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The Future of Social Customer Service

A major shift in how people communicate–with each other, and with brands–has been underway for the past few years. Online communication is moving away from private, anonymous, one-to-one channels on a desktop computer, to public, one-to-many channels that are mobile and linked to your real identity through social profiles. These shifts are causing major changes in how companies need to handle customer service–and the implications are only just starting to be felt.

We’re now at the stage where ‘social customer service’ has become an established part of doing business. Tweet at any brand and most will respond back to you, publicly and quickly. Even if many companies are not yet delivering the level of social service that consumers expect, they know they have to–and are working towards it.

Shift Communication Channels

The transition of communication from private to public channels like a company Facebook page, or a company Twitter handle, is what makes social service so fundamentally different to traditional customer service. Systems built for the old paradigm of one email chain, one customer, and one ticket simply do not work when a conversation can pass seamlessly between private and public, incorporate multiple customers at once, and mix customer service issues with general engagement. And the dangers of messing up a completely public customer service conversation, in a viral medium, mean that the training and processes for social agents need to be very different from traditional customer service. The potential for a negative impact from a brand getting it wrong is just too high.

The transport industry provides a perfect example of the immediate need for information, and the positive value that is created by taking a pro-active approach over social. The social customer service team of Greater Anglia, a UK train operator, are based in the central command center. They engage with their customers in real time, not only to deliver service, but also to gain real time feedback about what is happening in their network, and feed this back into the rest of the business.

On the negative side, social media means that local problems can become global in minutes. But on the positive, it allows businesses to get in-depth, real-time insight into their customers and supply chain that can be instantly fed into relevant business units. It also gives an amazing opportunity to engage with customers at the point-of-purchase, whether in-store or at the online (or mobile) checkout–with the potential to directly encourage sales and increase customer retention.

Anonymous to real social identity

Social identity has the potential to tie all of the pervious anonymous personal details together to provide social customer service a more complete view of the customer. Your Facebook profile ID is fixed (even if you change your name), is deeply tied to your real identity through the social graph, and is already linked to most of your email addresses, your phone numbers, and potentially even your credit card and address. What's more, most people are always logged-on, whether on their computer, on their iPad, or on their smartphone. Social sign-on gives the opportunity for businesses to connect social data to core customer records and use it as a primary identifier for their customers. This is even possible in-store and offline: many hotels and travel companies are now issuing iPads to put staff and the ground staff so that they can display up-to-date and personalized customer information.

If you can tie the data together–not just between customer service channels, but at all points your business touches a customer–it gives the ability to deliver completely personalized service however and wherever you and your customers interact. Just as in a restaurant you've been frequenting for years where the staff know your name, your favorite table and your regular order, over the next five years instant and completely personalized service will become expected by consumers. Connecting this data also enables companies to track the full customer journey, from looking at a product online, to a conversation with a customer service rep, through to a final purchase. 

Great Service Will Always Be Key

Despite all these changes, the core principles of great customer service always apply. Social customer service comes into its own when meaningful, two-way dialogue takes place between brands and their customers. With brands clamoring for market share in saturated, consumer driven markets, delivering great service in public arenas like Facebook and Twitter offers a clear differentiator to build a competitive advantage. 

Customer service is becoming a way of connecting with customers in real-time, wherever they are and on any channel, with complete awareness and personalization. Done properly, this gives customer service the opportunity to build brand advocacy, drive revenue through both increased sales and reduced customer attrition, and massively increase customer insight. In an always on and real-time messaging world, consumers expect far more than they have before. Responding slower than consumers expect–or even neglecting to answer social complaints at all–will result in consumers abandoning brands. Entering 2015, with both Facebook and Twitter mainstream public companies, this is no longer acceptable. Companies must recognize that social media has become a mainstream customer service channel, and ensure it has a well resourced and thought out social care strategy. Only then can you be ready for the future.