No one can predict the future, but we all enjoy trying. 2016 was a huge year for customer service on social media, with Facebook and Twitter in particular adding tons of new functionality to make it easier for consumers and brands to engage in service interactions. Will that trend continue? And will consumers continue to be willing to go along for the ride?
I asked 27 social media and customer service experts three questions about what happened to social care in 2016 and what might be coming in 2017. Their responses - along with my own - will be shared in three different posts. The first two are here and here, and this post will look at the third and final question:
"What do you predict will be different about social customer service a year from now?"
Roy Atkinson, Senior Writer/Analyst, UBM Americas (@RoyAtkinson): "Several episodes from 2016 (the woman stuck in the Amtrak elevator, for example) show that it is not enough to have a Twitter account (or a Facebook page) and monitor your Mentions; you must have some technology that is constantly searching for mentions of you online. Even if your social team is really good at responding, you may wind up looking less-than-stellar if you miss a communication. Search everywhere, all the time."
Jay Baer, Author/Speaker/President of Convince & Convert (@jaybaer): "A LOT will be different about social customer service in one year, but I expect there to be a much greater use of video in company responses, and a much greater use of Instagram as a core social care channel."
Alan Berkson, Director of Community Outreach / Analyst & Influencer Relations, Freshdesk (@berkson0): "When I talk to customer service managers, I hear the biggest challenge with social customer care is the sheer volume of queries. Look for bots to be available on multiple social channels to handle the simple queries and begin to address some of the more complicated queries. This will be true across all customer care channels. This also means you will need to staff and empower your in-person channels to handle the more complicated and complex queries."
Nate Brown, Manager of Client Services, UL (@CustomerIsFirst): "Social customer service is much less about having 'the new cool service channel' and instead having a quality and consistent customer experience across all your channels. For us, 2017 will be a year of clear branding and collaboration."
James Degnan, Xbox Community Support Manager: "More automation, and more brands joining 'the conversation' - Brands are looking toward innovative solutions to automate 'self-help' for common questions. The most savvy brands will also begin to blur the lines between traditional customer service interactions, and simply participating in a non-support conversation."
Stephan Delbos, Editor & Content Manager, Brand Embassy (@StellarCX): "Customer service has to be human-centric, and it must balance the benefits of automation with the authenticity of the human touch. That's what customers demand now: the ease of digital communication with brands but the feeling of actually connecting with real people and being treated like a real person, not a case to be solved."
John DiJulius, President of The DiJulius Group & Customer Service Consultant (@JohnDiJulius): "Be where your customer is. Forget flavor of the month, program of the year or management by bestseller. Figure out what your customer wants and work backwards. As technology gets more and more integrated in our communication, don't lose sight of who creates the true experience. Technology can never be empathetic, build relationships or make a brilliant comeback when your company drops the ball. Customers crave recognition and a personalized experience. In short, technology cannot provide genuine hospitality. It cannot make people feel good, take care of others, express emotions and vulnerability in a relatable way, or make people laugh. We have subconsciously sent the wrong message to all our employees, that it is about the technology - our website, apps, social media, virtual tour, iPads, kiosks, self-checkout. So our employees start using the technology as a crutch, thinking they have less importance, less of a role with the customer. They rely on the technology to provide the experience. We need to reverse that. Customer experience is 10% technology and you are 90%. We need to make sure every single person working in your business knows and understands one critical thing: YOU ARE THE EXPERIENCE. Those who understand the human touch is an indispensable part and the most important part of a great customer experience will make the difference. Customers and people are starving for a humanized experience. It's really about human connection."
Whitney Drake, OpEx Leadership Excellence Acceleration Program (formerly Social Strategy & Care), General Motors (@qoswhit): "This year has been a year of discovery and our number one take away as we look towards 2017 is self-service. Enabling our customers to find answers more easily will help raise their ownership experience and reduce frustration. This content will also allow us to help customers in a more well-rounded way."
Adam Fraser, Founder of EchoJunction (@adamf2014): "I think messenger apps (as well as the messaging features of the 'traditional' social networks) will become increasingly important vs. the public-facing aspects of social customer service."
