There is perhaps no physical possession about which customers are more passionate than their cars. At my first job at The Danbury Mint, I remember customers critiquing every last detail of the products - and those were 1:24 scale replicas of the real thing. General Motors understands this dynamic, which is why they have staffed a team of social care experts to represent their suite of car and truck brands in the world's most public customer service channel.
"We are the team minding the best interests of the customer," says Whitney Drake, manager of social strategy and care. She works closely with both the Marketing team, with whom she shares "brand love" posts, and the Public Relations team, which helps with escalated inquiries and manages influencers. The secret to cross-functional success in social media? "Communicate, communicate, communicate," she says.
Social media communication is a consistent theme throughout the General Motors organization, as all new employees take a tour of the social command center during their first week - a tour led by the social care team. Drake is also working hard to increase the internal visibility of her social care agents, who "are the forefront of our company in the public eye."
"We're striving to elevate the profile of these folks within the entire organization and I would challenge everyone who has a social care team to do the same," Drake says.
General Motors, which has its own social media presence, recently combined the marketing and customer care Twitter handles of Buick and GMC, much like Delta recently did when they stopped directing customers to a separate service account. The Chevrolet and Cadillac brands are maintaining separate handles - for now.
"We don't believe that customers actually identify, 'I want marketing or I want customer assistance,'" Drake says. "They really just want to talk to the brand."
Drake sat down with me during Social Media Marketing World, where she spoke on a panel titled "Case Studies from Brands Excelling at Social Customer Service" (Not coincidentally, each of the four brands - General Motors, Hewlett Packard, OtterBox and JetBlue - have appeared on the Focus on Customer Service Podcast). The interview became Episode 32 of the FOCS Podcast, with highlights (and where to find them) below:
0:38 Whitney's role and how social care is organized at General Motors
1:36 How Whitney's corporate team interacts with local dealers and the car brand handles
3:10 The separation between marketing and customer service
4:34 How General Motors hires social care agents
6:48 Planning for a crisis
8:30 How Whitney is working to increase the visibility of social care in General Motors
11:44 What kinds of inquiries General Motors sees in social media
13:09 When to take a conversation offline
15:55 Attending the Social Media Marketing World conference
16:48 Whitney shares a memorable interaction with a customer
18:37 Whitney's advice to someone starting out in social care
Drake's advice to companies just starting out in social care was poignant and relatable to every brand that's been there for a while: "Sometimes you are building the plane while you're flying it so you just do the best you can," she says.