Social customer care means engaging in detailed and ongoing conversations with customers, prospects, and even those who are "just looking"-with ongoing being the key word. The panel at The Social Shake-Up 2014 started the session sharing their perspective on the session title. Should customer strategy begin and end with community?
"It depends how you define community," said Nick Howe, VP, Learning and Collaboration, Hitachi Data Systems. "Our customer strategy doesn't begin and end with customer community. Customers are asking for our community. It's a social contract we have with them."
Kim Celestre, Senior Analyst, Forester Research, said "When you apply community across the customer lifecycle it's continuous-discover, explore, purchase, post-purchase/engagement, post-purchase help to existing customers or new ones as they discover products. You continue to provide value to the community."
Allison Sitch, VP, Global Public Relations, The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company, said "Strategy really begins and ends with the customer, so the community is a means to converse, but it's not the beginning and end of strategy."
Vanessa DiMauro, CEO Leader Networks, moderated the session as the panel also discussed the changing nature of customer strategies, examined what online community and customer engagement can (and can't) do, and showcased real examples of how to do it right.
"Part of the reason we assembled this panel team is because they represent a variety of different perspectives," DiMauro said. "One thing we're hearing is that social is transforming customer strategy. What's driving these changes, and what are we seeing from the panel's different points of view?"
Sitch: What the Customer Cares About
"In the last year or two, strategies have been around understanding the consumer and what they care about. There's been a big shift to deepen the relationship."
You may or may not have stayed at the Ritz, but I bet you can connect to the hotel's emotional "Let us stay with you" theme. The context of the message is about creating memorable experiences.
"We have such a loyal following, even from those that are not customers, who are also spreading the word about treasured memories that are made."
Who wouldn't connect with and want to share the Joshie the giraffe story-customer or not?
Howe: Customer-to-Customer Relationships
"We have a history of very high-touch customer relationships. As the product deployment needs become more complex, our high-touch support model became increasingly demanding. Meanwhile, there were numerous repeatable customer needs and questions. It therefore made sense to introduce some measure of customer self-service to free up our services teams to perform the more complex work. Sometimes we forget about the power of customer-to-customer relationships. It has been invaluable to have the community facilitate for us."
Read more about Hitachi's customer community, the HDS Community, as well as other successful communities, in this Social Media Today ebook.
Celestre: Digital Innovators
"For brands, it's critical that you understand where your customers are finding information online and make sure to interact with them where they want to engage. Sephora's community has been fascinating to see evolve over time."
Sephora's community, Beauty Talk, includes thousands of conversations on makeup. Celestre said it's interesting because products like makeup are personal, and it's different on everyone.
"Sephora has a very vibrant customer community, not just of existing customers, but others visit it to get feedback on products before purchase. They tap into the customer community; reviewing user-generated photos to see what makeup looks like on them. This includes experiences and feedback, as well as demonstrations. This really showcases helping customers make better decisions from Sephora's perspective. Makeup brands that help customers use products are a great example of companies that are customer obsessed."
"The theme of their three responses is meeting and exceeding the needs of customers," said DiMauro. "Community has been designed in so many ways to meet them when they arrive. There's a way to manage the information once it comes in, but how do we make it meaningful?"
Howe: Listen at Scale
"The challenge is how to react to the information. We already have ideas from customers. How do we implement them? How do we enhance the conversation? We can't just turn on a fire hose of information in the company."
First, he said, it helps to focus. The community is there for customers, so we're watching what they're paying attention to and invest in those areas.
Second is to lay sentiment on top of conversations and tap into the feeling that is going across the community.
"One of the good things we found is that we don't necessarily have to respond because the community will. What happens when something goes wrong? We have found community is actually a positive influence on it. It is a self-correcting mechanism."
Celestre: Customer Research
What are your customers' expectations? Do they expect a response to their tweets?
"It's important for brands to understand customer expectations. You may be making the wrong assumptions depending on where your customer is on their journey. If they found a flaw in your product and tweet or comment online, you have to respond. If you don't respond, it snowballs, feeds on itself. However, if a group of passionate brand advocates are out talking favorably about your product, they expect you to respond to their good experiences. They refer your brand to others. That's their stage. Take data and use it to understand what your customers want based on their journey."
Sitch: Past, Present, and Future
In the past, "I was disappointed," was the sentiment from a customer after a bad experience with a brand's products or services. The company representative would apologize and ask for forgiveness no matter the situation.
"We became more smart and savvy to the process. If someone in the lobby received their coffee cold and tweeted about it, the team would identify the guest within 10 minutes. They'd deliver a hot coffee to them and say, "We think we gave you a coffee that wasn't so hot," not disclosing we learned about it through Twitter.
The future of customer service and opportunities in social are about anticipation. Sitch shared the story of a couple on their anniversary vacation at The Ritz-Carlton, Dubai. The husband tweeted, "Wish I could get Mary down to water's edge," as she was in a wheelchair. The Ritz built a boardwalk to the beach out of plywood and prepared a table on the water's edge. Now that's true anticipation-the value of listening to and acting on information.
"Begin and never end on and offline," Sitch said. "These things don't happen magically. There's governance, a process, and a framework. How do you create transparency and accountability continually, and not just once? It's everybody's job."
Acknowledge and understand whether it's validated and who needs to be accountable, DiMauro said. "If there's cold coffee over and over, for instance, connect the lifecycle of information and be accountable to your community."
When customer strategy begins and continues into the sunset with community, their will always be a happy ending.