How to Build a 24/7 Social Media Customer Service Program When You're Not a Big Brand
In today's on-demand world, consumers expect immediate and effective service when reaching out online. Brands like Zappos, XBox and Delta offer dedicated support channels to provide assistance 24/7. But, what if you're not a big brand with fat pockets? How do you build a customer service program that scales to meet the needs of consumers 24/7, knowing that time, budget and resources are limited?
Social Media Marketing Meets 24/7 Customer Service
In 2014, Michigan First Credit Union rolled out a new program for our members to connect to a live customer service representative 365 days a year, 24 hours a day. Dubbed 365 Live, this program added horsepower to our call center operations, ensuring that customers could call at any time and receive an immediate response and resolution to their issue. At the same time, our marketing team's social media efforts needed to scale to meet this heightened level of service.
We already knew that social media customer service doesn't live within a "9-5" schedule. Moreover, our marketing team was already accustomed to responding to opportunities and issues outside of traditional business hours. Now, we were being challenged to create a seamless experience for our customers regardless of the channel or the time of day.
What We Learned
After living in the social media customer service trenches for the better part of 2014, we learned a great deal about what it takes to rollout a more-than-full-time digital customer service program. Here are some of the lessons our team learned along the way:
- Gather your stakeholders
It sounds elementary, but ensuring that all the right parties have a seat at the table at the beginning is absolutely essential. Departments we spoke with included human resources, IT, marketing, risk/compliance and our existing call center. Moreover, we needed the buy-in of our executive team to ensure top-level support.
Gathering these teams together allows everyone to share their questions, concerns and comments. Additionally, it allows all teams to play a role in setting the strategy and standards for the program. Standards could focus on a set response time for customer service requests via social media channels and processes for managing customer inquiries. For example, our call center determined one hour is the appropriate response time for non-call requests. While we almost always answer social media comments and inquiries much faster than one hour during business hours, we needed to determine how this service promise would impact our ability to answer questions and concerns during weekends and evenings.
- Determine who "owns" the social customer service program
Traditionally, stand-alone customer service departments have handled all customer requests via phone, email or contact forms. However, as everyone that works in social media can attest to, the volume of customer service inquiries via social channels is increasing. This creates the question: who is responsible for those requests? Should the call center team be trained to handle social channels or does the marketing team extend their reach to monitor social channels 24/7? Is it a hybrid approach?
Determining ownership can set the direction for the social customer service program. In many cases, the program can be rolled out in phases, with the initial focus on marketing receiving additional resources to monitor at later hours and training call center teams on how to monitor inbound inquiries during non-traditional business hours.
- Address any security and compliance issues right from the start
If you're already leveraging social media for customer service, there is a good chance that certain processes are in place to ensure customer concerns are addressed quickly and archived for reference. But what happens when the customer service team "leaves" the office and answers tweets, Facebook posts, etc. from home? Do processes need to be changed?
In regulated industries, such as banking and finance, it is imperative that everyone involved in customer service issues is aware of current industry standards for compliance and security. For example, we can only answer very general customer service questions via a public forum such as Twitter or Facebook. If someone wants to know what time our locations are open, we can absolutely help them. If a customer has a question about a specific account, we need to take the conversation off-line and interact with them in a secure way. That also means that certain types of situations may not be able to be addressed while on the go and via mobile devices. While marketers are often quick to criticize brands that reply to customer inquiries with almost robotic responses, it's often missed that companies within certain industries are required to respond a specific way. Generic responses to customer service issues on social media are often used because they ensure compliance with industry standards. What is most important is the offline follow up in these situations.
Another common issue with scaling a social media customer program is how to deal with remote access. For example, remote access to client information is often limited due to the sensitive nature of certain documents. Marketing can often be one of the teams with restricted access. In our situation, the marketing team regularly found itself answering customer inquiries outside of the office. A valuable best practice is to flesh out how certain types of customer issues are handled when addressed inside the office and from a remote destination. That way, all parties involved know the appropriate responses to different situations.
Many brands are often operating within a strictly defined box and cannot step outside without running into security and privacy issues. There is little flexibility in these areas and social media programs must be built and adjusted accordingly.
A common theme found across these lessons learned is that planning to scale a social media customer service program involves more than simply managing channels. There are certain steps required to not only better service customers, but also protect the brand and ensure digital efforts are in alignment across the company. Being efficient with available resources, ensuring stakeholders are engaged, addressing compliance issues early and assigning ownership of channels will lead to a smoother, more impactful rollout of your 24/7 social media customer service program.
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