The purpose of these breakdown posts is to serve as an industry reference as the space advanced to optimization and performance. The assumption is that a company is forming a Center of Excellence or ruling body, or has recently done so before deploying this key component.
Needs: Companies desire to be efficient –not having a workflow puts company at risk Like our bodies, cities, and corporations, all complex organisms have a natural process and order that helps to reduce inefficiencies and increases the end goals. So what if you don’t have a workflow? This could put your company at risk from lack of coordination, as multiple individuals could be responding at the same time, your customers may not be properly served in social channels, resulting in lost opportunities and potential customer dis-satisfaction. In the worst case, this poor experience in social could serve to fuel a social media crises, which we’ve documented. Clearly, we want to avoid this scenario, and instead develop a workflow that cascades across the multiple business functions, product groups, and geographies to quickly and effectively serve the market in social channels.
Definition: A Social Media Workflow, Process, or Triage is a sequence of connected steps that enables the entire organization to act efficiently with minimal overlapping tasks and resources in order to serve the market in social channels and beyond.
Business Goals: The 10 Attributes of Successful of Social Media Workflow
First, let’s align the goals of having a successful social media workflow in place, benchmark your goals against the following attributes:
1) Alignment with corporate goals and customer goals.
2) Buy-in and agreement to the process from all involved business units in the organization.
3) Few or no overlapping tasks and resources.
4) Clear articulation of who will do what, when, where, and how.
5) Organizational alignment through training, testing, and refinement.
6) Integration with existing business systems, processes, and software in existing channels.
7) A clear, easy-to-reference document with clear labels and requires little explanation.
8] Scope includes all possible scenarios are included when to respond –and when not to respond.
9) Periodic improvements on the process as the business evolves.
10) Measurable business impacts report to all stakeholders on a periodic basis.
Downsides: Identify the Six Roadblocks in Advance No business initiative goes without risk, and developing a social media workflow could result in the following risks: 1) Scrutiny over the social media program at executive level, 2) Internal territories intensely guarded as a battle over who owns social and the customer experience is fought, 3) Chiefs step in to stop the program until the bigger picture is obtained, 4) A long arduous process is undertaken to get buy in from the entire corporation, which can be saddled if clear executive sponsorship is not setup. 5) Failure to align with existing customer experience channels such as phone, chat, online, and in person. 6) A large risk is the organization not adopting the workflow, falling back into old habits, if a proper rollout is not invested.
Starting with Strategy Ensure all social media activities (and all else we do) align with the company mission and goals, let’s ensure we’re prepared in having a strategic direction with our peers, executives, and team. Start by:
Ensure the Goals are Established and Aligned. Obtain agreement from an executive sponsor, ideally one that spans the business groups in which you will engage. Remember, something as pedantic as creating a workflow diagram will excite the organization, resulting in groups to balk, or give their buy-in. Do this by reminding all teams that this is alignment with corporate goals like: customer satisfaction, generating new leads, reducing internal confusion. Clearly label the business goals, and assign interim business KPIs that directly map to these goals.
Next, Map out Existing Processes and Interview Teams. Expert Jason Falls shared that “Getting the right stakeholders on board from the onset that makes a triage process successful”. Whether you’re in corp comm, customer care, or legal, you’ll need to get buyin from other groups. Start by obtaining existing workflows of how customers are routed, and then interview each team for their needs. Lead with business goals, but instead put on your listening cap to get their important point of view before you assert yours. Then, bring all diagrams back to one document, then ascertain the best process and provide suggested workflows. By allowing business units to vote, modify, and provide input will extend your influence from ‘over-reaching’ to instead getting the ideal ‘buy-in’.
Avoid the Mine Field by Including Overlooked Stakeholders. Projects can quickly become disparaging if one group inserts and stops the process because their needs were not met. Remember to obtain buy in from corporate functions that are often overlooked including: PR, Corp Comm, Customer Care, IT, Call Center, Regional Field. In particular, loop in Legal, Risk and Compliance in the early days. Jason Falls shared that a leading airline carrier in United States involved legal early on, and had an ongoing role: ”A member of senior management and legal are on-call 24/7 to approve and mitigate messages when needed. That’s pretty strong.”
