The following post is reproduced from the Econsultancy blog where I was interviewed about the importance of social customer care – Q&A: IBM’s Guy Stephens on the importance of social customer service.
Using social media channels for customer service is a key way to remain relevant to not only your customer’s needs but also their expectations.
If you’re a brand than you should be on social. If you’re on social then you should be exactly that… Social. Communicate openly with your customers no matter what their query and do so personally, quickly and offering resolution where possible.
I’ve recently been writing a great deal on social customer service. Check out this investigation into the current state of UK social response for 20 top retailers.
I also recently talked to IBM’s managing consultant in social customer care Guy Stephens about his thoughts on delivering customer care through social…
Can you tell us what you feel are the benefits of providing social customer service?
Using the channels your customers use is a good starting point, although it isn’t enough. Is social educating, teaching, showing organisations how to provide a better version of customer service? Probably, but even if it’s not it is forcing organisations to somehow remain relevant to their customers.
If social indicates what the future of customer service might look like, what channels might be used in the future and how customer service might/could be provided, then in my mind, there is a responsibility on organisations to understand what that future looks like. Not to do so, is to effectively say “we choose not to be relevant to our users”.
Do you think customer care should extend across all social channels?
My sense is that the idea of customer service will change, and we are in that period of change. I believe we will move away from a type of service that is very siloed and bounded to the idea of a ‘channel’ and move towards something that is about a more pervasive and responsive type of service layer.
Channel will become less of a dictating factor, and response will be driven more by context (urgency, priority, understanding of behaviour etc. all rolled together). The overall experience will inextricably be part of the resolution as well.
Do you think teams need specific training on how to deliver customer care on social? Do you think the same team should handle all enquiries regardless of channel?
I think teams need to remember how to be empathetic. To be driven by resolving the issue in the best way possible for the customer, and not by the operational necessities of it. Customer service is currently very process driven. Look at all the metrics, it is about the process and not the resolution or the experience of the resolution.
I think who covers ‘customer service’ will change as will what actually constitutes customer service. We’ve seen examples like BestBuy’s Twelpforce, giffgaff’s community, people simply helping each other via YouTube, Twitter, Facebook etc. We may see the frontline provide a far deeper service layer experience for all. The idea of frontline triage spreading across the entirety of the organisation.
Is there an optimum time for responding? Is there a certain tone of voice, or adherence to personalisation that a CS team should adopt?
In my opinion a customer doesn’t care too much about response times as long as you keep them informed throughout. Putting that to one side, what social increasingly allows an organisation to do is understand the context in which something it happening to a customer.
That enables an organisation to understand the urgency, complexity, priority of a specific issue someone is having. However, what you need to remember is that my idea of urgent changes depending on the context, this differs again to the organisation’s idea of urgent.
If you look back over the various response surveys of the last four to five years, you can see that not much has really changed, apart from the fact that people expect a response on the social channels to be faster than those on traditional channels. It’s not as simple an equation as big team = faster response time.
This also differs between social channels – people expect a faster response on Twitter than Facebook. There is a cultural aspect to this that we don’t often take into account. For example, in the Middle East (and even in different countries within the ME it differs), people are increasingly using Instagram more than Facebook, Twitter in some instances to engage with organisations.
Responding is also a two-step process: acknowledging the initial Tweet or Facebook message, and then resolving the issue. The resolution can take place in the normal way.
However, my belief is that we will move from the ‘lipstick on the pig’ approach we currently have towards something whereby we recognise the native functionality of the social channels and provide service that takes that native functionality into account. At the moment it is pretty much traditional customer service but on Twitter, Facebook etc.
Do you find that customers mind being moved to a different channel for more sensitive, complicated enquiries?
That’s a reality of the current limitations of what we have. This is where the experience becomes very important ensuring that the move from one channel to another, one team to another etc. is handled seamlessly, creating what many refer to as a ‘frictionless experience’. Organisations need to look at the underlying complexity of their existing processes.
As for sensitivity, I think the goal posts are slowly shifting on this, as our thinking changes and we recognise that the underlying system or model has by necessity to change. I’m not saying we should all suddenly publish our bank account details; that stays private. But I think we have hidden behind things like data privacy for so long that we no longer really know where the lines of sensitivity lie.
