Fixing Customer Care: The New Social Marketing

customersBrand reputation and hence brand value is increasingly determined by customer experiences re-cast as content, posted and shared on the social web. Smart marketers are expanding their roles to include these essential touchpoints. An amazing thing is happening as a result: customer care is going social.

You know the cliché: 1-800-BLA-BLAH, enter your account number, press 2, press 1, press 4. Then, when someone answers, tell that person your account number (again) and explain why you are calling (again). The truth is, customer care is better than that, much better. The majority of issues are resolved during the first call; across industries the average is about 75 percent, with tech support typically resolving about 65 percent and retail just over 90 percent of customers’ issues on the first call. Yet, the perception persists, and as the saying goes, “perception is reality.” It’s a welcome effort by customer care that promises to fix this.

Start with the motives for the shift from phones to social customer care, or for many, the development of social customer care alongside phones. It’s driven by time-starved, gratification seeking customers for whom the prospect of calling and waiting is off-putting. Even though most issues are resolved promptly, the mental perception for most customers is “I need to call customer care… but I’ll do it later when I have time.” Twitter, easily the best and strongest of the social channels when it comes to being “purpose-built for high-scale, real-time customer interaction,” presents a different model. It’s very easy (“I’ll just post this to the brand handle…”), though it comes with its own adverse perception challenge: “I wonder if anyone from the brand will see this?

If you consider the ordering of these objections an important insight occurs. In the case of the phone, the objection (having to declare “right now” as the time to actually call) happens before the customer takes visible action and so reduces the likelihood of an actual interaction. Simply, rather than calling, customers put off calling until they are sufficiently motivated (aka, upset enough) to actually make the call. By comparison, with Twitter the challenge happens after the post: “Now that I have posted, I wonder if anyone will see it.”

That’s a step forward, because it means the post it out there earlier, before the customer heats up. Rather than an upset customer on the phone, in this scenario you have a chance to intervene earlier via social channels.

Now, add response time to the mix. If the brand responds in a timely manner (say, in minutes), the customer gets that immediate reinforcement when emotions are still favorable. Of course, all of this is happening in public, so the rub-off and transfer of good will is amplified. Even in cases where the post itself is negative, a visible, prompt response is a plus for the brand.

I was reviewing social conversations for one of our customers and was struck by the number of conversations that showed a distinct “flip” in sentiment when the same customer shifted from phone to a social channel. Posts on Twitter like “This is great service! Can I do this all the time instead of calling?” were common and positively indicate the preference of at least some customers to adopt an asynchronous social channel, rather than using a phone to obtain support. That’s a great opportunity that can be capitalized on by simply paying attention and responding in a timely, helpful manner.

Even better, adding social channels and building your engagement platform using a mix of on-domain peer (e.g., support forums that you control) and social agents (for off-domain channels like Facebook, Google+ and Twitter) means you can reduce support costs by paying attention to the mix between phone (some issues still require one-on-one with an agent) and social channels. Take the time to build a robust ROI model and then measure the contribution of your social customer care efforts. There is no better way to win support.

It’s quite powerful when customers realize first-hand that the product or service which they have paid for is backed by a brand visibly intent of satisfying them. You just can’t buy a better ad. 

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