Published: February 05, 2013 | Comments
Customer service is a tricky thing to implement across the board so that logistics and customer convenience perfectly line up. It's been a difficulty since the dawn of the communication age which hasn't been resolved as of yet. When telephones became mainstream, this was quickly adopted as a means to handle real time customer support, with hard-working operators answering and redirecting calls to the appropriate departments.
Alas, operators were soon replaced by touch tone directories and in recent years (for better or for worse), voice recognition directories. When the internet became the prevalent beast it is today, other architectures such as help desk/ticket systems, email and forums were also adopted to handle some or all of the customer service scenarios, depending on workload or company preference.
These all work theoretically, but they have their severe flaws. Phone directories (called more disdainfully 'phone trees') result in annoying lengthy navigation and very long hold times. Help desks and forums are not real time, something customers all but demand in modern customer service, and email was never terribly reliable.
Thankfully, the social media concept, an advent of the past decade, is finally being adopted by many companies as a customer service platform. It took a long time for this to catch on in customer service, for a couple reasons. First off, a technology is often watched closely by companies for seven to ten years before being embraced, because some of these abstract concepts quickly fade into obscurity when their novelty wears off. Another reason is that there are some inherent difficulties with using these platforms for customer service.
Let's take Twitter as an example of the problems that can arise. On Twitter, typical messages are publically visible, meaning that any tweet posted by a user is visible to all who follow them. This goes the same for the company. This means that two disparate groups of unrelated individuals are viewing one side of this conversation. The problem here is that not only is potentially sensitive information unwise to pass along through this manner, but the conversation causes a flux of worthless noise for followers of either side, and in some cases, can exceed tweet count. The character limit doesn't help, either. Twitter does however offer a DM (direct message) system in which two parties may privately exchange messages with no interlopers. It has the tweet count limit.
In order for two parties to DM each other over Twitter, both must be following one another. Coordinating this can be difficult, and the mutual follow causes extraneous noise through follow association when the two parties openly tweet in other scenarios.
Twitter is a convenient framework conceptually, but it could be greatly frustrating to use as a primary platform for social customer service.
Facebook isn't much better, as complaints are public, and can cause others to comment on the issue and cause a big fuss that can easily lose control. If you then block comments, customers will notice and cause a bigger issue. Messaging requires anonymous contact via the Facebook 'Like' page, not unlike Twitter's requirement for mutual following to DM. Twitter, is possible to use for partial customer service if the following somewhat messy procedure is followed in some form.
A company must have a dedicated team of three or more around-the-clock social customer service professionals or at least state the hours of operation via social networks. These professionals will then have a specific twitter account for the company's help center, apart from the company's primary twitter account. A customer will be encouraged to follow this Twitter account under normal circumstances. When a customer needs assistance, they will tweet their need for help to this company account. Technicians will then temporarily follow this customer, and send a DM to them, over which a discourse on what the problem that may be handled. But, it isn't wise to bog them down with handling the particular issues.
This is where knowing where social customer service must yield to traditional platforms is important. There are some basic, general questions these individuals can handle with simple single message replies. This is no major thing for them to do, and it reduces the congestion on the higher level customer service platforms that must accompany social constructs. But anything that becomes a bigger issue should be moved to more traditional platforms. You must know when to stop using these platforms. It can be frustrating to the customer and give a bad experience.
This hybridization allows quicker dispatch of customers to proper agents who can handle their problems, reducing hold times, slow help desk issues and inconvenience of multiple call resolutions. It can also lead to eventual self-service for the customer. If they get enough knowledge from the friendly social media rep, then they see no reason to keep seeking help. This too can significantly lower costs and inbound calls and emails. A social customer service department can also implement tools that allow Self-service so that the minor issues don’t need to be highlighted via social media outlets. WalkMe, who intuitively guide users to self-task successfully with even the most complex processes can decrease all the non-issue questions so that when customers use Twitter for support, they are only seeking help for bigger more meaningful issues.
To conclude, adopting social customer service to your company is great, if not innovative, but shouldn’t end the traditional forms of communication between you and the customer. It is still new and isn’t fool proof. You need to watch the activity like a hawk, and make sure nobody gets offended by the methods you choose to express yourself in helping the customer.
Marketing Director and Specialist in Customer Success at WalkMe, the world's first interactive online guidance system. She is chief writer and editor of I Want It Now, a blog for Customer Service Experts. Follow her: @StefWalkMe