I was reading an article by Flavio Martins on The Impact of the Customer Service Information Revolution and it got me thinking about all of the different ways companies are managing their customer service now. Many business are still sticking to the traditional phone support or, if you have a physical location, in person support methods - both of which are still effective but make me cringe a little when those are my only options as a customer.
Especially phone support for larger companies that have implemented IVR or multi-level menues to access customer service. I often put off contacting companies for support if I have to call in because I have to factor in hold time and being transfered twice. I consider myself lucky if I get off a customer service call in less than 30 minutes - whether my issue was resolved or not.
A number of companies have implemented email or contact us form support which means I can generally send the request off then go and do something else while I wait for a resolution or reply. This is great for time management - unless I require that issue resolved before I can move forward with something. The response is usually a few hours but generally the same day and then how effective it is all depends on how well I can communicate with the person on the other end of that email address.
Another method, especially used by app and software companies, is to move to a ticket logging system that is integrated with email so everything is tracked and available online but you also get email notifications when the ticket is updated and by replying to the email you also update the master file. Handy. Support forums where FAQs are listed and searchable as well as discussion boards where the user community can help each other out are great options and often seen for games to electronics to food related products (there always has to be a recipe sharing option!) to pretty much anything were the combination of that product and the outside world might come into play.
This concept here is where I start to find things interesting - because it introduces that social environment, it offers support and builds community for the brand. Forums get such little credit todays because they have been around so long and somehow don't seem to fall under the popular definition of today's "social media." I would argue though, that for an organization that is at the same time looking to introduce a customer service interface and build a user community that they look at a forum model instead of a ticket model (at least to get started).
Set up the support forum topics then plant a few interesting topic threads under an Open Discussion category, perhaps offer some small incentives to your fan base and recruit moderators to keep the conversations going and see what kind of a community you can build while you address the support issues.
Next we can look at what is going on in customer service in the popular social media sites like Twitter and Facebook. I see three styles of customer service happening here: 1) Not at all, customers are talking about brand, raising legitimate issues and concerns but it falls on deaf ears since the business is not present on the channel or worse - they are present but not listening 2) Reactive where the brand is present but more for marketing or broadcast purposes and when someone poses a concern directly they respond or refer away to an alternate channel for handling (email this or call that). 3) Finally, actual social customer service where the brand is monitoring key words for indirect complaints, conversing with clients to find out if they can be proactive in offering assistance and perhaps even have specialized feeds to manage customer issues.
I see this as the customer service of the future, businesses monitoring the web including social channels, blogs and forums and responding on the platform of choice for the customer, on their terms, fully empowered to carry the issue through to resolution. At least, I hope that for the future of customer service.
Image courtesy of chainat / FreeDigitalPhotos.net