Customer service in social media is evolving almost as quickly at the social platforms themselves. In 2016, Facebook Messenger reached 1 billion monthly active users and introduced a bot store, while Twitter launched a customer satisfaction survey and the ability for brands to advertise their support hours. Both platforms have realized the consumer need - and value to businesses - of conducting customer service via social media.
I asked 27 social media and customer service experts three questions about what happened in social care in 2016 and what might be coming in 2017. Their responses - along with my own - will be shared in three different posts. The first one was here and this post will examine the second question:
"What's one thing you've learned in 2016 about social customer service that will help guide your strategy for next year?"
(Experts are listed in alphabetical order.)
Roy Atkinson, Senior Writer/Analyst, UBM Americas (@RoyAtkinson): "Several episodes from 2016 (the woman stuck in the Amtrak elevator, for example) show that it is not enough to have a Twitter account (or a Facebook page) and monitor your Mentions; you must have some technology that is constantly searching for mentions of you online. Even if your social team is really good at responding, you may wind up looking less-than-stellar if you miss a communication. Search everywhere, all the time."
Jay Baer, Author/Speaker/President of Convince & Convert (@jaybaer): "2016 will go down as the year the apps and bots started taking over. It's a fascinating dichotomy we've witnessed where customer service has two poles: a high-touch, rapid-response component, and then a self-service, tech-enabled, no-touch component. Both are good for customers, but in totally different ways."
Alan Berkson, Director of Community Outreach / Analyst & Influencer Relations, Freshdesk (@berkson0): "When a customer takes to social channels for customer service, I've noticed they generally fall into two categories. Either they don't feel traditional channels like email or phone are accessible, whether it's where they are at the time or the real-time nature of an issue. Or they have exhausted other channels and social is the channel of last resort. In the latter case it becomes as much about embarrassing the brand as getting an issue resolved. The responsibility of - and the opportunity for - brands is to better understand how and where customers use their products and how they are likely to need to communicate in the event they need help. This also means providing a native experience on that channel. Particularly on mobile I see brands trying to 'shrink and squeeze' a web experience rather than creating a native experience."
Nate Brown, Manager of Client Services, UL (@CustomerIsFirst): "Social customer service is much less about having 'the new cool service channel' and instead having a quality and consistent customer experience across all your channels. For us, 2017 will be a year of clear branding and collaboration."
James Degnan, Xbox Community Support Manager: "A customer should not need to differentiate between a 'support' presence vs. a 'marketing' presence on social. Support vs. Marketing is an internal, organizational construct that segregates and potentially diminishes a customer's perception of the brand as a whole."
Stephan Delbos, Editor & Content Manager, Brand Embassy (@StellarCX): "Customer service has to be human-centric, and it must balance the benefits of automation with the authenticity of the human touch. That's what customers demand now: the ease of digital communication with brands but the feeling of actually connecting with real people and being treated like a real person, not a case to be solved."
John DiJulius, President of The DiJulius Group & Customer Service Consultant (@JohnDiJulius): "#1 don't make World Series bets with someone via social media. That leaves a trail of proof and then you have to pay up. [And for the record, he did pay up!] Seriously, that question really pisses me off (can I say that?). That thinking drives me crazy. Why does everyone treat social media like it is an island by itself, with its own set of rules? They don't only do it with social media, they do it in their business. We are business to business, it is different for us. Or we are manufacturing. Or we are a call center. It doesn't matter. Your focus must be on providing a positive experience on EVERY interaction, whether it is face-to-face, click-to-click, or ear-to-ear. Carpe momento-seize the moment! Stop looking at social media differently than you look at how you interact with people at your store, on the phone or in an email. World-Class is World-Class."
Whitney Drake, OpEx Leadership Excellence Acceleration Program (formerly Social Strategy & Care), General Motors (@qoswhit): "This year has been a year of discovery and our number one take away as we look towards 2017 is self-service. Enabling our customers to find answers more easily will help raise their ownership experience and reduce frustration. This content will also allow us to help customers in a more well-rounded way."
Adam Fraser, Founder of EchoJunction (@adamf2014): "Social customer service needs to be treated as a core business process in the same way a phone call centre historically was considered. Technology matters but focus on people and business process first."
