When Duke Energy, the largest utility in the U.S., decided to launch a Facebook Page, it started as simply a marketing effort.
"What we didn't expect was all the customers coming back at us," says Madeleine Aman (pronounced "ah-min"), social media strategist for Duke Energy. So began the process of developing a social care strategy.
The utility, technically a "regulated monopoly," operates in six states and supplies electricity to 25 million customers. Still in a pilot phase but already seeing incredible success, Duke's social care program started with this question, says Aman: "How are we going to serve our customers in a really seamless way that would mirror the call center?"
"We want to get it right, so when we start going public, we have it figured out and we're not causing our customers any angst and it's a really seamless, happy experience," she added.
The strategy is unique - the social care team is co-located with the Corporate Communications team and they "share the channels".
"Things can change really quickly," says Aman. "A customer interaction can become a brand reputation action really quickly."
As the team figures out how to scale, they're leaning on call center people who have knowledge of the business and are "teaching them social".
Common questions include bill inquiries, "vegetation management" - a fallen tree on an electrical line, for example - insulation and construction, and small business issues. The team has to be prepared for a rapid onslaught of inquiries in the event of inclement weather.
"We're very weather based, so if there's a storm we need to ramp up really quickly and respond," says Aman. "But then if it's blue sky and the weather's good, we might not hear from a lot of people." During service outages, customers take to Twitter first, then Facebook if it's a prolonged issue or to provide additional details.
Duke is finding that customers are appreciative of the social care team's efforts. "We're starting to see repeat customers because we were able to serve them in the channel of their preference," says Aman. "If we can pick up on an issue, get it fixed, and let the customer know that we've heard [them and] we're on it, it makes a big difference. We're seeing customers notice that and thank us for that."
Aman says the company has also found success from proactive social media communications, especially in advance of a big storm. "We've seen really great results from doing that," she says.
"People in those situations feel like we're there for them, we're prepared. I think it helps build confidence in our brand, that we are giving them the tools that they need to stay safe and be prepared."
During the recent Social Media Marketing World conference, Aman joined me to discuss Duke Energy's social care progress for Episode 33 of the Focus on Customer Service Podcast.
Here are some key moments in the episode and where to find them:
0:53 Some background on Duke Energy and Madeleine
3:42 How Duke Energy's social care team fits in the rest of the organization
6:40 The types of inquiries that Duke Energy receives in social media and how they differ between Facebook and Twitter
10:16 How Duke Energy uses proactive "push" messaging to get ahead of customer service complaints
11:34 Reporting and social care KPI's
14:15 How being a regulated monopoly creates a "shared learning environment" with other utilities
15:25 Madeleine shares a particularly memorable interaction with a customer
16:25 Madeleine's advice for companies starting a social care program