I think it’s time for a grown-up conversation again looking at data privacy/sensitivity etc. I think we are seeing a very slow shift from a time years ago when consumers were happy to forego privacy in return for the ability to buy items online. Convenience ruled, and apathy set in. We’re now starting to understand the implications of that, and perhaps trying to reclaim our ‘lost privacy’ (all sounds very romantic and Proustean!). Bottom line: companies need to re-evaluate their underlying processes. Once again it’s lipstick on a pig – social layer stuck on top of existing processes, instead of trying to understand the inherent nature of social channels and then designing a process from the bottom up.
What is the ROI of providing social customer service?
The ROI is your customers coming back to you one by one.
Do you have any best practice tips for other companies wishing to improve their social CS?
Design for social. Think about it from your customer’s perspective.
Look at things like Snapchat and think about their underlying characteristics, and then design your service based on that. For example, an idea I’ve been toying with for a while is with regards to Snapchat.
If Snapchat is all about impermanence, can we apply that to the idea of the knowledge base? In my mind, once we set the knowledge base free we set customer service free. I’m not advocating that all knowledge disappears after 10 seconds. But the idea of impermanence genuinely forces you to make decisions, to prioritise, whereas permanence requires you to do nothing.
I was reading through another one of those surveys the other day where a company Tweets a number of different organisations the same question and then sees how quickly they respond (if at all). The survey this time was by Veeqo – Top 10 UK Retailers Twitter Response Times. I’ve copied the relevant part of the infographic below.
The fastest responder was B&Q at 9 minutes and the slowest (discounting John Lewis, because they didn’t answer one question) was The Co-operative at 9 hours, 3 minutes. Well done B&Q, and room for improvement The Co-operative.
I’ve always been somewhat mystified by these surveys and struggled to understand where their value truly lies, beyond a momentary escape from what I was doing. So what I thought I would do, is see if I could understand what I could learn from looking back over the last few years of these types of ‘mystery Tweeter’ surveys.
- Would the response rate improve year on year?
- Would different sectors perform better than others?
- Would response rates on Twitter be faster than those on Facebook?
So here’s what I found looking at the slowest and fastest overall response times by companies on Twitter and Facebook. Times are in minutes.
Before we try to identify any meaningful insights, some of the variables that can impact response times are:
- size of team
- dedicated team or team forwarding tweets to the relevant department for the appropriate response
- dedicated social customer care account
- volume of Tweets received
- complexity of questions or complaints
- how often the social channels are checked
- outsourced or inhouse
So, taking these things into account, what do the response times tell us? Well, in my mind, not a lot.
- 2013 was not a good year for organisations
- Results for 2011 could be more down to the fact that there were either fewer companies on Twitter than there are today or else fewer response surveys done. My guess is that it was a combination of both!
- Whilst response times are getting better generally, there is still a large range of response times overall
- By 2014, the best response time is down to a minute. My guess is that this company has a low volume of Tweets to respond to, rather than finding the magic formula for quickly responding to customers on Twitter and Facebook
- Even the companies with the biggest social customer care teams have off days
If we look at this from the perspective of the customer, then a survey from 2012 – The Social Habit – trying to understand customer expectations in terms of response times shows that 42% of customers expect a response time within 60 minutes of complaining, 25% the same day, and 33% within a few days.
What this tells me is that the definition of ‘speed’ is very broad, and if anything, is perhaps highly contextual. My need for speed depends on the urgency of a given situation I find myself in, and not the pursuit of speed for speed’s sake.
For companies searching for the magic formula that will tell them how best to streamline operations, how many agents they need for frontline triage, what the ROI of social customer care is, my simple answer is this: spend your time trying to respond to your customers with empathy and trustworthiness. For these things will bring you your speed of response when it is needed, and ROI without even trying. Unfortunately, knowing how to measure them can prove elusive.
I was reading “The Maker Movement and Its Impact on Supply Chain Transformation” by Brian Solis recently. Solis defines the Maker Movement as follows:
“It [sic] a manifestation of the DIY (Do It Yourself) or DIWO (Do It With Others) culture where everyday people design, build and/or market something that they want or need on their own rather than buying something off the shelf. The maker movement has led to the creation of a number of technology products and solutions by typical individuals working without supportive infrastructure. This is facilitated by the increasing amount of information available to individuals and the decreasing cost of electronic components.”
