Five Steps for Creating a Successful Social Customer Service Strategy

To create a cohesive customer experience strategy and connect data across departments, enterprises must include a social media response element within their customer service operations.

Today's socially connected customers are using Twitter, Facebook, and communities for both personal and business interactions. They are researching products and services by getting advice from peers and reading reviews, as well as asking support questions directly to businesses. Despite this, enterprises have been slow to address their behavior, and while they have invested in social listening and marketing, many are unsure how to support social media alongside traditional support communications. There are challenges to overcome: ownership of social data, determining how social media fits into a broader cross-channel initiative, and knowing how to handle sensitive topics and prevent inaccurate information from going viral.

Ovum believes that the drivers for investing in social media management and analytics tools are clear. By using social media proactively, enterprises can prevent brand damage, deflect calls, and improve customer advocacy and satisfaction.

To successfully integrate social media, enterprises should consider the following steps:

1. Understand your own customers. Take a look at the ways your unique set of customers are behaving and the channels they are using. This will help to determine which social sites and communities are relevant for your brand and industry. Enterprises should analyze interactions across all channels to determine whether they can benefit from social customer service and how they can become more proactive and engaging.

2. Define internal ownership. Social media affects different parts of the business, and data needs to be shared across departments. Although marketing efforts are typically siloed from the contact center, enterprises need collaborative teams to handle social media. Social media is not alone in this regard, and enterprises also need to combine efforts across the development of smartphone applications and Web sites.

3. Select the most relevant tools. Facebook and Twitter are the most obvious social sites for B2C communications. Facebook allows customers to share information in public by posting on a company wall, or via private messages directly to an owner of a page. Similarly, Twitter is an open discussion forum, where customers can vent about their issues or reach out directly to a brand with a short question. Enterprises should also support community postings by reviewing information for accuracy and using peer-to-peer knowledge to educate agents around trending topics. In addition, customers looking for detailed responses about technical issues on Facebook and Twitter may benefit from a link to a video or explanation on a forum.

4. Categorize, route, and respond to queries. Enterprises should invest in social media management tools to help them extract relevant and actionable messages from among personal tweets and noise. They should set rules in order to group interactions into categories, which could include product, Web site, and technical or billing inquiries. Interactions can then be sent to the most relevant agent to handle the response. Enterprises should determine ideal interactions to be handled via social media and train agents with responses for common queries. Agents need guidelines around the tone to use and when to push information to a more private channel. Interactions should be pulled into an agent desktop, where they can be recorded and tied to a customer record, alongside communications from voice, e-mail, and Web chat.

5. Link social media with traditional channels. In some instances, social interactions will need to be completed in another channel, particularly where private details or booking information needs to be disclosed. Agents should be empowered to provide a call back or start a chat session when necessary to respond to particular issues in private. Social media should be part of a broader channel strategy so that interactions flow smoothly and customers get rapid answers with minimal effort, irrespective of the channel in which they begin or end a support query.

Enterprises need to be prepared to handle social interactions. They must empower agents to respond and escalate interactions to a call or Web chat where necessary. As with traditional channels, they should develop best practices for handling social queries and complaints. And throughout the process, enterprises should be analyzing customer satisfaction and agent performance data. Although there will be cultural changes to overcome, enterprises should use social media proactively as part of their customer service strategy in order to meet changing customer expectations and improve customer satisfaction.