Big businesses are losing sales by disenchanted customers going elsewhere more than 70 delegates attended CPM’s Survival of the Fittest Social Customer Engagement Forum have been told.
About 18M consumers chose to use social media this year to complain about service and yet 70% of their tweets were ignored. Of those complainants 93% of consumers have switched brands.
Five social media experts, including representatives from Twitter and Royal Mail, discussed leading organisations’ approach to social customer service, revealing the barriers to ‘getting it right’ and the rewards being reaped by those that do.
Leading communication consultant and author of Crowd Surfing, Martin Thomas discussed the cultural and organisational barriers inhibiting the ability of organisations to embrace social media
“The biggest problem is challenging the corporate culture”, he said, citing the example of a financial services company whose governance policies delayed a tweet by 10 days.
“We are now demanding all institutions to be more agile, responsive, collaborative, honest and transparent,” Thomas explained. He added that in fact social media dramatizes cultural and operational weakness inherent in many large businesses: “They are slow, hierarchical and they don’t trust their people,” he said.
“In fact,” he argued, “social media provides the opportunity to change the way organisations work.”
Social entrepreneur and author of Culture Shock, Will McInnes told the audience that it’s belittling social media to assume it’s all about the technology.
“The fact is that the world is being networked”, he said. “Every human being is connected. The internet isn’t a technology, it’s a belief system, providing bottom-up innovation and conversations.
“We’re moving to an era of democracy and empowerment which is affecting how we treat people in our organisations,” McInnes continued, adding that old business models based on hierarchical titles and fixed leadership roles are giving way to flatter, more democratic structures, creating freedom of conversation.
Using examples of ratings from Tripadvisor and Check-a-trade, McInnes showed how we are all trusting total strangers to inform our decisions. In the same way businesses are sharing problems and crowd-sourcing solutions. They are innovating by inviting suggestions from stakeholder communities that exist outside of their organisations.
Dara Nasr, head of sales at Twitter UK, also focused on crowds and their power to grab attention and effect change. One of the examples he cited was nursing community @WeNurses, which is so highly respected that it has influenced Department of Health policy.
“There are currently 15M users of Twitter, making 500M tweets a day,” explained Nasr. “Of these, 80% tweet via their mobile and 60% use Twitter while watching television”. Every TV ad has a Twitter presence and advertisers can participate and respond to conversations about their content. And because people discuss certain things at certain times, such as #hungry and #shopping, brands can predict conversations and use the spikes to connect with their consumers in real time.
“The real-time aspect is the scary bit,” he added. “Other marcomms take six-to-nine months in the planning.”
Royal Mail’s head of customer service communication, Martha Roberts, described her company’s three-year journey to make social media an integral communication and support channel, beginning in 2009 when a series of strikes prompted online conversations reflecting customer concerns. “We wanted to take part in those conversations, to improve our reputation, to help us identify and meet emerging needs,” she explained.
Roberts explained how Royal Mail had studied other companies that were doing a good social customer service job.
"We already knew about customer service,” she said. “We talked to stakeholders and started actively listening to what customers were saying."
Applying the mantra ‘Be Friendly, be Expert and be Helpful’ – Royal Mail’s customer service team monitors mentions, offering help and support. Agents advise collectively and individually, having conversations with senders as well as recipients.
“It’s not just about the technology – it’s about people,” Roberts added. “It requires fantastic service people. We don’t have a rule-book or a sign-off process, we trust them. Tone is important but we allow people to be themselves; we encourage humour and personality.”
She concluded that customer engagement brings an added bonus in the form of good feedback. “While people rarely call a contact centre to thank a company for its staff’s good work, they are far more likely to tweet their appreciation – providing a brilliant morale booster for frontline staff,” she said.
Karen Jackson, deputy managing director, CPM UK, explained how, as an outsource contact centre specialist, CPM uses all channels to engage with consumers, with Social representing the next step.
She said: “There are a lot of unhappy people out there and social media is making it easy for them to complain.”
Jackson outlined considerations that need to be addressed in the planning process, whether companies are going to develop their own internal social customer service team, or outsource to specialist agencies. These considerations include the brand voice and rules of engagement. "While social as a channel of communication is entirely different to traditional channels in terms of approach and content; language, persona, and tone, organisations must be clear about the levels of informality and their response to swearing and offensive language. The biggest mistake that organisations make is to over-complicate their approach."
Other areas for consideration include governance and specific legislation that could affect conversation content. Also the decision tree outlining the circumstances in which conversations should be escalated to another department.
“Recruiting the right people and training them correctly is a core element to successful social customer engagement,” added Jackson. “Excellent customer service agents are essential, but they need to be coached in areas such as brand voice, and use of informal language condensed into short text and smiley faces.”
“Brands must be confident in maintaining consumer conversations in the social channel, rather than taking them offline,” she added.
Further considerations include identifying the right partners to deliver the social media customer service - including technology providers and social media specialists. Social media is evolving rapidly so partners will need to be trusted and comfortable in moving with that change.
Jackson’s final note was around scale – asking the audience if they were really set up to deal with a potential snowball situation or would be ready to scale-up quickly in the event of a crisis.
Feedback from attendees of the Survival of the Fittest forum was unanimously enthusiastic, and CPM plans to repeat the event in the Spring of 2014.