Rollout Internally through Education, Testing, and Breaking. Emailing a powerpoint triage to all teams that will be involved in the day to day is not sufficient. Ensure a proper kickoff is initiated by conducting a training session, as well as conducting mock process drills in real time. Start with having teams identify message and which routing path it should go into, then simulate how teams will tag, flag, and pass on messages. Ensure proper followup and recording of incident is inputted to correct systems. Be sure to take the process to the limit by simulating crises (see full post) and taking the organization to the level where the workflow is designed to not engage due to critical crises situation.
Continual Iterations and Coverage, Periodic Measurements. Don’t expect this workflow to perfect in the future, plan on periodic assessments to improve in real time, or at key scheduled dates. Ensure that fire response (corp comm, legal, execs) teams are actively updated on the impacts of the workflow as they may not be involved in daily affairs. Provide all stakeholders periodic reports based on the business KPIs agreed upon, including potential items such as: reduced time to respond to customers, increased customer satisfaction, number of successful incidents resolved, or leads passed to sales for followup.
Workflows will have multiple decision points which help to guide the teams on who does what. Include “If then” statements that help individuals to self-guide.
Jason Falls recommends: ”When you’re building out triage and work flow it’s like building out the workflow for customer service call centers — you have to anticipate every scenario. What do we say for a product recall? What do we say if an executive is arrested?”
Most workflows have either the following triggers to determine the key decision: Sentiment, situation, or who is asking.
Each type of data has an advantage and disadvantage: Sentiment isn’t universally recognized, situations may not take into account tone and nuance, and identities can’t be confirmed.
Tag and Flag
To allow for internal coordination, ensure that the process and workflow tools allow content to be tagged, flagged and conjoined to existing customer databases.
Ensure systems work together by requesting social media management systems (SMMS) have on their roadmap the ability to connect with other contact center software, email marketing, or CRM.
Companies need to internally state how long service level agreement (SLA) will be for different workflow tracks.
Be mindful about how you plan to share this externally, and if at all. We’ve found some companies do not promise this, but instead recommend existing support channels.
Not all customers want their problems resolved, and may just want to vent. Furthermore, some customers may feel the brand is too ‘big brother’ if they were not following or fans of the brand.
Best practices I learned from Frank Eliason is to first show empathy, then ask if they want help: “I’m sorry to hear of your troubles, is there anything we can do to help?” rather than blurt out a fix that may be unwanted.
Engage in public or private channel
Many of the regulated, sensitive account information such as airline and telecommunications will shift ‘off channel’ to other secured channels.
Be up front in your online policies on how you plan to deal with information: be clear on what will be responded to –and will not be in public channels.
When not to respond
Make it clear to all parties internally on what type of content will NOT be responded to –and suggest further activity that needs to happen internally.
It’s important to balance proactive response, but also setting expectations on how far we will respond to customers and what appropriate channels are.
Integration with Software Tools
In some cases, triage may all happen in social media management system tools (read the report for the full breakdown) but in today’s multi-channel world, they will extend.
Whether it’s contact center software or social media management systems software they must align to the workflows that you build first –don’t allow tools to bend your process, instead focus on your goals first before selecting tools.
Some brands fail to followup with customers after a break has been resolved, or after a customers has recently purchased a product. Have a clear process to followup.
It’s ok to ask customers who have had product woes fixed in social channels to update their posts, so others will see this person has had an issue resolved or not. Be savvy by first asking their satisfaction, then request them to followup.
Recording and Measuring
Executives will be requesting clear ROI on your process and triage workflow, you’ll have to map frequency, intensity, and other KPIs.
Map your interactions based on the business goals that were stated up front, whether they are for marketing, support, or coordination, ensure business level KPIs are included.
Feel free to leave a comment below with more, I plan to cross-link.
The Future State of Workflows: I interivewed two experts to find out their perspective on the future of workflows.
The Workflows Fade Into Background. As employees adopt the workflow on a frequency basis, the organizational memory will guide the company. Jason Falls indicated that “Hopefully they’ll (workflows) only look like reminders and guidelines. The worst possible use of a triage, workflow or process is one that is followed step-by-step, looking at the chart. These are guidelines that should be learned and baked into a community manager or marketing staff member’s job. After a while, you should just know what to do. Certainly, you can refer to the charts, graphs and references, but the strong triage processes in any businesses are those run by people who don’t read cue cards.” Jason is right, the work process will soon take a life of it’s own, however the initial documentation and discipline to get the entire organizational on board will be key for corporate buy-in.
