Weekly #CustServ Chats Bring Service Experts Together From Around the Twittersphere

Author and customer service expert Marsha Collier began hosting customer service chats on Twitter back in 2008 as research for an upcoming book, but what started as a small-scale project quickly transformed into a Tuesday evening staple that customer service experts, brands, and customers look forward to each week. For Collier, the chats bring to life one of the central trends that she sees emerging in customer service—the democratization of the brand experience.

"When you think about what social media has done for customer service, it has changed everything for the little guy. You don't have to be a big brand with a huge budget to do customer service right on social media. There's so much opportunity now for brands to connect with their customers in a meaningful way, and I see local businesses and small companies giving large organizations a run for their money when it comes to service," Collier says. In many ways, social media—especially Twitter—has become the great equalizer in the realm of customer service for brands, and thus the channel felt like the right medium to host an open discussion about the topic.

With more than five years of chats behind her, Collier says that she's noticed a number of trends emerge, especially in recent conversations. Personalization and scale, for example, remain at odds. Customers demand near-immediate responses on social media, especially when they're in the middle of a debacle with a brand and need a resolution in real time. For large companies with a huge number of customers, however, this level of personalized yet lightning-fast response requires serious scalability, and many brands "are just not there yet," she says.

Still, brands shouldn't forgo personalization for automation. "It's hard to believe that there are still brands out there that respond to customer tweets with automatic, [canned] responses," she says. "It's unacceptable, and the size of the company is not an excuse." Many airlines, for example, have made social support a priority, despite their size. "Just recently I was trying to catch a connecting flight on American Airlines in an unfamiliar airport, and just walked out of security by accident. It was a tight connection, so I tweeted at them in desperation and they helped me right away. I couldn't believe it," Collier recalls.

As more customers become comfortable with seeking support through Twitter and other social platforms, Collier says two other key concerns emerge: security and seamlessness.  After an initial tweet from a customer, most support issues are discussed through direct messages (DMs) on Twitter. In this environment, service representatives often ask the customer for an account number or other identifier, and this is a problem, Collier says. "If you look into Twitter's privacy policy, they have access to those direct messages under certain circumstances. If customers are sharing private information through DMs, that information is not necessarily secure," she explains.

There's also the issue of seamless transitions from channel to channel. There are few things more annoying, Collier says, than having the customer repeat the issue multiple times on multiple channels. This is perhaps the biggest challenge that brands face today, especially as new tools such as mobile in-app chat support, enter the field. Still, there are already plenty of resources available for brands looking to improve the level of their social support. One of Collier's favorite solutions of the moment is Chatbox, an omnichannel customer collaboration tool that enables brands to move their customer interactions from Web, phone or Twitter to chat and back. Unlike Twitter direct messaging, Chatbox-hosted chats are secure, she points out.

Though serious discussion about customer service dominates the conversation, Collier says she likes to think #custserv chats are a fun experience as well. There's a mix of people every week, and there's even a drinking game involved. "Whenever anyone mentions Zappos, we take a drink. They just come up all the time as this pinnacle of customer service," she says.

The chat has become popular forum among a number of big names in customer service. "The #Custserv Tweet Chat brings customer service experts and corporate leaders together from around the world to talk about all types of relevant topics in the area of customer service and experience. We get insights from experts as well as members from the corporate world," says Shep Hyken, a customer service speaker and expert. It’s not uncommon to have someone from the Ritz-Carlton, Zappos, or other recognized brands chime in, in addition to some of the leading thinkers in the industry. The topics range from basics and fundamentals to leading-edge technology concepts. "Just looking through the archives is a master class on the #custserv topic," he adds.

Collier hosts the chats on Tuesday evenings at 9 p.m. ET alongside Greg Ortbach and Roy Atkinson. "Anyone and everyone is welcome," she says.

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