If we take the idea of the Maker Movement (I love this terminology by the way) and apply it to customer service, rather than the supply chain, what implications might it have? How might the idea of DIY and DIWO be applied to people trying to resolve an issue that they are experiencing? This approach does not necessarily exclude the organisations which provided the products and services from participating as well. Indeed, organisations may well provide key parts of the overall solution and experience, but not necessarily in a way that they had envisaged, or as the central pivot that they once were by default.
The underlying themes are the same – digital, disruption, disintermediation (haven’t used that word for awhile), transformation – but the use of the term ‘Maker Movement’ reminds us, well me at any rate, of the Shakers and their simple and austere furniture.
Beautiful furniture, simple lines, created (or should I say ‘crafted’) by hand. The value lies not just in the finished product, but is inextricably interwoven into the process of creating the item itself. So too with DIY or DIWO. The value does not reside just in the resolution itself.
A by-product of social customer care has been the emergence of the decentralised service ecosystem in which customers are increasingly becoming attuned to Google, YouTube, communities and Twitter to find their answers.
We have access to this toolkit, and to the pool of collective knowledge. We are creating a more responsive service experience. One in which we play a far greater role than ever before. We are able to take more control, we are able to shape the experience to a greater degree. This is only the beginninng. And for me, what this points to is the following:
- A type of customer service in which we will begin to create the resolutions ourselves. The resolutions I need when I need them. The resolutions that recognise the context in which I need them. The resolutions which will then be shared freely with others. The more responsive customer service I refer to above is still only in its infancy. It is the customer service of Taylor and Ford, but with social tendencies. It still lies within the shadows of traditional customer service, it is compromised. It requires Skilled Workers, Craftsmen and Coders to share their expertise. We need to continue the democratisation of the process and the tools.
- Organisations will recognise that creating the platform on which service will take place will bring far greater value than trying to own the message or the experience. That is too limiting. Google provides an agglomeration of tools, but not the platform. Amazon is going some way to creating the platform, and Mayday some way towards creating part of the toolbox. The full set of tools will only come when others are involved – the Skilled Workers, Craftsmen and Coders, as well as you and me.
- Organisations will begin to realise that for customer service to be truly free, they need to set the knowledge base as we know it truly free. The knowledge base in its current guise limits, impedes. It is cumbersome and unresponsive. But we have not found a way to set it free, yet. #Twelpforce went some way towards it by bringing people together, by trying to set knowledge free.
But we will move towards this more responsive, freer and humane service ecosystem. That is inevitable. Perhaps the idea of ‘handcrafted’ DIY resolutions is not so far fetched after all.
Image courtesy of Minnesota Historical Society
The following post originally appeared in MyCustomer.com.
As I write this post looking back on five years of social customer care, I’m also catching up on various stories about KLM launching 24/7 customer service on LinkedIn, BT experimenting with emerging metrics such as Net Easy, and the platform-length LED display developed for various train operators in the Netherlands which provides real-time information on carriage crowdedness.
What I find interesting as I read through these stories is not the specifics of what these companies are doing per se, but rather, trying to understand what it is that has changed that has allowed or necessitated companies like BT or KLM to do these things, to explore boundaries or challenge the familiar. What has shifted, been displaced, replaced, misplaced perhaps (intentionally or otherwise)? What has happened that has brought the margins of service into play?
The corollary to this is not necessarily that the centre ground of service is being intentionally eroded away. In fact, that was not a consideration on the part of customers. Twitter emerged in its own right. And, quite simply, the by product of every frustration and indignation Tweeted publicly allowed all of us to glimpse something different. Something seemingly more intimate, humane and empathetic; something that would forever be in my own control: my time, my words, my voice. Mine. Uncompromisingly mine. Direct. Authentic. Trustworthy. Nothing in between. Nothing lost in translation. No email address or phone number to search for.
The more astute organisations, will already be trying to understand the unique characteristics and subtleties of these emerging platforms – individually and collectively – within the overall (and inevitable) digitisation of the broader service play. Note the deliberate use of the word ‘digitisation’ rather than its usual counterpart ‘digital’. The more astute organisations, will already be looking to understand the financial correlation between a negative Tweet, and a customer’s lifecycle value (not lifetime value!) within the context of the moment in which that Tweet is sent. The more astute organisations will be trying to identify new customer microsegments based on context and behaviour. Am I asking too much? Or have I just given you a convenient excuse to hide behind?
