Just off of LiNC 2013, my company's customer conference, I was really energized by the response and enthusiasm of customers, speakers, and the general content presented at the event. The message was clear: social technology is a major marketplace factor and the impact to business is both clear and irreversible.
That is not to say that "everyone has to adopt social this or social that." As always, how you run your business is up to you, and it's for you to determine the extent to which, if at all, the general tendency of customers and market influencers to use collaborative tools - idea sites, forums, peer support, internal (enterprise) blogs, and wikis - relates to your business. Maybe it does, or maybe it doesn't. My personal view is that social technology - whether as a driver of sales, an alternative or additional support channel, or an internal connector that encourages collaboration - impacts how business gets done.
To this point, I took particular note of an article by Brian Cantor. Brian is managing editor and community director of IQPC's Customer Management iQ, an online resource for professionals interested in learning more about customer care. Brian talked about a recent study that concluded "phones provide the best support" and then explored why that might have been concluded based on those studies.
Brian made the central point (and I've certainly seen this behavior in brand mangers who I've worked with) that we tend to believe in the things we are most comfortable with or already prepared to do, and hence the study "concluded" what it did. Ask someone what her favorite food is and the response will often be, "What I eat at home every day." Send that person to France or Spain for a summer and the answer will likely change. With exposure and wider experience comes an expanded view of reality.
In the case of customer care over the past 20 years, customer support has meant one thing: the phone. Consider SAP's recent research in association with the Pivot Conference: according to the study, the majority (almost 80 percent) of brands spend less than $50,000 dollars annually - less than the fully loaded cost of one phone agent - on their entire social customer care program. Add to that the Forrester data that suggests over 70 percent of the "tweets" to a brand go unanswered. It's no wonder the survey Brian referred to concluded phones were the best option: for a lot of customers faced with questions and issues from a whole lot of brands…phones are the only option.
AT&T, Dell, Verizon…spend billions on customer care, and each of these is heavily pushing for social customer care. Why? Because they recognize that customers enjoy and therefore use social media, and that coincidentally these tools and channels lend themselves to asking questions. If we can let each other know what we're doing right now, we can certainly let an airline, technology manufacturer, or sports venue know with whom or with what we are doing it. That behavior involves the brand in social conversations related to support whether it wants to be or not.
So it stands to reason that, if consumers do prefer these tools, it's probably in the brand's best interest to build some real social support capability. Citing again the SAP/Pivot research, about half the brands surveyed claimed that social was a part of their CRM efforts, but then added the disclaimer that "We don't yet have a formal process for it." Call me a stickler for detail, but my experience says if it's business and you don't have a process for it…it's not happening.
So what's the business case? Start with ROI. Real, fiscal ROI. For many firms, and in particular those who measure it, social interaction is less costly. Phones are typically the most expensive, and peer-to-peer communities are the least on a per-interaction basis. The interaction cost of gent-staffed social response is somewhere in the middle. If you can get a handle on real call deflection, or on the value to your business of "one customer issue resolved" that can relate, quantitatively, to your investment in social response and engagement to the financial benefit.
I was on a panel recently with Time Warner Cable at Ogilvy's Social Media Week: there was a clear case made for the importance of getting social right, both in terms of brand image (soft measure) and ROI (hard measure). Notably, Time Warner Cable was just cited as one of the "Top 10 Savviest" brands using social media. (Disclosure: Time Warner Cable is a customer of Lithium and uses our social products.)
More fundamental to social customer care - and again to the point of the real difficulty in adopting social technology - is recognizing and owning the connection between actual experience and resultant conversations. In short, it's really hard work. The challenge with social is that it's not just an add-on: it's a culture change. It's pretty obvious, but worth noting that a complaint on the phone is shared with one person, the agent, and this person is unlikely to rebroadcast the complaint. By comparison, social is built to rebroadcast, to share, and that means changing internal practices with regard to how complaints are handled that plays as well on the social web as it does over the phone.
Case in point: P.F. Chang's in Austin, TX. When a colleague visited the downtown location during SXSW 2013, she fell ill shortly after. She called the restaurant, and the response was, "Bring in the receipt and we'll comp or replace the dish you think made you sick." The private phone response "resolved" the issue. (P.F. Chang's did not have to do anything different, and the customer probably won't press the issue further. Case closed.)
Now ask yourself: how would that same response play on the social web? The above course of action did not actually fix anything, so it's likely to occur again: search for "p f chang food poisoning Austin" and look at the search results. You'll see a steady flow of similar posts. Now imagine that the phone response from P.F. Chang's - "Bring in the receipt and we'll comp or replace the dish" - was posted on the social web (publicly) rather than conveyed (privately) over the phone? How would that play? I'm not sure that most people want "replacement" of a dish that made them sick. What they want is to know that it won't happen again.
Two points emerge here: first, on the social web, actual resolution is more difficult because the transaction is judged in public. That requires the entire organization to step up, to raise its game, and to see customer satisfaction and hence positive social posts as the top priority. Second, you need a multi-channel strategy. Some customers will call first, while others will post first. You need to be present and ready to respond at all contact points.
Different channels support customers in different ways; they are not simply "equal alternatives." If someone has a software driver issue, she can probably search and find others with the same issue who have also resolved it. That's helpful. Going one step further, that person can post to the brand on Twitter that she has found this solution and has a question about it…and the brand can affirm the solution as valid. Now imagine that, given this information, this customer is still not comfortable installing the new driver: at this point she'll likely call or request live chat for assistance with the installation. Symantec, for example, is particularly good at this and gets the relationship between peer, agent-based social, and chat support.
How are you connecting peer-to-peer, agent-based social response, and chat/phone-based support? Having a well-planned multi-channel strategy is now essential for customer care. Phones are currently front and center, but that's not the end of it. Take the time now to plan your multi-channel strategy.
Image on home page via Shutterstock.
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Dave is the VP of social strategy at Lithium. Based in Austin, Dave is also the author of best-selling "Social Media Marketing: An Hour a Day," as well as "Social Media Marketing: The Next Generation of Business Engagement." Dave is a regular columnist for ClickZ, a frequent keynoter, and leads social technology and measurement workshops with the American Marketing Association as well as Social Media Executive Seminars, a C-level business training provider.
Dave has worked in social technology consulting and development around the world: with India's Publicis|2020media and its clients including the Bengaluru International Airport, Intel, Dell, United Brands, and Pepsico and with Austin's FG SQUARED and GSD&M| IdeaCity and clients including PGi, Southwest Airlines, AARP, Wal-Mart, and the PGA TOUR. Dave serves on the advisory boards for social technology startups including Palo Alto-based Friend2Friend and Mountain View-based Netbase and iGoals.
Prior, Dave was a co-founder of social customer care technology provider Social Dynamx, a product manager with Progressive Insurance, and a systems analyst with NASA| Jet Propulsion Labs. Dave co-founded Digital Voodoo, a web technology consultancy, in 1994. Dave holds a BS in physics and mathematics from the State University of New York/ Brockport and has served on the Advisory Board for ad:tech and the Measurement and Metrics Council with WOMMA.
December 12, 2013
1:00pm ET / 10:00am PT