Dan Gingiss, Marketing & Customer Experience Executive (@dgingiss): "From interviewing dozens of great brands on the Focus on Customer Service Podcast, I've learned that every company is unique, and the ones that embrace their uniqueness in social media become the most memorable. A great example is Spotify, which responds to customers with personalized music playlists that, when read beginning to end, answer the customer's question. There are so many ways to be creative in social care, which is why integrating social media marketing and customer service makes so much sense."
Lisa Goode, Senior Director of Social Business, Southwest Airlines (@TheGoodePlace): "Just like any customer service channel, if we are going to provide customer service we must be committed to meeting or exceeding our customers' expectations. The Southwest Airlines Community will be a focus next year as we leverage the expertise and wisdom of our customers to help answer other customers' questions. This is a unique onboarding opportunity for us with respect to new customer acquisition with both the Discussion Forum and the Stories that are part of The Southwest Airlines Community."
Shep Hyken, Customer Service & Experience Expert (@Hyken): "Pay attention to your customer base. There are still some groups of customers (based on demographics and industries) that don't use social to connect with companies, while others find it more convenient, quicker and their primary way of communicating their questions, problems, etc. A company must know its customer base and how they like to communicate. You can't force traditional support (phone, email, etc.) or social care on customers who don't want it. They are your customers and they get to choose how they want to communicate."
Andrew Hutchinson, Head of Content & Social Media, Social Media Today (@adhutchinson): "The reliance on messaging platforms has been a big learning experience this year - even if the messaging takeover hasn't happened as some had predicted it might just yet. There's been a heap of research and data produced on messaging and how people are becoming more attuned to messenger commerce or being able to ask questions of businesses direct via text. While it may seem like most people want to keep their messaging private, and that they might not want ads in their message threads, the ease of interaction and personalization will likely make messaging a more important consideration for brands moving forward. In the next year, I'd expect messaging platforms to offer more simplified tools to help smaller businesses maximize the benefits of messaging, which will then make them advocates of the option, increasing awareness among users who may be somewhat resistant. Once people start to see the benefits, customer service via message will grow - and when it does, you'll want to be paying attention and tapping into that trend."
Kriti Kapoor, Global Director of Social Customer Care, HP Inc. (@Kriti_Kapoor): "Pay attention to details. Every customer interaction matters, every conversation counts. And we must continue to learn and improve our core operations. The HP Social Care team now runs surveys across each of our primary channels of social support. In addition to paying attention to agent response quality and brand voice, we can now measure and improve our resolution rates, customer effort and support Net Promoter Score. As social customer care matures within customer support as a function at leading brands like HP, Comcast, T-Mobile, Hyatt, Microsoft, etc., demonstrating progress will enable teams like ours to accelerate investment and the shift to social care."
Davy Kestens, Founder & CEO, Sparkcentral (@davykestens): "That the need for social customer service was just the beginning, and merely the most promising example of how consumers' communication and customer service expectations have shifted. Social is the first touch point where brands are noticing this, but this wave will have a major impact on the entire customer care operations of brands in the next year."
Allison Leahy, Director of Community, Fitbit (@zapleahy): "After speed and availability, customers seeking support through social want the person on the other side to know their contact histories regardless of which channels they've used. This next year will be focused on extending our capabilities further by integrating with other systems so that we can build an even more robust social care operation that is equipped not only to find opportunities to engage with customers, identify product issues, and offer accurate and timely solutions, but to hand off to other support channels in a seamless way that minimizes friction commonly associated with channel switching. We look forward to using insights gained over the past year to serving our community better in 2017!"
Jeff Lesser, Sr. Product Marketing Manager, Twitter (@jefflesser): "We spent the year focused on making customer service on Twitter even more seamless. To identify which products to build, we went straight into product-solving mode, working with care teams around the country to identify pain points and ways we could make their jobs easier. We are so proud of the features that we were able to launch as a result of listening to our team and customers on Twitter, and will continue to pay attention to consumers' and clients' needs in the future."
Joshua March, Founder & CEO, Conversocial (@joshuamarch): "Social is growing up. It's mature, and now requires executives to focus on the ROI to measure the real cost for resolution compared to other traditional channels such as email or phone. There's also been a massive increase in the technological innovation and focus from social channels like Twitter and Facebook towards making their platforms the ideal channel for customer service. These advances are redefining what companies can achieve on social, and as the proven ROI value of these effortless channels increases, they will become the go-to channel for all customer service interactions."