For the others, they will still be focusing on the names – Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, LinkedIn. Applying Twitter like some kind of salve, as if it has some kind of inherent redemptive power that will transform them, in the time it takes to craft 140 characters, into the customer experience ‘Zappos-sphere’.
We have moved on (I hope) from being content to merely know that last week 329 people kind of liked us, 762 hated us, and 4,389 had better things to do. If truth be told, we knew this without needing to use an already imprecise tool to measure it. We need to cajole and provoke ourselves, shake ourselves out of the current stupor that we find ourselves in and move the conversation on. We need to not be content with the cliches and appropriated words that increasingly litter the social landscape. We need to genuinely shift the impetus of the conversation to our customers. We need to study their language, their words, their actions, their behaviours. They are the ones who know. They are the ones who act on instinct; it all comes naturally to them. They are the ones who have always told us the answers openly, directly, without prejudice. We listened, well sometimes, but we just weren’t prepared to hear. And by the way, they – the customers – are the ones we magically turn in to between the hours of 5pm – 9am and on weekends. Companies need to stand tall, be brave, be bold. As I often quote and now paraphrase in my own words: companies need to get down off that camel! And in IBM-speak – be essential.
Have you read the Cluetrain Manifesto? If not, read it now!
In 1999, the Cluetrain Manifesto was prescient about the changing relationship between companies and customers: how they communicated with each other, how knowledge was distributed, and the speed with which that knowledge was able to be passed from not one individual to another, but to thousands in seconds. The global conversation had emerged. The authors recognised that this shift would expose the vulnerabilities (intentional or otherwise) that all companies were, up until that point, able to perpetuate and shy away from doing anything about.
The emergence of Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and blogs ensured that customers’ frustrations, annoyances and outrage had, for the first time, an outlet that was of the moment, convenient, public and accessible. Furthermore, the inherent voyeuristic nature of these media ensured that the plight of the downtrodden customer could be shared by anyone willing to participate. Complaining, became a shared activity that spanned continents, and could given the right conditions go viral. Dave Carroll’s ‘United Breaks Guitars’ proved that no customer was statistically insignificant; the long tail had begun to wag. Organisations became twitchy. The fad wasn’t going away, and the realisation that there was no longer anything they could do to control the medium or the message was a wake-up call. The smartphone simply exacerbated this, at scale and with a speed never before felt. Where the landline connected people (albeit one to one), the smartphone connected people to the moment.
Out of this inflection point came giffgaff, #Twelpforce and Zappos’ famous mantra – “We’re a service company that happens to sell shoes!” The traditional service model was being disrupted and destabilised. Social customer care did not set out to disrupt or destabilise, this was a natural consequence. Customers had unwittingly unlocked the service genie from the bottle for themselves. They had set it free, and each Tweet had the effect of holding up the mirror, and in the words of Martin Hill-Wilson asked “Who is the fairest of them all?” Organisations could no longer escape their own reflection.
Customers embraced this new found independence. This new sense of authenticity and trustworthiness. They now had the means to start new conversations for themselves, unencumbered by the need for a company’s postal address, telephone number, email address to initiate it. This was uncomfortable territory for organisations.
An uneasy tension
But back to KLM and customer service via LinkedIn. What has happened that has allowed them to explore and play? Experiment and fail. Not all experiments work, right? We learnt that at school. We forgot it when we started to work.
Five years ago no one would have considered making LinkedIn a customer service platform, let alone offering it on a 24/7 basis. I’m not sure if the ‘Companies’ page was even around then. Telephone and email were ingrained in our psyche as the channels by which we contacted companies. Our shoulders visibly dropped at the thought of calling a company, our hope already sapped before we had even started dialing the number; the futility of it all. And to top it all off we would have to pay for the privilege to do so.
We inwardly railed, knowing that it could be better, should be better. Somehow must be better.
And yet reduced to its very essence, customer service is no more than the asking of a question and the providing of an answer. All that is needed is a common platform on which to allow the two protagonists to come together. How difficult could that be?
