Social media has arrived as a first choice channel of interaction for consumers to seek customer care and technical support. It’s the next stage of evolution in the demand for a better online experience and real time customer service.


The birth and exponential growth of social media sites is the new horizon for consumers. However, many enterprise businesses have been slow to embrace social media as a legitimate channel for customer engagement. Here’s a common example: A customer posts a product-related comment or question on a social media site, such as a Facebook page or on Twitter. Many organizations today will ignore the inquiry altogether, or issue a superficial response that directs the customer to contact them through established offline customer support channels. This is all too often a waste of the customer’s time, and misses a key opportunity to both reduce costs and boost customer satisfaction by delivering a robust service experience in the customers chosen channel of interaction.


The primary stumbling blocks for enterprise businesses are in the areas of:

  • Monitoring: Finding relevant items on social media channels has historically proved to be an intimidating task. The overwhelming quantity of tweets and posts need to be filtered down to single, manageable work queue of relevant content. Often times, this is left up to marketing who is typically best positioned for one way communication, most commonly focused on corporate self-promotion and brand building.
  • Action: Social inquiries require immediate action. The inability to respond quickly and effectively turns to customer remorse, reputational damage and lost sales opportunities. Success comes with cutting-edge best practices and highly trained agents, well positioned to deliver final resolution in the customers chosen channel of interaction, regardless of the complexity of the inquiry.


Another common failure point arrives when companies attempt to force the customer out of the social channel, particularly when social is the customer’s chosen channel of engagement. Often due to immature or outdated processes, companies will redirect customers to legacy voice channels of interaction. Even if they’re able to locate the appropriate customer inquiries and comments online, they fall short in their quest to provide full problem resolution within the social channel. This strategy typically fails because it forces the customer unnaturally out of their chosen mode of interaction. The customers could have easily called into a traditional voice queue in the first place, if they wanted to. Brands that will succeed in social media will provide resolution in the customer’s chosen channel of interaction, period.


There are many customer engagement cases that intuitively are poorly suited for resolution in the social channel. But not to worry, a logical escalation path is available today, and it does not involve any involuntary escalations to legacy voice channels of customer interaction. It starts with building a unified agent queue for all text based forms of customer communication, much in the same way we’ve done for years in traditional voice interaction channels. No need for a customer to be transferred to another agent to explain their problem type once more simply because the native channel of interaction is insecure or otherwise inadequate. A natural and secure escalation path exists to provide a link to a live chat session so the issue can be resolved online and immediately, with the same agent that intercepted their social inquiry in the first place. The move from social to chat is a much “softer ask” than moving a social request to voice – and since the agent can be the same, and all of the data from the social interaction can convey, the customer generally will perceive the interaction to be seamless.


Beyond Keywords: Effective Web Monitoring
For many organisations, web monitoring remains challenging and elusive, with disconnects between marketing and operations. Some are still seeking appropriate customer inquiries by searching on keyword – but the state of the industry is evolving rapidly. This pace of innovation will likely accelerate as tools are enhanced and new solutions are created.


Using natural language monitoring instead of basic keyword searches, organizations can more easily eliminate the noise on social media to locate the pertinent messages. Natural language monitoring takes a previously unmanageable amount of information and brings the appropriate messages that merit a response to the top. It also allows for an automated, and better organized routing and prioritization strategy of inbound inquiries to specialized agent queues based on common and resolvable problem types.


Effectives Response Strategies: Better Agents = Better Responses
Customers are very sensitive to poorly crafted social engagements. Social agents need to be well trained and highly skilled. In the social world, poor responses have the potential to go viral. A traditional voice agent that misspeaks limits the company’s liability to the one customer to which they’re speaking. A mishandled customer interaction in the social environment has a far greater potential for widespread negative impact.


Solve for this in the screening and hiring process. Seek technology savvy agents with excellent written and social communication skills. The social agent needs the ability to understand colloquial expressions and slang to best serve customers through the web. Social media can be executed in offshore environments at cost-effective rates, and will evolve to be location agnostic as the channel matures. Text-based channels of interaction, both social and chat, are free of language, intonation or accent-related issues that can be easily detected in voice-based customer care.


Return on Investment
In addition to the experiential consumer advantages of robust web engagement, social media-based customer care delivers a solid and measurable ROI. This is typically calculated by comparing the cost of a social interaction against competing channels of customer interaction. It’s commonly believed that email-based customer service is delivers the lowest cost and highest ROI. Agents can typically handle 30-plus emails in an hour compared to 6-8 phone calls per hour. Clearly, the calculus here isn’t as it appears on the surface for most use cases.


Despite the fact that a greater quantity of emails can be handled in less time, it frequently takes 3-5 emails to fully resolve a customer’s inquiry. In some cases, the customer gives up after the initial emails and deflects to the voice channel – typically the highest cost-per-interaction channel. Now the ROI calculation becomes more complex as it’s both the sunk cost of servicing the unsuccessful emails and the eventual phone call combined. Plus, the customer’s poor experience, although difficult to quantify, is a factor.


Here’s where social customer care really shines. Social agents can typically handle more interactions per hour than traditional voiced based channels of customer support. Since it’s immediate, customer issues are often resolved in a single interaction, and most importantly, within the customers chosen first channel of interaction. It’s verifiably less expensive than the voice channel and the frustrating email process, and customer satisfaction rates improve measurably. The overall social support model delivers a far greater experience and the net ROI is much higher. Bottom line: Social media customer engagement enables organizations to meet the consumer in his/her desired channel, while reducing support costs and improving the customer experience.


What’s Next?
Despite the fact that social customer care is still in its infancy, continuous innovation will continue to influence observed practices as available technologies and increased customer expectations take hold. Video use cases are exploding and rapidly gaining traction faster than most other channels. In the future, video, social media and other technologies will likely further create a paradigm shift in customer care. How-to videos are already common and popular. In the telecommunications industry, for example, videos help explain complex bills to customers and prevent unnecessary, expensive support calls.


In an industry that had not previously experienced a fast pace of innovation, the state of the art is rapidly evolving. Millions of customer interactions taking place every day on social media sites, customer support forums and online communities. Companies that are effectively resolving customer inquiries via social are increasing satisfaction and reducing costs, all while meeting ever increasing customer expectations about how customer care will be delivered in non-voice channels of interaction.


About the Author
John Bryson is a passionate advocate for the Omnichannel customer engagement experience, as validated by delivering the highest possible rate of first contact resolution in the customers chosen channel of interaction – typically mobile, social or traditional voice. Follow him on Twitter @Bryson1K or on LinkedIn.

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