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Social Care for All

We are social creatures. From the beginning of civilization, we have maintained bonds with family and friends for safety, survival and support. That need for connection and the feeling of being a part of something are elemental to being human. And they are two primary reasons why social media is so widely used.

Social media, when you really think about it, is remarkable. The sheer number of people who participate in and use social media is amazing— nearly 174 million people in the U.S. in 2014 . That number is expected to exceed 200 million in 2019. And when you look at the number of apps available for people to socialize and engage and the number of connections and relationships and conversations…it is truly amazing. Anyone can go online and find a community of like-minded people—the modern equivalent of your historical tribe.

And where people go, brands go—partially because they want to stay engaged with their customers and audiences, and partially because those customers and audiences demand it. Increasing numbers of people are contacting brands via social media with questions, concerns or to share feedback. Phone is still the channel the majority of consumers use to contact brands but social media is quickly catching up.

Social Customer Care Today

So which customers prefer social customer care over traditional phone and email customer care? It’s a moving target. It used to be mainly millennials, the generation that has grown up online. Now, driven by the ubiquity of smart phones, consumers of all ages are discovering and liking the speed, ease of use and value of social customer care. And the percentage of customers contacting brands via social media is growing every year.

Volumes of research are being produced annually tracking and commenting on this trend. LiveOps Research has found that 50 percent of Gen X and 71 percent of Gen Y customers have used social and mobile channels to communicate with a brand recently. J.D. Power and Associates says that 67 percent of customers have used a brand’s social media site for service . And Nielsen has found that 33 percent of users prefer to contact brands using social media rather than the telephone. That may not seem like a huge number—but that’s one-third of consumers, and that number will continue to grow each year.

But that’s not all! Forrester says self-service usage increased from 67 percent in 2012 to 76 percent in 2014, a nearly 10 percent jump in two short years. And they found that 70 percent of customers prefer to use a brand’s website to find answers instead of calling. For the first time, the phone channel has been unseated from the top spot by web self-service.

Most of the research focuses on millennials and Gen X, but what about Baby Boomers? As a group, they are probably considered less “tech savvy” than younger generations but that doesn’t mean they don’t use technology. In fact, boomers created most of the core technology we use today—think Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and Tim Berners-Lee. And boomers have smart phones, broadband internet and social media accounts in ever-increasing numbers. According to Pew Internet Research , 46 percent of online seniors use social media sites, and among those who use the Internet, 71 percent go online every day or almost every day. Their use of social customer service is on the rise.

Social Customer Care Raises the Stakes

What does all of this research and all of these statistics mean for brands providing social customer care? There are a lot of instructive points in here. The first and most basic: brands must have a social presence. Brands must have a team dedicated to social engagement and actually engage with customers in a two-way conversation. LiveOps Research shows that 85 percent of consumers feel that the way a brand handles issues on their website or social channels is a good indicator of their customer satisfaction and the quality of their support.

Get involved and interact quickly with customers. Customers expect a much faster response on social media and want their issue to be resolved with the first contact. That means brands must empower their customer care agents to do what’s necessary for customer satisfaction. LiveOps has a formula for customer success that says “Better Agent Experience (BAX) = Better Customer Experience (BCX) = Better Customer Lifetime Value (BCLTV)™.” Research and prevailing sentiment support it—if you have happy customer service providers, they will provide better service, making customers happy and keeping them coming back for more.

Forrester has found that 71 percent of customers say that valuing their time is the most important thing a brand can do to provide good service—so do it! It isn’t that difficult to show a customer their time is important and the payoff can be huge in terms of repeat business and positive word-of-mouth.

Brands must be aware that the stakes are higher with social customer care. The days when a customer called, complained and the issue was dealt with “behind closed doors” is nearing an end. There are still those cases, of course, but social customer care means interactions are public. And even “private” interactions can be made public by someone sharing. The Harvard Business Review shared that customers who have positive social customer care experiences are nearly three times more likely to recommend a brand, while American Express Global Customer Service Barometer shows that 42 percent of people will tell their friends about a good customer experience on social while 53 percent will talk about a bad one…so the bad ones get more airtime and spread more quickly.

Brands should also remember that it isn’t just millennials using social customer care—customers of all ages, and all levels of technical savvy, are engaging online. Brands must be prepared to answer questions, provide customer service and also assist new social media users as they are figuring things out. It’s not something at the top of most brands’ lists, but what a way to make a customer for life!

The benefits to brands of providing social customer care are clear—and the risks of not providing social customer care are just as clear. Make sure your brand is prepared and providing social customer care to all interested audiences today or in the near future. And try to have some fun with it…that fun comes through to customers and influences opinions. Be social and prosper!