When you consult almost any list of top companies for customer service, USAA's name will be front and center. The financial services company founded by and for military veterans and their families has a fiercely loyal customer base, in large part due to the exceptional service they are provided in every channel.
So when Richelle Caroll, the Director of Social Servicing for USAA - also an Air Force veteran and 23-year employee - was tasked with starting a social customer service practice, she knew she had big boots to fill.
"USAA takes a lot of pride in being leaders in the industry for customer service, so delivering an exceptional and personalized member experience is key to being successful," says Caroll. "We wanted to make sure that our members got to engage with us in the channel of choice."
The 22-person social customer service team started early last year with the goals of providing exceptional service, "making it simple," and ensuring members can reach them wherever they are in the world at any time of day or night. Like much of the rest of the company, it's staffed by many veterans and military spouses - making it easier to relate with customers.
"We really want our employees here to have a better understanding of what our membership goes through day in and day out, some of the challenges they experience, so we can relate and provide a better member experience," says Caroll. "We take a lot of pride in things like honesty, loyalty, integrity, service" - just like the military, she adds.
USAA's social customer service agents are highly-skilled individuals with extensive product knowledge and usually a long tenure at the company. The team works closely with other departments such as PR, marketing, strategy, governance, and the line of business product teams to ensure a positive experience and to identify and fix customer pain points.
"One of the secret benefits of operating in the social media space is it really provides us with the opportunity to bubble up those things that our members are talking about or concerned about, and provide better experiences or even products and solutions," Caroll says.
Since social media is often "the quickest way to engage" for active military members who are traveling all over the world, customer service on the channel should be "at parity" with other channels and never a "channel of last resort", she adds. In fact, customer satisfaction in social media is evaluated in the same way as it is with other channels.
What really separates USAA from its peers is the deep connection to its members. Service - and especially military service - is "entrenched in our daily lives," says Caroll, and more than once she referred to it as an "obligation".
"Our members have sacrificed a lot for our country. Having the ability to empathize with them, making sure we're meeting them where they're at, is one of the key components of entering into social the way that we did."
Richelle joined me for Episode 37 of the Focus on Customer Service Podcast. Highlights of the episode and where to find them are below:
1:02 Richelle's military background
2:23 A quick overview of USAA
3:05 What is USAA's customer service philosophy?
4:25 Does USAA have an advantage by focusing only on military families?
7:07 How the company started its social customer service practice
9:43 The social care team and how it works with other areas of the business
12:40 Is social media the customer service channel of last resort?
14:19 Operating in a regulated industry
17:22 What has changed in the last year of social customer service?
18:57 Metrics that are key to success
22:22 Richelle shares a favorite member interaction in social media
24:59 Richelle's one piece of advice for starting in social customer service