Dan Gingiss, Marketing & Customer Experience Executive (@dgingiss): "There's no question that private messaging will continue to grow, in part because it makes brands more comfortable to have discussions out of the public eye, and in part because customers prefer it as well. Companies will need to train their social care teams accordingly, and likely end up combining their click-to-chat, social media, and even e-mail service teams into one digital customer service team. I also expect Twitter and Facebook to continue raising the bar in terms of new functionality which benefits both consumers and brands."
Lisa Goode, Senior Director of Social Business, Southwest Airlines (@TheGoodePlace): "Just like any customer service channel, if we are going to provide customer service we must be committed to meeting or exceeding our customers' expectations. The Southwest Airlines Community will be a focus next year as we leverage the expertise and wisdom of our customers to help answer other customers' questions. This is a unique onboarding opportunity for us with respect to new customer acquisition with both the Discussion Forum and the Stories that are part of The Southwest Airlines Community."
Shep Hyken, Customer Service & Experience Expert (@Hyken): "Social customer service is becoming a routine channel of support. Social channels like Twitter have already created a customer service application that allows companies to move their conversations into Direct Message mode, making the 'conversations' private. They have also added the feature of allowing the customer to rate the company after the interaction. More social channels will be developing similar tools for companies and customers to interact with over their apps. The trend toward customer support through social channels will continue to evolve."
Andrew Hutchinson, Head of Content & Social Media, Social Media Today (@adhutchinson): "The reliance on messaging platforms has been a big learning experience this year - even if the messaging takeover hasn't happened as some had predicted it might just yet. There's been a heap of research and data produced on messaging and how people are becoming more attuned to messenger commerce or being able to ask questions of businesses direct via text. While it may seem like most people want to keep their messaging private, and that they might not want ads in their message threads, the ease of interaction and personalization will likely make messaging a more important consideration for brands moving forward. In the next year, I'd expect messaging platforms to offer more simplified tools to help smaller businesses maximize the benefits of messaging, which will then make them advocates of the option, increasing awareness among users who may be somewhat resistant. Once people start to see the benefits, customer service via message will grow - and when it does, you'll want to be paying attention and tapping into that trend."
Kriti Kapoor, Global Director of Social Customer Care, HP Inc. (@Kriti_Kapoor): "We will see continued innovation in social care. Companies will accelerate the adoption of messaging platforms, train and deploy multichannel agents for better efficiencies across chat and social, and will invest in automation via chatbots and artificial intelligence to scale social care."
Davy Kestens, Founder & CEO, Sparkcentral (@davykestens): "Messaging and other mobile interaction points are the next big wave, and we're going to see unprecedented volumes of customer interactions shift to these new mediums. The 'social care team' will evolve to the 'digital care team' and support a much broader set of communication channels. Multiple messaging apps will be supported 24/7 and chat support will move to this team while evolving to a new form of both web and mobile messaging. I expect that brands which will be able to quickly adapt and support the digitally-savvy customers well (through a combination of staffing, AI, proactive automations and agent empowerment to truly help customers) will see the majority of their customer interactions transition to these new channels over the course of the next few years."
Allison Leahy, Director of Community, Fitbit (@zapleahy): "After speed and availability, customers seeking support through social want the person on the other side to know their contact histories regardless of which channels they've used. This next year will be focused on extending our capabilities further by integrating with other systems so that we can build an even more robust social care operation that is equipped not only to find opportunities to engage with customers, identify product issues, and offer accurate and timely solutions, but to hand off to other support channels in a seamless way that minimizes friction commonly associated with channel switching. We look forward to using insights gained over the past year to serving our community better in 2017!"
Jeff Lesser, Sr. Product Marketing Manager, Twitter (@jefflesser): "Every day, people turn to Twitter to talk about the experiences they have with businesses. Many of our advertisers tell us that over 80% of their inbound social customer service requests happen on Twitter. As brands continue to use Twitter as a major customer service channel and consumers continue to make this behavior a part of their daily lives, we expect to see more usage, and more creative examples of how businesses communicate with customers on Twitter."
