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The Power of Peer in Social Customer Care

  |  January 15, 2014   |  Comments

As you plan your social customer experience program, think about the value of peer technology, of placing more control into the hands of your customers.

Social media marketing and social customer care have merged. The list of leading brands developing strategic capabilities that connect the social marketing with the social customer engagement and customer care is growing. Check out DISH, Time Warner and Comcast as examples of efforts in the cable and satellite vertical that make clear the role that social technology can play across a number of customer touchpoints.

Communications, technology, retail and financial services are all doing the same thing.

More than the use of social media as a marketing tool (Coke maintains a Facebook business presence, and Starbucks uses Twitter to promote its seasonal lattes), it's the use of these same social channels to engage directly with customers around issues ranging from support to sales to innovation that provides an indication of the real business potential of social technology at an enterprise scale.

Take a look at Skype's member community: this is a stand-out example of the combined use of social channels and peer support to provide a superior social support experience for Skype's customers. In the Skype community, built on Lithium's social customer experience platform, members are helping members, all the while interacting as needed with brand personnel. The result is a vibrant, enabling social customer experience. (Disclosure: I am employed by Lithium Technologies.)


What's the business benefit? Sure, there's the "soft" benefit of being available where and when your customers expect to find you: it's a fair bet to say that many customer support experiences begin with Google, using the search engine to see if there is a ready solution, a relevant tip or some other customer who resolved the same specific issue that (you) are trying to resolve.

The soft benefits of goodwill are just that: some brands try and quantify these, others don't. Either way, it's reasonable to assume that serving customers where and when they want service is a good idea.

Of course, soft benefits don't drive business success: quantified savings, revenues and other bona fide ROI components do. And peer communities like Skype's, or the social agent productivity measures in place at DISH, Time Warner and Comcast, all provide quantified indicators of business value.

For businesses that are serious about social and serious about understanding how these technologies can drive success, measurement against specific objectives is always a best practice. One of the cable and satellite customer service executives remarked that a single percentage point reduction in call volume was worth seven million dollars. So, as is the case with Skype's community, the social customer service implementations at DISH, TWC and Comcast all include direct measures that lead to an understanding of the value of call deflection-requests for support that are resolved in peer and social agent channels rather than phone centers.

The power of peer extends beyond support, too: take a look at Sephora's "Beauty Talk," a customer platform that facilitates conversations between members that extend beyond support conversations:

"This blush does not seem to work for me,"

...into sales recommendations:

"I found this great eye cream that would be perfect for you."


Here again, it's the combined use of off-domain social channels (off-domain as used here refers to channels like Twitter and Facebook that businesses use for marketing or customer care but do not themselves own) and on-domain community applications. Sephora enables customers to build on the experiences and conversations of other customers in order to create business success for Sephora. 

Here's an example: Suppose customers that are members of your online customer community (think Skype's Member Community or Beauty Talk) are discussing some particular use of your product. Separately, another customer has the same question and posts it to your Twitter handle. Finally, a third customer with a similar question turns to Google and posts the question there. In reality, all three of these modes are in constant use; being able to manage these effectively is therefore in your business interest.

Take the first scenario: customers are working together, discussing and resolving issues. Your role is primarily maintaining decorum (think "terms of service" associated with your support forum here), ensuring that questions are answered and taking advantage of the ideas that invariably bubble up.

In the second scenario, your social engagement team will see the post and respond. But -- and here's where peer really pays off -- rather than answering the question themselves, they instead connect this customer with the community members that are actively discussing the issue. Two benefits arise: first, the agent's productivity is increased, reducing expenses. It's faster, after all, to connect someone to a source than it is to answer the question in full each time it's raised. Second, this customer meets others with similar interests and as a result joins the community, creating a stronger bond with your brand in the process! Both of these benefits can be measured.

Finally, in the third case, it's quite likely that the customer searching for assistance using a search engine will find your peer community straight away. Why? Because the dynamic, popular conversations that occur in support forums and customer communities are very attractive to search engines. SEO is another example of a quantifiable benefit of a peer technology investment: because SEO has a direct dollar value it can be related directly to fiscal ROI.

What's beyond support and sales? Innovation and co-creation. I'm not talking about wild ideas that customers are particularly good at generating, but rather gaining insights from questions, solutions, ideas...that occur naturally in peer conversations.

For example, on my prior smartphone the physical keyboard backlight was really helpful. Trouble was, it was triggered by ambient light, and there were many situations where I'd have preferred the backlight to be on even though the ambient light levels were high. Unfortunately, there was no backlight setting beyond enable/disable-what I wanted was "enable/ always on." That's kind of enhancement that would be surfaced in a support community, and given sufficient interest could be added to the next software release.

As you plan your social customer experience program, think about the value of peer technology, of placing more control into the hands of your customers. As you plan this, think through the metrics that you'll need in order to prove the business value, setting all of this in the context of your business objectives.

In the end, your customers want to help you: all you need to do is give them the tools.

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Dave Evans

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.

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