Social media is the new customer service


Social media is transforming the way brands think about customer service. Prior to social media, the risk of providing poor customer service was minor. One customer complaint would have been heard by few others. Today, every single service incident has the potential to become a public relations debacle. Every customer now has a megaphone to express disdain.

There are multiple incidents that illustrate how important social media has become to keeping customers happy: The Comcast technician asleep on a couch YouTube video, and the JetBlue public relations nightmare after planes were stuck on the tarmac for hours, to name just a couple. Brands have taken notice and are beginning to be more proactive in the social media and customer service arena.

Recently I attended an interesting presentation on social media ROI in customer service communities by Natalie Petouhoff of Forrester Research (at the Social Media Club of LA). Petouhoff began by saying: “the #1 Customer Service 2009 initiative should be social media.”

Petouhoff listed brands that have already developed customer service online communities in both the B2C (Direct TV, Verizon) and B2B (Intel, National Instruments) space. Although most of these examples were in the technology space, Petouhoff highlighted, an agency that sells products to help people improve their credit scores. The community is filled with people, including 100 super users, that are active in the conversation. Although myFICO community elements were added to provide information on improving financial health and not for a sales benefit, the agency is selling 40% more products as a result.

Petouhoff listed the many benefits of customer service online communities including cost savings and revenue improvements. By providing effective self-service forums, these communities reduce call and email volume. There is an increase in first contact resolution, due to user provided answers that have been proven to work. Agent productivity improves by relying more on a consumer-enhanced database of better answers. Revenue improvements include an increase in customer lifetime value. Brands benefit from increased positive word-of-mouth and with more relevant content for the search engines, SEO can improve. Perhaps, most importantly, according to Forrester, the ROI of online customer service communities is 100 percent payback within a year.

Brands such as Comcast and JetBlue, learned the hard way that they must be prepared to take action to make their consumers happy. Both Comcast and JetBlue are now using Twitter to address consumers concerns. Michael Arrington, owner of the influential blog TechCrunch was getting bad service and ripped into Comcast via his large following on Twitter. A representative from Comcast, who was monitoring Twitter, called Michael to find out how he could help to resolve the issue. This is just one of many examples of how brands that are proactively using social media for customer service. These brands are benefiting from correcting inaccurate information and participating in the positive dialogues underway about products. Brands have no control over their reputation online, if they are not part of the consumer discussions.

If you are still not convinced that social media and customer service are a good match, a 2008 Cone business in social media study on online adults, found that:
· 56% say they feel a stronger connection with and better served by companies when they can interact with them in a social media environment
· 43% say companies should use social networks to solve customers’ problems
· 41% say companies should use social media to solicit feedback about products and services

Combining social media and customer service provides for more credible problem solving and less expensive customer service costs. As informants turn into advocates, it is important for brands to reward active users. Many are using systems to recognize, rank, and reward users. Most brand deflectors simply want to be heard. It is important for brands to address customer complaints, approach their customer service efforts with transparency, gaining the potential to turn a negative event into praise and compliments.