Traditional Contact Center Software will Battle/Integrate with SMMS Vendors. Existing contact center software that already has roots with multi-channel experiences like Genesys, Rightnow, and Liveops already have social interactions and features. On the flip side, Social Media Management System (SMMS) vendors are starting to evolve into paid advertising channels and may include automated chat bots beyond social, read the full report on the SMMS vendor landscape. These two vendors types will have friction as they battle, and expect M&A over coming periods to occur as these vendors coalesce over the same customer types. Watch Oracle, Salesforce, who are assembling their Social Software Suites.
Soon, Software Will Automate Responses. I agree with the perspective of Jay Baer, who states that: ”I see the future of workflow and triage being predictive modeling, with routing based on artificial intelligence and enterprise knowledge mapping. If we know the specific areas of expertise of each employee and can store that in a relational database, and we can also know via presence detection who is online and/or what their historical response times have been, we can use Netbase-style NLP to proactively triage and assign social interactions to the best possible resource in the organization. Automated expertise mining.”. I agree with this direction, and have published my thoughts on the future of social being Performance Social, both on Mashable and Techcrunch.Update, this automation topic triggered a discussion on Branch.
Summary: Don’t Under Estimate the Work Required to Create and Rolllout a Social Workflow.The end result of developing a simple Social Media Workflow doesn’t reflect the herculean effort of organizational navigating, buy-in, and change that may occur in developing the process. Be sure to start with business goals, obtain a clear sponsor, and approach business units by asking –not telling– how they can get involved. Ensure your existing processes, software, and customer experience is augmented, and not replaced by this process. While we’re going to lay the foundation out now in a manual manner, expect that future software systems to correctly anticipate these systems and automate based on data lead programs.
Left: Dell’s Social Media Command and Listening Center, Austin Texas.
The purpose of this post is to be an industry reference for this social business use case, please leave comments with further additions.
Many a year ago, I worked at a web hosting company that had a Network Operations Center (NOC) that looked like NASA’s mission control. Enclosed in a glass ‘fishbowl’ the 20-50 staff, systems, training, technology were all used in conjunction to support the network traffic of the customers websites, see Google images. The “NOC” was externally packaged and marketed as a cutting edge feature of a top performance center, touted on customer tours at HQ, and had internal mystique and prestige of those who were there.
Today, we similar centers emerging at top brands, event managers, as well as offerings from a variety of marketing and customer service providers for social. With India’s recent crises on social channels causing a shut down in websites, expect government bodies and agencies around the world to open these for daily interaction with citizens, and as well as dealing with high urgency situations.
Definition and Goals: A Dedicated Social Media Engagement Center or Command Center is a physical space where companies coordinate to listen and engage their market in social channels to achieve business use cases in marketing engagement, customer care, risk management, or operational efficiency of coordination and contact center deflection.
Risks and Criticisms Like all business programs, there are always tradeoffs, we’ve identified the following:
Sexy deployment DuJour, could quickly go out of style. Many companies have touted their centers, but if core business problems aren’t being solved, it will be viewed as sizzle and no steak.
This public commitment to listening in social is a promise to customers you’re going to be there. Set clear expectations on how goals and limitations, but know frustrated customers will expect you to respond
It’s cheap, but is it really? Seemingly low cost, the long term resource needs must be offset by business benefits.
These physical centers can be used to attract internal attention to the social media program, but will put additional scrutiny on business goals. Questions on integration with other customer channels will be asked.
Encourages customers to “yell at their friends to get your attention”. Social is often a lower cost of communication than other channels, but encouraging customers to use social as first channel, basterdizes existing traditional channel investments, and may encourage customers to get best treatment from brand if they’re public.
Companies deploy these one off tactics without a broader social business strategy across the enterprise. This is just one toolset, and if all the processes aren’t fully deployed internally and the impact to customer experience, this could be ‘cart before horse’.
Breakdown: Dedicated Centers Have Many Variables
What No One Tells You
Use cases can vary from marketing engagement, customer service, lead generation, internal coordination, compliance, risk mitigation, or product innovation.
Be clear internally and externally on the goals of the program.Some social media vendors launch these centers to showcase their products.
Companies vary their scope, some are only open periodically for critical events, while others are open 24/7/365
Be clear to the market on when response is available. Companies that desire full coverage but don’t need FTEs should outsource to qualified agency partners, or specialists like LiveWorld, emoderation, Cap Gemini and others
Internal teams vs external teams. Internal teams range from marketing communicators, product managers, and contact center agents.