Joshua March, Founder & CEO, Conversocial (@joshuamarch): "Social is growing up. It's mature, and now requires executives to focus on the ROI to measure the real cost for resolution compared to other traditional channels such as email or phone. There's also been a massive increase in the technological innovation and focus from social channels like Twitter and Facebook towards making their platforms the ideal channel for customer service. These advances are redefining what companies can achieve on social, and as the proven ROI value of these effortless channels increases, they will become the go-to channel for all customer service interactions."
Laurie Meacham, Manager Customer Commitment, JetBlue Airways (@LaurieAMeacham): "There will always be an aspect of social customer service that's public and sends a one-to-many message, but I think we'll continue to see a rise in the one-on-one interactions through DM and Messenger. It'll be important for brands to prioritize and support this at scale."
Dan Moriarty, Director of Digital, Chicago Bulls (@iamdanmoriarty): "Social customer service HAS to be human. As technology takes over - with bots, with scripts, with workflows, with SLAs - it's important that we don't lose the human connection. That's not saying I'm anti-bots; there's a time and place for them (namely when all the customer cares about is speed and it's a more transactional type interaction) but with everything we do the most important aspect is bringing a brand's humanity to life through its people. The quality of interaction matters - social customer care isn't just a check-box ('Yes, I've responded...') - it's incredibly important to look at the types of conversations that are being had, and make sure we're training agents to have conversations that our customers would have with their own friends and family. That's how you make your brand relevant here."
Bill Quiseng, Chief Experience Officer, billquiseng.com (@billquiseng): "2016 is the year that customers moved en masse from toll-free numbers and 'Contact Us' emails to live chat, on-line forums and social media platforms to get quick support. Companies will need to allocate resources to monitor all these channels and respond with resources accordingly."
Ben Roberts, Marketing Strategist, Heinnie Haynes (@Roberts_Ben_M): "Bots have really come to the forefront of social customer service in 2016. There have been some great case studies, but also a lot of really poor examples. It's a classic case where the people who are at the forefront of the technology have the opportunity to shape the industry, but with that comes big risks of it backfiring. This is something we've been really cautious about adopting too heavily, but in 2017 this is something that will definitely be integrated into our social customer service programme, with a look to avoid the mistakes that the early adopters have made."
Neal Schaffer, CEO & Principal Social Media Strategy Consultant, Maximize Your Social (@NealSchaffer): "I learned from my own personal experience that, as a marketer, I'm responsible for ensuring that the brand experience is aligned with our brand promise. Social customer service allows brands to tap into the ebb and flow of not just public sentiment about their brand, but also specific feedback that is equivalent to a virtual focus group that can help my clients build a better customer experience."
Peter Shankman (@petershankman): "Companies will finally realize there's tremendous revenue in great customer service, and it'll stop being an afterthought."
Ravi Shukle, Social Media & Relationship Marketing Expert (@ravishukle): "That personalization is key. Adding personality and an unscripted approach will help take your customer and employee relationships to the next level. When customers feel like they are talking to a real person compared to a bot they begin to open up more and as a result are more willing to trust and forgive. By all means use scripts to assist but do not rely on them 100%."
Adam Toporek, Founder, CTS Service Solutions (@adamtoporek): "Based on the continued growth of consumers using social media for customer service, we should see a much greater allocation of attention and resources to these channels on the organizational side. Large organizations will deepen their commitment, and more small businesses will begin to take these channels seriously."
Jeremy Watkin, Head of Quality, First Call Resolution (@jwatkin): "I have two predictions for social customer service in the next year. First, chatbots are all the rage. Some companies with a high volume on social media will find ways to use bots for automation- some good, others not so good. Second, with other channels like text and Facebook Messenger emerging, we're going to see more symbiosis between these and social media both in customer channel preference and with the software vendors that are creating tools for managing all of these channels."
Scott Wise, Founder/President/CEO, Scotty's Brewhouse (@brewhouse): "I think we are going to know more and more about the consumer and vice versa. I see that now on websites where I shop, customized ads popping up of things I have looked at from other sites, etc. I think we are in a scary data-rich world with privacy slipping away from us. The more information marketers have about consumers, I'm sure they will start using to their advantages - in conversations, offers, discounts, etc."
You can read the first two posts in this series here and here. For more on social media customer service, including interviews with many of the experts above, check out the Focus on Customer Service Podcast.