But the challenge we have laid bare is that fundamentally different things are being chased. The customer chases the experience, the organisation efficiency. An uneasy tension exists between the two. What has changed is that the organisation no longer owns or controls the platform, and by extension the experience. In this paradigm, the ability of the organisation to simply follow its own agenda – efficiency – is nullified.
This enforced impotency perhaps, is further exacerbated by the fact that the whole question of social has little to do with the technology, than it is has to do with the cultural shift that needs to take place within organisations. No amount of Twitter or Facebook will ever win a customer’s heart. That will be won with keeping your word.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about – one thing. That one thing came about after the recent flurry of articles and news reports on Google’s self-driving cars. Change one thing, in this case – remove the driver – and it fundamentally changes the familiar infrastructure that we have built up around us.
Remove the need for a driver and suddenly we are forced to re-assess, re-examine, re-define how we understand concepts like ownership and responsibility, how we deal with practical issues such as safety and insurance, quite apart from thinking about the internal mechanics of the driverless car itself. At some point will the word ‘driverless’ itself become redundant, superfluous, a reflection of a bygone time; the steering wheel reduced to a museum piece, a curiosity. The familiar ecosystem in which these concepts exist is suddenly disrupted, and the need to re-establish what was once familiar arises. In a sense, we need to (re)create a new familiar.
If we apply this idea of – removing one thing – into a customer service context, what would happen if the agent, the desktop, the telephone, the contact centre, the knowledge base, email was removed?
- How would removing this one thing fundamentally shift the type of customer service you provide in a new direction?
- How would removing this one thing fundamentally force you to shift the way you look at customer service? Force you to redefine it, perhaps even define it.
- How would removing this one thing fundamentally force you to re-assess the way you view your customer?
- How would removing this one thing fundamentally shift the way you interpret success?
The interesting thing to consider here, is actually, not that you are the one who decides what that one thing is, but increasingly, that your customer is deciding what that one thing is.
As customer service continues to decentralise (although I’m not sure towards what) the challenge you face is recognising that this is how it is…
I was reading through Mary Meeker’s latest report on internet trends: Internet Trends 2014 – Code Conference. As I read through it I was trying to think about what it tells us about how customer service might develop over the coming years. I’ve picked out a few key points from the slide deck.
- The cost of broadband and handsets continues to decrease
- Mobile data traffic shows ‘accelerating growth’
- Tablets show ‘early stage rapid unit growth’
- Video-sharing is on the rise
- Apps continue to be downloaded in huge volumes
- Apps are unbundling
- Healthcare might be an inflection point
The data points towards communication becoming increasingly both mobile and visual, with the use of apps central to this. Are we seeing the beginnings of an app-based customer service with video playing a key role? I’m probably not stating anything you already don’t know. But my question is this: If you already know this, or have an inkling that this is where customer service is heading, what are you doing about it? Are you designing your customer service with mobile in mind, or are you still focusing on call deflection?
And what do the advances and increasing consumerisation and digitisation in healthcare tell us about what customer service might look like in five or ten years time? How does this tie in with the rise in ephemeral apps, and the move towards impermanence? Are these fads? Are we hoping that they are fads, like we did with Twitter?
I’ve long been thinking that we are moving towards a more – on the fly, in the moment, spontaneous, serendipitous, and ultimately contextual – type of customer service. Let’s free customer service from its knowledge base, and my sense is that we will begin to see some real changes take place in this space. This approach enables the organisation to shift towards becoming more of a platform provider, with customers, agents, the willing and interested, having open access to tools which enable them to create or co-create resolutions for themselves, with agents, with customers, with the willing and interested as needed depending on the specific needs, urgency and context at that moment in time.
This doesn’t mean we lose all that we create after ten seconds, but perhaps we will think more carefully about what we do create, what the role of the organisation is in relation to the customer service it provides. What is left when we take Google, YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, communities, the internet of things out of the equation? Is that the starting point for organisations to think about the type of customer service they will come to provide in the years to come?
