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From Social Support to Social Customer Engagement

Customer support through Internet social channels is certainly not something new. It has been around for more than a few years now, with bulletin boards, forums and other open discussion sites being the original set of channels companies used. What has changed is the role of the people monitoring those discussions on behalf of companies. The community manager, mostly a marketing role in many companies, has now evolved into a more robust role, that of the Social Customer Engagement Agent.

Social Customer Engagement Agents (SCEAs) sit at the intersection of customer support and marketing. Customer service and support is indeed the “new” marketing. A good, hopefully great, experience is the only thing that keeps customers coming back to a brand nowadays, in many ultracompetitive industries. Therefore, SCEAs have a dual responsibility for monitoring social networks (increasingly through software to that effect), reacting to customers concerns, comments, rants and issues preemptively, leveraging the power of expert users and promoters help resolve issues and questions directly, but also carefully caring for your brand online with every post and interaction.

What does this mean exactly for Customer Support or Customer Success organizations? Well, it means that the people in charge of your social media support cannot have the same training/mindset/skills of support engineers responding to support tickets on e-mail or picking up support phone calls. The discussions are markedly different, and not necessarily issue or problem specific. Although it is plausible to have hybrid agents who do both, you should also consider specialized SCEAs, budget permitting, that provide those dimensions of online social literacy and CX/branding sensibility while engaging with customers. That said, the function of SCEAs is not magic, and must be designed and managed as an operation of its own, process and policy included.

Finally, here are some helpful facts about social networks, as it applies to customer support:

According to Pew Research Center’s Internet Project Library Survey (September 2013): 71% of online adults use Facebook, while 18% of online adults use Twitter.

Facebook is the preferred channel when it comes to social media support.

The demographics are:

90% of 18-29 years old use social media, while 78% of 30-49 years old and 65% of 50-64 years do.

Follow through, so simple yet…

It is quite common to “throw out there” idealisms on how much customers matter to us, it’s quite easy to say and even advertise the idea of how important our customers are, how customers come first, how customer service oriented we are. But just how true is that? Is this a reality all throughout the customers’ journey with us? Or is it more focused on the sales phase?

Engaging customers and getting them to adopt our product is just the initial phase of what can hopefully be a long term relationship. Now its time to follow trough with the promises we made.

Following through means making our customer feel appreciated, and when is our greatest opportunity to do so? When they reach out to us if issues arise, when they are the most vulnerable. That is the perfect opportunity to turn what can be a “sour” moment into an opportunity to provide them with great customer support that will keep them coming back for more of what we offer.

It is at this time when we can shine and make them feel that they got more than just a product or service, they got our commitment to helping them make their life easier. This is a no-brainer. Taking care of our customers and providing them with great customer support experiences is the key to customer loyalty and creating brand ambassadors.

Follow through means doing what we say we would do, being on top of customer issues and inquiries without our customer having to ask again, offering a bit more than they expected, surprising them with our follow up. Follow through needs to be a practice that we embed into our workflows and processes, not just a loose guideline, or something we leave up to the talent or discretion of each support agent. And we need to measure it.

And what are the benefits of designing your support around your customer? What does this mean in numbers? Well according to the Harvard Business School, increasing customer retention by 5% increases profits by 25% to 95%.

So we need to start following through with our promises to our clients, their loyalty depends on it.

The importance of Proactive Support

A recent survey by InContact of more than 2,000 people, to see how they felt about proactive support, produced the following findings:

87% of the customers they surveyed said they want to be contacted proactively by a company; and
Nearly three quarters (73%) of those who had a pleasant surprise or positive experience with a proactive customer service call, said that they had a positive change in their perception of the business calling them.

Usually when we think of customer support, we think of the act of reaching out to a company that provides some type of service when things go wrong. For a long time, that has been the mindset of both the Service Companies and their customers.

But things are changing , and have been for some time now. We have to realize that our support organizations are our greatest customer loyalty asset. The concept of PROACTIVE support should become an expectation for your support organization rather than a random practice.

When we talk about Proactive support, we are not really talking about foreseeing and preventing every single problem your client might experience at one time or another. That is impossible. Nor are we talking about the traditional “heads up” automated email to customers when, for example, your server goes down, which is fine as a start of a proactive process. We are also talking about more than acknowledgement. Think about doing things like:

  • Following up after an automated email with a MANUAL email, call, txt message, etc.
  • Acknowledging the problem but providing most if not all of the following:
  • Details of what the exact problem is
  •  The status of our troubleshooting or fix
  •  If possible, sharing the plan or steps required to fix it
  • And, most importantly to the customer, giving him an ETA for the fix, whenever possible

Proactive Support is many times about how you REACT. It’s about truly caring for your customers and the impact they feel when there is a service interruption or an unscheduled event or failure which affects the full availability of the product. It’s about anticipating what they want to know and how they want to be treated, depending on the situation.

You will not always be able to provide all of the things mentioned above, in which case, KEEP IN CONSTANT CONTACT with your client. Letting them know that your support or engineering team is working on finding a solution is many times more than enough (within and up to an acceptable time frame of course), even if it’s with a simple “we just want to let you know we are still working on it”. It’s always amazing to me how support organizations don’t even do that many times.

There is nothing more frustrating for a customer than being left in the dark when problems occur, this creates the sense that the service provider (YOUR COMPANY!) is not knowledgeable about the services, technology or product they are selling, OR (which is worse) doesn’t care about the impact of a service failure on their customers.

Another form of Proactive support would be one NOT associated with an ongoing problem. What about calling a client just to ask: “Hi, just wanted to check if things are running smoothly”, or “we just wanted to make sure that the problem you experienced last week, month, quarter, has not reoccurred.”

Imagine the impact that would have on your client! And the way they would perceive your company’s level care for them.

This type of support is what can transform a customer support/care/service organization into the brand advocacy and customer loyalty machine it can be.

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In this digital day and age, customers still favor personal connections

A recent article published by Moneywatch (Nov. 2013, Michael Hess, author) revealed a number of interesting findings about what customers are looking for in customer service. Some of those only confirm how important customer service is, for companies in industries across the board, and the fact that most customers would not say companies “exceed their expectations” or go the extra mile for them, most of the time.

But to me, the most interesting finding has to do with the fact that, according to the study, “personal connections still matter most”. A huge percentage (65%) of customers, still prefer a live phone conversation with a real person to get assistance, over widely popular channels, like e-mail or chat. And that includes services like product assistance. It just seems like, according to Mr. Customer out there, much of what we’ve been doing to automate the interactions with customers and their access to product support and assistance actually goes contrary to their wishes.

There are plenty of wonderful solutions that allow companies to help the customer help him/herself, from customer-facing knowledge bases and search technology, to automated virtual assistants. But the lesson of this study seems to be that it may not be such a good idea to try to “deflect” calls at all cost. After all, giving customers a superior experience is all about connecting with their emotions, particularly in the product assistance/support touch points. And nobody does that better than a capable, empathetic human being at the other end of the line.

People still like to talk to people…