Online Customer Service


Our ongoing Social Media Marketing Use Case blog series is based on recent roundtable discussions with social media marketing professionals. The series explores social media marketing topics with the goal of sparking open discussion and informing social strategy. Previous posts in the series talked through lead generation and building brand awareness. The third use case in our series, online customer service, focuses on how businesses can utilize social networks to improve the online customer service experience for consumers.

Using their @comcastcares Twitter handle, Comcast has successfully used social media to provide online customer service. Frank Eliason (@FrankEliason) led a team of 17 people to provide customer care for Comcast customers over Twitter. While some companies have followed suit, others are reluctant to provide social media-focused online customer service. What’s clear from our roundtable discussion is that regardless of whether companies address brand issues and sentiment publicly, people will talk across social media channels. So what should companies do—and expect—from online customer service as a use case for social media marketing? Here are the ideas and points from our discussion.

Three Core Online Customer Service Opportunities

Reactive: Response to a direct customer complaint, comment, or inquiry. For instance, a customer tweets to @comcastcares stating, “I can’t figure out how to use the new interactive guide on my television.” @ComcastCares responds with a link to their online user guide.Proactive: Engaging a customer who has posted a complaint, question or comment about the company, brand or product on a social media channel, but that is not directed at a company. For instance, if a consumer tweets, “I can’t figure out how to use the new Comcast interactive guide on my television.” While the remark wasn’t directed at the Comcast online customer service group, they respond with an @ message to the consumer with the same link. This proactive approach shows the consumer that they are keenly interested in ensuring a positive user experience.Progressive: Engaging a consumer who has trouble finding a solution to a problem or even a consumer who has a problem with a competitor’s product. For instance, a consumer tweets “My internet speed never goes faster than 10 MB/s.” @ComcastCares could respond with, “We’d love to help you solve your issue. What’s your zip code? Perhaps we have a better solution.” This could be a sales or a customer service function.

Barriers to Online Customer Service

Fear: Fear of acknowledging mistakes in public could be a significant barrier for a company or brand to enact real-time, online customer service. However, remember that consumers are going to talk about your brand regardless of whether you are listening and responding to those comments. Wouldn’t you rather have the opportunity to turn a negative experience into a positive one?Resources and Planning:Taking a reasoned approach to providing online customer service via social networks takes some planning and coordination. How many hours a day will be covered? Who is responsible for coverage? Do those people cover social networks exclusively? Does this effort require additional resources, or can the business start with existing personnel? How does this overlap with sales and marketing functions? There are answers to these kind of questions for other customer service channels and the same should be true for online customer service. Current escalation procedures, plus procedures for escalating critical public issues, should be known and in place.

Online Customer Service Is Marketing

How does thinking of customer service as a marketing function change the scope of the role of customer service for your brand?There is a huge opportunity for brands to enhance their relationships with their customers and develop advocacy through online customer service. Comcast was able to change public perception of their brand through the positive public online customer service experience. Not all problemscan be solved to a customer’s satisfaction; but the willingness of a brand to show they care about the customer’s experience is half the battle.

How can brands offer online customer service on social media?

Test the waters: It’s more than likely that brands that are socially active are already fielding online customer service questions and issues through their social accounts. Brands can begin by actively listening for customer needs, questions, issues, etc. and involving the customer service organization as part of the social media marketing process. Those key individuals can be tasked with responding (in a timely manner) to the real-time customer inquiry and problem resolution. There needs to be a mechanism in place for coordination and assignment of social conversations and responses to make this a viable first step.Measure value: How does this shift in activity improve customer satisfaction? How has call/email volume decreased since enacting real-time online customer service? Has the sentiment about the brand improved? Make sure that you have key performance indicators (KPIs) to measure the effectiveness of the effort. But also make sure that you give the effort enough timeto have an effect.Pick the right people: Make sure that you select the right people to provide this type of support. The people chosen should be well-versed in social media as well as your brand/product. The make-up of your work force can drive or kill the opportunity. Choose wisely!Dedicate: Brands that have successfully tested the waters can take the next step—dedicating resources (personnel, procedures, social accounts) to online customer service. But don’t forget that it’s just one avenue for customers to connect with the brand and have issues resolved. Don’t lose sight of the overall value of online customer service and satisfaction.Be first: Brands that take this step to provide real-time service set the bar for their competitors. They are seen as forward-thinking leaders rather than players trying to catch-up. Being first in a brand category provides significant competitive advantage (press coverage, brand buzz, etc).Crowdsource: Part of the advantage of “public” customer service over social networks is the ability to crowdsource. Publishing useful information and great content to support the customer experience is a great way to have your customers spread the word through their own personal social networks. It’s a mind shift away from traditional customer service towards the development of an online customer service community. Your customers can help others, and you can point your customers to the community as a resource.

Customer service is never an easy function, and selling social media as a channel for online customer service may be difficult in your organization. Whereas saving money may be one goal, make sure you also think about customer satisfaction and extending customer lifetime value when pitching a plan to your company.  Done well, your efforts can also improve retention, develop advocacy, reduce the cost of customer acquisition, and inspire crowdsourcing. Don’t forget that allyour employees are your brand ambassadors. Even though they may be home and surfing Facebook, it’s likely that they are still “on the clock” when it comes to advocating your brand or company. Customer service is every employee’s responsibility, whatever their job.

Has your company or brand engaged in real-time, online customer service? How has the experience changed your company?


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