Empowered Customers Are Driving Social Care

NEW YORK—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.

Graca spoke about the trends HP is seeing in social care and why they matter. According to the company's research, an increasing percentage of users are now turning to social care. In fact, according to a study by NM Incite, about 47 percent of social media users are turning to social care. That percentage is even higher for the younger generation. Additionally, one in three users actually prefers social care over contacting a company by phone.

Not only are an increasing number of customers turning to social care, but an increasing number are also using social media to comment about their service experiences. Graca said that according to the study, 48 percent will praise for outstanding customer service, while 43 percent will use social media to vent about poor service.

"This means that today's customers are very vocal; they are sharing their experiences with others in social media," she said. "What that means for us as brands is that we do not have as much direct control over our brands as we used to have. We have empowered customers whose word of mouth is amplified by the impact of the Internet and social media."

With the transparency that the Internet offers and increasingly vocal customers, companies are being forced to do things differently.

From a support perspective, brands are no longer just providers of customer service and support; they are also hosts of conversations that customers are having with other customers. Instead of being the provider of support, many companies are now hosting support that is actually being provided by customers to other customers.

Another trend Graca sees is that many support teams are not just waiting for customers to contact them. They are out monitoring conversations in the Internet and social media.

"[Companies] are listening to those conversations and they are engaging in them," she said. "It's an expansion of support to not just wait for the customer, but actually go in where those conversations are taking place."

As a result of that, Graca believes that social media is forcing marketers to make their messages more interesting, more personal, more relevant, and more authentic, and engage customers in conversations. "Social media is actually humanizing a brand," she said.

Another trend Graca is seeing is that a marketing presence in social media channels is attracting conversations that might be better served by other teams in an organization.

For example, marketing may have a presence on Facebook, such as advertising a product. Customers then may join in on the conversation, but they may be talking about the customer experience they had yesterday with a totally different product. The bottom line is that company departments need to be on the same page. This is forcing companies to collaborate, Graca said. Customers don't really care about how a company is organized internally; they don't care about the different silos. To be effective with social media, collaboration between customer service and marketing is critical.

"Social care is here to stay," Graca said. "It's about making [customers] feel that they are being taken care of, have assistance from other people, and making them feel that they are part of a social network. It is complementary to your other support channels and should be integrated with them."

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