 2015 annual revenues from social media customer services exceeded US$25 million. In April 2016 KLM embarked on developing a ChatBot built on the DigitalGenius artificial intelligence application to propose answer to a customer inquiry or interaction and the customer service agent decides whether to use it or not. Initially, the application has been trained on 60,000 previous customer-agent interactions and it continues to learn by observing the actions of the agents, specifically when the agent decides not to use the proposed answer.

 

Another  example is the insight shared by the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising on how  Transport for London positioned social media at the centre of its customer service. Tfl have a team of 10 working 24/7 in three shifts based in the main contact centre managing an average of 3,000 customer queries a day across various channels: email, telephone, letter, 25 Twitter feeds and Facebook. Volumes can vary enormously, depending on factors like weather and service conditions. By speed of response, Twitter is the fastest of these with queries serviced on average in one minute. That compares with average response times of 15 minutes for email and letter; 7 minutes for telephone; and 2 minutes for Facebook.

 

There are a number of general considerations when deploying social media customer services including

the requirement to have connectivity with other systems within the business and especially having a  transparent “Customer View”. The integration of social media into ticketing systems would prevent delays as customer service operators would have seamless access to the ticket reference number, ticket purchase history and understand where the customer is in the  customer journey. Contact Centres have the requirement to manage multiple clients with multiple social media accounts. There are a number of software systems on the market that provide intuitive dashboards that help to draft, schedule, queue, and post messages as well as being capable to assign and manage tasks among customer service operators as well as track and measure your social performance. Three such systems include SproutSocial, Hootsuite and CX Social.

 

Other considerations to embarking on a social media customers services strategy is to undertake sensitivity analysis and establish how to humanise brand objectives and ensure that social media customer service operators can deliver.

 

Understanding and concisely articulating a brands "Tone of Voice" is essential and is often the most audible element of a social media strategy. There are primarily four dimensions in a social media brand voice that should be consider especially in Operator training. These include: Persona, Tone, Language and Purpose of message according the expected day-to-day feedback from customers as well as managing crisis when dealing with disaster or unexpected events. For example, a brands tone of voice can be described as: Friendly, Open, Clear, Natural, Empathetic, Personable/Human, Knowledgeable, Informal but professional, Helpful and goes the extra mile. Secondly, any company with a effective HR program will use criteria based recruitment, continuous training and mentoring of customer service operators in a manner to align skills to the brands tone of voice, provide the tools to deliver best practice between free text and canned answers as well as ensure process and procedures are adhered to in dealing with customer queries designed to protect and ensure the privacy of personal information. It should be clearly stated what information can be managed publically and what types of communications are removed from the public feed and taken privately or escalated.

 

In any market the process of transformational change that an organisation experiences including the

iterative stages of forming, storming, norming and performing will be challenged once again when artificial intelligence (AI) is provided as a service in customer services. Developments by Amazon (Alexa), Microsoft (Cortana), Apple (Siri), Facebook and Google with the development of  API's will enable retailers to automate customer services with the use of ChatBots and Virtual Assistants supported by human customer service operators (read more).

 

In conclusion, businesses who have active and engaging customer communities of millennial's and web savvy baby boomers should utilise social media for customer services as  social media is no longer a thing that some people have and

some people don't, it's now how we communicate and engage and should be at the centre of a co-ordinated sales, marketing and technology strategy that enhance service levels, brand equity, reputation and revenue potential. Social media customer services can not be isolated or ignored but connected as an integral part of any cross-channel marketing program to deliver personalisation and pre-empt customer behaviour in an engaging, contextual and relevant manner. The downside of not adapting could potentially be a "Kodak moment" if a business decides to lag behind or struggles to adapt to change. Undeniably social media is a cost but what is the cost without it?

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