5 Tips for Stellar Social Customer Support

Comcast announced earlier this week it would be tripling the size of its social media team to 60, and may add more representatives in the future. The move is a reaction to a number of major customer service blunders that have made national headlines, but will the company's bigger social support team be a better one? Though Comcast has increased spending on customer service by about 5 percent in both 2013 and 2014, spending roughly $2.21 billion last year, there are also strategic changes the company has to make, especially if it's serious about revamping social support. These five tips are a good place to start, industry experts agree.

1. Develop a Layered Team

A social support team should consist of different roles, including moderators, responders, and analysts, says Jim Rudden, CMO of Spredfast, a social software platform. Moderators should manage spam and get rid of inappropriate content, and should also be the ones tasked with escalating social posts that merit a specific kind of response. The responders, in turn, are well versed in brand voice and answer questions across social accounts. "They discover and participate in engagement opportunities with [the] social audience and keep a pulse on trending topics and potential problem areas that your social audience may be discussing," Rudden says. Finally, it's the analysts' job to consistently ensure that service level agreement times are being met as well as monitoring agent efficiency in real time. "Social care is a team game," Rudden says, and everyone plays different positions.

2. Don't Play Whack-a-Mole

Though specific customer issues should be handled on an individual basis, it's also critical for social customer service teams to pay attention to recurring service issues and patterns. "Companies need to find a way to track these issues so they know what's trending. You don't want it to be a whack-a-mole situation where you're just batting away customer complaints," Jeanne Bliss, president of CustomerBliss.com, says. It's important to stay ahead of common problems, she explains.

3. Don't Tie Your Employees' Hands

The only way social service teams can stay ahead of customers' needs, however, is when they are given the freedom to act independently. Companies should eliminate rules that prevent employees from acting and reacting to the specific circumstance of the customer interaction. "You have to trust your employees enough to let them do the right thing," Bliss says. In Comcast's case, for example, employees should have the freedom to offer more competitive rates or other packages when customers want to cancel their service, rather than keeping customers engaged in bizarre, lengthy phone conversations that are sure to go viral.

4. Educate and Teach the Right Things

Education is key for employee empowerment, and companies should be careful to avoid equating education with training. Rather than giving employees strict rules and guidelines to follow, brands should take the time to educate employees on the brand promise and on what customers expect from the brand. "It's about instilling the values and the culture, but also stepping back and allowing employees to use that knowledge and make the right choice for the customer," Bliss explains.

5. Connect Self-Service with Assisted Service

A new Gartner report says that in 2014, 55 percent of all interactions required human assistance. Consequently, if a customer starts on the Web site and tries to get information on his own, it is likely that he will ultimately require assistance, Kathy Juve, vice president of marketing at [24]7, a customer engagement platform, says. Understanding the inevitability of that escalation means that companies must provide a bridge and integrate self-service channels such as virtual agents, IVR, and Web sites with assisted service channels such as chat, voice agent, and social. "If a company is to focus on the social channel, consider it as another assisted service channel that must be connected to the self-service channel," Juve recommends.

A key source of frustration to customers is when their journey breaks. Social is often used as a channel of last resort to vent frustration and get attention from the company when all other channels have failed. "It does not help a customer to interact on social if the agent that responds does not have the context of their situation from prior interactions," Juve adds.

For Comcast, there is a long journey ahead. Experts agree that expanding its social customer support team is a step in the right direction, but it is their overall social support strategy that will determine whether the company can put its embarrassing past behind it. As brands such as Comcast take a close look at their approach to social customer service, incorporating any number of the tips above should make a meaningful difference in their customers' satisfaction.

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