Laurie Meacham, Manager Customer Commitment, JetBlue Airways (@LaurieAMeacham): "That while full service on social used to be a rarity or a nice surprise and delight, it's now becoming an expectation. This may result in longer handle times from start to finish, but it's an important investment and speed is still important for the initial response. We've also noticed that many customers prefer private channels (DM and Messenger) and initiate conversations that way, so we're looking at the possibility of establishing different SLAs for those channels as the messages there tend to be longer and sometimes more involved."
Dan Moriarty, Director of Digital, Chicago Bulls (@iamdanmoriarty): "Social customer service HAS to be human. As technology takes over - with bots, with scripts, with workflows, with SLAs - it's important that we don't lose the human connection. That's not saying I'm anti-bots; there's a time and place for them (namely when all the customer cares about is speed and it's a more transactional type interaction) but with everything we do the most important aspect is bringing a brand's humanity to life through its people. The quality of interaction matters - social customer care isn't just a check-box ('Yes, I've responded...') - it's incredibly important to look at the types of conversations that are being had, and make sure we're training agents to have conversations that our customers would have with their own friends and family. That's how you make your brand relevant here."
Bill Quiseng, Chief Experience Officer, billquiseng.com (@billquiseng): "2016 is the year that customers moved en masse from toll-free numbers and 'Contact Us' emails to live chat, on-line forums and social media platforms to get quick support. Companies will need to allocate resources to monitor all these channels and respond with resources accordingly."
Ben Roberts, Marketing Strategist, Heinnie Haynes (@Roberts_Ben_M): "Bots have really come to the forefront of social customer service in 2016. There have been some great case studies, but also a lot of really poor examples. It's a classic case where the people who are at the forefront of the technology have the opportunity to shape the industry, but with that comes big risks of it backfiring. This is something we've been really cautious about adopting too heavily, but in 2017 this is something that will definitely be integrated into our social customer service programme, with a look to avoid the mistakes that the early adopters have made."
Neal Schaffer, CEO & Principal Social Media Strategy Consultant, Maximize Your Social (@NealSchaffer): "I learned from my own personal experience that, as a marketer, I'm responsible for ensuring that the brand experience is aligned with our brand promise. Social customer service allows brands to tap into the ebb and flow of not just public sentiment about their brand, but also specific feedback that is equivalent to a virtual focus group that can help my clients build a better customer experience."
Peter Shankman (@petershankman): "Listen to your audience. They'll tell you exactly what you need to do, every single step of the way."
Ravi Shukle, Social Media & Relationship Marketing Expert (@ravishukle): "That personalization is key. Adding personality and an unscripted approach will help take your customer and employee relationships to the next level. When customers feel like they are talking to a real person compared to a bot they begin to open up more and as a result are more willing to trust and forgive. By all means use scripts to assist but do not rely on them 100%."
Adam Toporek, Founder, CTS Service Solutions (@adamtoporek): "I think the most impactful takeaway for me this year is the trend line on the use of social media for customer service. Regardless of the effectiveness of the channel - and each channel has its pros and cons - Millennials are simply more comfortable approaching organizations via social media than traditional channels. This means we must plan for a continually increasing share of customer care issues to be communicated through social."
Jeremy Watkin, Head of Quality, First Call Resolution (@jwatkin): "Your customers are either contacting you via social media because another channel didn't work for them, or because it's their preferred channel. Either way, they are expecting real solutions to their issues and won't look favorably on clearly canned responses, requests to call or email support instead, or anything else that requires additional effort on their part. If the issue truly cannot be solved on the customer's channel of choice, it's our job to reach out to them on the best channel."
Scott Wise, Founder/President/CEO, Scotty's Brewhouse (@brewhouse): "The one thing I know is that I don't know anything. We are moving at light speed. And not only is the technology changing, but so is the consumer, and the next generation is impossible for us to truly predict with all of these moving parts. The thing that doesn't change? People still want to trust your business, know you are authentic, know you listen to them and HEAR them, know you will have a conversation with them and use their wants, needs, desires, comments, complaints to improve your company and products after you hear them.
You can read part one of this interview series here, while the third part is available at this link. For more on social media customer service, including interviews with many of the experts above, check out the Focus on Customer Service Podcast.