Matrix: The Four Social Support Strategies

At the Altimeter Group, I cover Customer Strategy, which encompasses not only marketing, but also support, expect our discussion to grow as social technologies impact the whole enterprise.

The Social Support movement is afoot (see opportunities), and more companies will be connecting existing marketing and support systems with the social web. Many companies, like Comcast, Wells Fargo, Intel, BestBuy, JetBLue are responding to customers and in some cases, supporting them in near real time.

The challenge is that these teams are unable to scale, even a support team of ten full time folks at Comcast will have a hard time responding to all customers in all social channels. As a result, expect companies to resort to scalable ways to respond to customers, such as:

The Four Social Support Strategies

1) Do Nothing: Use Legacy Support Channels
Some companies will not respond to customers, it’s not in their culture, exposes them to risk, have specific legal or federal restrictions in place, or simply don’t get this space. In this case, these companies may only choose to support customers in their formal forms of support in 1800 numbers or on the official company websites

2) Employee Based Support:  Employees Respond to Customers
Many companies are assigning people in their support or product teams to respond to customers in the social web. The more conservative the company, the less people are officially able to support. Take for example financial services company Wells Fargo has a handful of “Social Concierges” that tweet on the @Ask_WellsFargo account, they set expectations around hours of service (insert banker’s hours joke here) and not to disclose account information. On the flip side, Best Buy encourages their thousands and thousands of “Blue Shirt” employees to respond using a Twitter CMS system that response from the official @Twelpforce account.

3) Peer Based Support: Customer to Customer Other companies will approach this by encouraging their top customers to respond on their behalf. By creating online communities where customers can self-support each other using Q&A features like Salesforce “Answers”, or my Lithium’s unique Twitter alerting system that encourages advocates to respond to prospects.  (Lithium is an Altimeter Group client).  It’s not just on branded communities, many companies encourage support from third party sites such as Get Satisfaction, who centralizes support for all products.

4) Automated Social Support: Computer Generated Tweets
Social CRM systems are going to be intelligent, in fact, they’ll start to incorporate bot-like features you can find in web-based chat support, or the logic from interactive voice systems (IVR), and respond to customers. Support and product teams can already tweet from some CRM interfaces, so attaching an intelligence module will be the next step –it could even come from existing employee Twitter handles.

Web Strategy Matrix:  The Four Social Support Strategies

Benefit Downside
Rely on Legacy Systems This keeps customers in the right process and funnel that the company is used to. Secondly, it doesn’t reinforce that customers should yell at their friends to get help from a company Missed opportunities: Angry customers could revolt starting a Groundswell, or leave an opportunity for competitors to swoop in and take dissatisfied customers.
Employee to Customer Provides a personal touch to help and assist customers, builds relations and trust For large companies, this is not scalable, and will result in companies prioritizing responses to the most authoritative or most urgent. If rolled out to support in all social avenues, it can be costly.  Lastly, it teaches customers to yell at their friends to get support.
Peer Based Support Companies can reduce costs by having customers self-support each other. Collectively, customers may often know more about the company’s products than the actual product team. Unfortunately, not all questions may get answered in a timely way, or answered correctly by staff who may have the inside details. Also, content in knowledge bases, wikis, forums, and Q&A features are often unstructured, messy, and hard to navigate.
Automated Social Support Companies can quickly scale by responding to customers faster, and more accurately, using automated responses. Some customers may feel cheated if they find out they are talking to a bot, and it may be more difficult to build that personal relationship.