The distinctions we’ve been making for the past few years between the different approaches to customer service – traditional customer service, social customer care, self-service – all seem to be organically levelling out in favour of a type of ‘digitisation’ of customer service (as opposed to ‘digital customer service’)
Customer service, customer experience, customer engagement seem to be somewhat more interchangeable than they were a year or two ago. I’ve also been seeing the use of the term ‘systems of engagement’ more and more
I am seeing the rise of a larger play emerging under the banner of ‘service transformation’
Many organisations are still transfixed by the pursuit of ROI, still trying to find the right things to measure. Do you actually know what you want to measure? Do you measure experience or efficiency? Outcome or the process to get there? Do your customers care? What do your customers actually care about?
I’ve always found the term ‘self service’ an interesting one, especially when organisations are faced with the challenge of not knowing how the customer will structure a question, and the customer has no idea how a company will structure an answer. Words are lost between the question and the answer
I’m still not sure why companies simply don’t offer their customers a Google search box on their ‘Help’ home page. Pride? Customers don’t go to your web site to find an answer, they go to Google, YouTube, Twitter, their friends. Companies need to wake up and understand their customers. And yes, I am being a little bit flippant; but only a little
I’ve seen so many surveys on response times: 39% of customers expect to be answered within an hour on Twitter, while 47% expect to be answered within two hours on Facebook… I know I don’t really care if it takes ten minutes, 30 minutes, five hours or two days to resolve my request for help or my complaint, but please acknowledge me, keep me updated on progress and occasionally smile (yes, I can hear a smile). Unfortunately, you don’t measure the smile
Has ‘self service’ become a convenience? A dumping ground? A counterpart in crime to call deflection? I want you to self-serve because it’s an easy way out. I want you to self serve because it will save me money. I want you to self-serve because it serves my purpose
Our ability to deliver customer service evolves as the technology becomes more sophisticated, more complex, more responsive… how long do I have to wait? But at the end of the day, no matter how much money you have invested in the most agile, most responsive, most up-to-date system, you still have to resolve my issue!
The ability to understand the context why a customer contacts us is becoming more attainable. The ability to engage with the customer in the experience, in the context of the experience, to close down the complaint, to pre-empt the question, is here: now
The time lag between the cause of the complaint, the complaint and the response is ever decreasing. The time lag between the request for help, the offer of help, the help itself is ever decreasing. But how do you design your response or your offer of help? This is not a criticism. This is an evolution. We now have the opportunity to re-design, re-engineer not just the actual service process, but our service philosophy as well. Do you dare? Do you dare redesign, re-engineer with context in mind, with the right service philosophy driving the experience? Do you dare? Do you dare be bold to redesign your offer of help for the person standing in the queue waiting to be served? Or do you ignore them or just wait until they get to the front of the queue? The decision may be yours, but don’t be surprised if your customer walks away or your competitor jumps in to your queue and offers their brand of help!
I’m tired of customer service cliches and soundbites: social customer care is not the new marketing, the new black, the new frontier
I’m tired of scare stories: Yes, “United Breaks Guitar” did happen. Yes, Eurostar could have handled itself better in 2009. Yes, Emirates could probably have done more during the severe fog cover a few months ago. But you know, these things aren’t business as usual. They are exceptions, they happen, we learn, we move on
I’m tired of best practice: What is best practice? If we all practiced it, we’d all be the same: homogenous. We would elevate the mundane, the routine, instead of trying to rise above it. Perhaps best practice as a philosophical construct is worth considering; maybe not? I prefer common practice; perhaps that’s just as bad! Whatever you practice, just be sure to make it yours. Your sense of empathy, the empathy you show your customers, make it yours, it is not learnt, it is not a formula: it is not best practice
I’m tired of the same stories. Perhaps we simply need to change stories every now and then? But do we dare?
I’m not sure if self-service and FAQs reflect by proxy all the problems a company refuses to fix, or simply a reflection of all the questions a customer has asked in the past? Perhaps it is somewhere between the two…
Will Google become a customer service platform by accident, design or appropriation: Google search, Google Hangouts, YouTube, Google+…
To truly unlock customer service and free it up from its traditions, to truly unleash a new service model of engagement, perhaps we need to free it from its knowledge base in some way. What could Snapchat and the idea of impermanence teach us about freeing up a knowledge base? Impermanence is about making decisions, where permanence requires no decisions to be made. Permanence leads to staleness, reliance, comfort and security, a lack of change, a lack of the need to change…but it also results in complacency
Time for a coffee…