The Incite Group held its 6th annual Customer Service Summit in New York last week, and as is my custom at conferences, I live-tweeted (using hashtag #INCITECS) as a form of note-taking. This makes it much easier to share my learnings later.
Much of the discussion was about customer service social media, with great case studies from brands about being proactive, handling a crisis, leveraging messaging apps (and yes, bots), and being willing to experiment.
Conversocial CEO Joshua March explained that people turn to social media for customer service because it's easy, convenient, and mobile.But they have clear expectations of the brands they engage:
Jeff Lesser, Senior Product Marketing Manager at Twitter, added that 63% of complainers on Twitter just want to be acknowledged and shown some empathy (which happens less than half the time, he said).
And while social began as a channel of last resort for frustrated customers, the tide may be turning. "Customers are realizing this is actually a channel they can come to first," said Dallen McKee, Social Care Team Leader at eBay.
Here are 5 themes that emerged from listening to two day's worth of great presenters:
1. Follow the customer
Start with the question of "Where are your customers having conversations about your brand?" said Kriti Kapoor, Global Director of Social Customer Care at HP. Brands must discover where customers are and then provide customer service there, rather than waiting at owned channels, she added.
Sasha Lucas, Head of Digital Customer Engagement Strategy at Verizon, concurred: "People are going to stop coming to brands," she said. "Brands are going to need to come to them."
David Tull, Customer Engagement Manager of Jack Threads, summarized his company's simple customer service philosophy this way: "Where is the customer? That's where they want to be. Let's answer them there."
2. Be proactive
Several companies noted that they are shifting to a more proactive strategy on social media, which has benefits for both the customer and the brand:
- HP has been consistently developing proactive solutions in social media to help customers self-serve, Kapoor explained. For example, the company creates FAQs that can be consumed by many customers in order to scale a channel where it sees hundreds of thousands of inquiries a year.
- Dell introduced a Back to School blog to proactively address the "same questions" the company sees about its products every year, said Head of Social Media Outreach Amy Bivin. Dell also listens carefully to online forums, which Bivin called an "early warning system" for Dell to hear about issues with products.
- Jack Threads searches for references to "prom suits" in social media during prom season to find people who might want to try on a new brand.
- Customers of Frontier Communications may soon get proactive tweets alerting them to service outages, according to Vice President Hillary Hahn.
Sara Grace McCandless of Sykes Enterprises suggested that new product releases are an excellent time to be proactive. "Don't wait for the questions to come in," she advised, saying that a "preparedness kit" with FAQs can help head off customer service inquiries. Reactive customer service, she added, is "a good place to start, but it's not a place to finish".
The good news is that all of this doesn't necessarily mean more work for the social media or customer service teams. "Being proactive reduces the need to be reactive," says Mark Grigg, Director of Cargo Customer Service at Southwest Airlines, so "it doesn't inhibit standard customer service".
3. Messaging is here to stay
Both Facebook and Twitter have invested heavily in their direct messaging platforms, correctly identifying them as ideal locations for customer service. Brands love that private messages are not subject to public critique, and customers love the ability to explain issues in more detail and have a more natural back-and-forth with a service agent.
When messaging a brand, customers expect: Convenience, Simplicity, Communication, Personalization, and Genuine Conversations, said Frank Chevallier, Vice President of Software Products for LiveWorld.
When messaging a brand, customers expect:- Dan Gingiss (@dgingiss) November 9, 2016
* Proactive Communication
Citing a Nielsen study, Chevallier added that there are many potential use cases for customer service in messaging apps, including asking questions or seeking information, making or confirming an appointment, making a purchase, inquiring about product inventory or store hours, and giving feedback to a brand.
The best news? One of LiveWorld's clients is seeing 11x more engagement in messaging apps vs. "traditional" social media platforms.
4. Don't fear the Bots
A discussion of messaging apps wouldn't be complete without bringing up bots, and that subject was frequently debated during the conference.
"If you integrate bots and humans into a customer service interaction, you play to both of their strengths," LiveWorld Chevallier said.
Twitter's Lesser demonstrated how the social media platform's new Welcome Messages and Quick Replies can augment human customer service by making basic back-and-forth interactions fast and simple while ensuring that a human agent is only a click away.
So far, customers don't seem to be afraid of using bots as some predicted. LiveWorld's Chevallier explained that top use cases are already being discovered, including "quick product/service answers", locating the appropriate human agent, ordering basic items, resolving complaints, and booking reservations.
5. Try new things
"Good things come to those who try," said Tull from Jack Threads, which seems like good advice for more than just fashion.
After listening to its customers in social media and observing how they shop, Jack Threads changed its entire model to what it calls the "Tryouts" program. Customers can now order anything they want on the site without paying, try everything on at home, decide what to keep and what to return in the free return box, and only pay for what they keep.
"It created a lot of work for us and took away a lot of work for the customer," Tull explained, adding that the program has been successful in increasing sales.