Gain a Competitive Advantage with Integrated Social Response

Social media has grown exponentially during the last few years for both business and personal use. The rapid boom in smartphone and tablet usage has fueled the explosion of social customer care. Approximately half of all social media business conversations are for customer care, and customers who engage with a brand on Facebook or Twitter expect to receive support on the same channel on which the contact originated.

Despite the number of customers engaging on social media, there is a wide disparity in customer support readiness for handling social customer requests. Customer service organizations can no longer ignore this shift in customer behavior and need to take the lead in integrating social media customer care into their operations. Nonintegrated social care can put a brand at risk for spotty and inconsistent service.

Most recognize that a positive customer experience is essential for long-term customer retention and loyalty. However, customer care professionals often encounter roadblocks in getting funding for needed upgrades when it comes to social customer care. This is often due to marketing and sales departments taking the lead in establishing social sites and not fully realizing the need to provide integrated support for their Web site or mobile app.

Although marketing departments own the initiatives for creating social sites, community forums, and company Web sites, it is customer service managers' responsibility to define the processes and identify the software solutions needed to deliver comprehensive social and mobile support.

In a typical social engagement, customers post their requests on Facebook, Twitter, or online community forums and expect the company to provide an immediate response. A brand that is slow to respond runs the risk of having negative social comments go viral and potentially damage its reputation. To develop a proactive social practice, customer service organizations need to create processes to include social responses within their operations and invest in software tools that listen to social chatter, monitor it for relevant information, prioritize requests, and respond. It may also include hiring social responders adept in using social sites and who are able to respond quickly.

Social media responders also need access to company databases and knowledge bases to improve accuracy and reduce handling time.

Adding upgrades to an existing operation is often challenging due to the proprietary software of the existing ACD system and the integration effort with multiple customer applications. Also, internal purchase decisions may take years to execute due to capital budget restrictions and lack of executive sponsorship. Fortunately, there has been a surge in providers offering social media customer care as cloud solutions that integrate with existing premises-based ACD and CRM software.

Cloud social media customer care solutions vendors include Oracle RightNow, Interactive Intelligence, Kana Enterprise, eGain, Parature, and Moxie Software. Premises-based and hybrid social media solutions are also available from Aspect, Avaya, Cisco, Genesys, Siemens, and others. Community Platform software vendors include Lithium Software, Get Satisfaction, Social Dynamx, and Sprinkr.

Collaboration among marketing, sales, IT, and customer support organizations facilitates developing a comprehensive business plan for social care. Without continuous dialogue among customer-facing departments, customer care may suffer. For example, marketing may be launching a new social site to drive business but neglect to inform the customer support organization of the new campaign. Calls may come into the customer service center regarding the campaign, which agents will not be able to answer. This will discourage customers from using the social site and also create a poor image of the company in the eyes of the customer. Most customers use multiple channels when contacting a company, and support activities need to be coordinated among business units.

The ultimate goal of social customer support organizations is to make it easy for the customer to do business with them. This means providing the social responders with the tools needed to offer accurate information on every transaction.

Now is the time to evaluate your company's ability to grow and maintain great customer relationships on your social sites. Start by doing an internal assessment of your current social support processes and gather information on its effectiveness in supporting customers. Also, capture comments from Twitter and community forums to listen to comments made about your company and its products. Evaluate how your company currently provides service to its social site visitors and decide if the support is as good as or better than that of your competitors. If you identify any shortfalls, create a business plan to acquire the necessary technology to deliver quality social care support.

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Social customer care is no longer controlled by brands, but by customers who are increasingly vocal about their experiences in the social media. If you haven't implemented social care, now is the time to do so. That was the message from Patricia Graca, director of support, social media, at Hewlett-Packard, who kicked off the second day of the Customer Service Experience conference.

Posted August 21, 2013