Social Customer Service: Do it Well or Just Don’t Do It

Up until a few years ago, many contact center executives used to ask if social media was hype or a reality driving customer interactions. In the past four years, I haven't heard this question once. This to me is a sign that contact centers have come to terms with the fact that social media does indeed have a significant impact on customer interactions and, as such, must be incorporated within business activities.

Findings from Aberdeen Group's latest Social Customer Care study shows that adoption of social media portals as a customer interaction channel currently stands at 62 percent, a notable change from 12 percent in 2010.

The above findings on the rapid adoption of social media as well as its importance in meeting customer needs should come as no surprise to many contact center executives. That said, recent research on contact centers using social media as part of multichannel conversations revealed very compelling insights. Overall, use of social media helps contact centers improve financial results by increasing performance in metrics such as customer profit margin and cross-sell and up-sell revenue. However, data also shows that simply adopting social media for the sake of doing it results in worsening average handle times and yields sub-par improvements in customer contact abandonment rates, which would indicate that client needs are not being met effectively.

The summary of the aforementioned findings is that, when contact centers add social media within their activities without a well-designed program, they experience worse results than they would experience if social media had never been a part of their channel-mix. Think about your own use of social media, and this will quickly ring true. Imagine you're flying with an airline and, after arriving at your destination, you find that your luggage is lost. You contact the airline through its Twitter handle to request support, but it's Saturday and the airline only monitors its Twitter handle and responds to complaints Monday through Friday. You're most likely asking yourself: "What's the purpose of having a Twitter handle if I won't receive a timely response to my requests?"

Most customers who find themselves in the above scenario—or in any variant of it—are likely to think that a company that has social media presence but does not actively monitor and respond to customer needs is not focused on catering to their needs—a key necessity to survive and thrive in the era of the empowered customer. So before adopting social media within your contact center just because everyone else is doing it or because you have a gut feeling that it's the right thing to do, we recommend developing a formal organizational strategy. This strategy should factor into the top objectives driving your customer care activities and ensure that social media presence is designed to attain those results.

Aberdeen's latest study, which provides an overview of the road to success in social customer service, shows that contact centers that start their social media journey with such a well-designed approach enjoy far greater results compared to those that follow an ad-hoc model. Specifically, they retain 92 percent of clientele year-over-year, compared to only 39 percent by others. They also reduce (improve) average handle times by 6.7 percent.

The road to success in social customer service is paved with numerous activities to monitor conversations across social media channels and respond to them in an effective and timely manner. Companies use a series of technology enablers to successfully execute these activities. Among the most regular activities are redesigning the customer routing mechanism to adapt to use of social media and providing agents with automated alerts when customer feedback is received through social media channels like Facebook and Twitter.

Are you curious about how to best design and start your journey of social customer service? Then we recommend reading Aberdeen's Social Customer Care: The Path to Success to find out how the best-in-class companies pave the way to success and learn how you can mimic their results and maintain them.

Omer Minkara is research director leading contact center and customer experience management research within the Aberdeen Group.