Caution on charging junior staff with representing the brand online who don’t have full business acumen or PR agencies that don’t understand deep engagement nuances. Trained script based contact agents may have deep product knowledge, may struggle at the real time, personal interactions required on social channels.
We’re seeing agents at command centers that are focused on dedicated social channels only, that then hand off to other teams. Also, universal agents that understand nuances of all channels are also emerging. This also spans product coverage as well as regions and languages.
A multi-tier approach may be useful by pinning dedicated social agents first as first line interaction, then shifting to advanced agents in a triage process, one size does not fit all.
Some companies are putting at HQ only, while at Dell, I was informed they have centers around the globe that ‘follow the sun’ for exposure
Outsourcing these centers to third party agencies, service providers is increasing at a rapid pace, seek to outsource lower level functions but keep core brand engagement and storytelling near corporate.
Notable Brand Examples
Dell’s Social Media Command Center: While first, and most discussed, there are many elements to this program that includes a centralized approach, while empowering business units to be autonomous, a form of advanced holistic form of social business. I’ve visited this first hand and received information from Richard Binhammer before publishing this, others have published videos.
Salesforce. Jamie Kennedy toured me on the Radian6 and Salesforce Listening center which is strategically located near corporate marketing and PR, see video tour for details. I visited.
KLM’s Corporate Communications and E-commerce departments joined forces to establish the Social Media Hub.
Adobe has a center, which I’ve seen in the San Jose office.
Samsung let me know they’ve a center setup and seeing call deflection benefits.
Cisco (Oct 24, 2012) has now launched a Social Media Listening Center using their own network, touch screens, SocialMiner software, and Radian6 technologies, and is offering to brands, as well as using themselves.
Companies must actively use listening software to hear what customers are saying, both on social media channels they own (like Facebook pages) and outside on third party sites like forums, blogs and microblogs
While Radian 6 came up as a frequently used tool, there are a variety of providers, most companies already have listening solutions in place.
Unfortunatly, the social software suites have not fully formed and there is a third class of software required to manage permissions, process, reporting, and offer engagement tools.
A large number of tasks need to occur including internal training, internal and external PR, logistics, dedicated commitment from executives, and funding.
Like all programs, the devil is in the project plan details. There are numerous legal, IT, HR, facilities and compliance considerations.
The physical infrastrcture is often the least expensive, but includes dedicated internet bandwidth, work stations, computers, flat screen monitors, and often glass enclosed dedicated workspaces
While not a requirement, we’ve found programs that put these centers in strategic locations benefittted from internal curisotiy of other departments, as well as positive PR from customer and influencer visits.
Most command centers today have launched marketing efforts, blog posts, press releases, and other external pronouncements to inform the world the company is ready
Rely on traditional marketing efforts, but also tap into customers who have been active in talking to the brand. In particular, Dell, Gatorade, and Pizzahut were early to market, gleaning press and media mentions.
Analysis and Reporting
Savvy companies offer reporting and real time dashboards to glean insights
Use existing marketing analytics tools, or business management tools to measure and report progress back to company.
While this trend is starting to grow, it’s important to see the strategic point of view of this toolset, remember that:
Command Centers are tactics and should be part of a larger strategy. Companies should not deploy these centers without first having a strategy on how social will be used in the context of their business strategy. These centers can amplify, impact, and disrupt existing business functions and will impact cost, customer experience, and workflow.
Benefits of centralized resources are useful –but not every company will need one. While having centralized resources to offload other teams, some advanced companies are already integrating listening and engagement to all areas of the company. Having a physically dedicated center isn’t required for customer engagement on social.
Expect outside providers to offer solutions. I expect that companies will have dedicated solutions around customer engagement in social, as well as nearly every government, sports team, and beyond. But don’t expect every company to host themselves, outsourced options like call centers in emerging markets will emerge –with benefits and downsides.
Responding to Customers In Social Support May Be Hurting Your Brand. Why?
You may be teaching your customers to yell at their friends in order to get your attention. You must develop a social support strategy that involves an escalation process, will scale, and use the right internal processes and software to succeed.
In the above recorded webinar, you can watch the replay and learn about the business case (why many companies have fallen down in social media crises) understand market data on trends on adoption rates and spending, and a five step escalation framework with over a dozen examples.
Above: The 5-Tier Social Support Approach
10 Reasons How Customer Care Has Changed:
There are some significant shifts on how the customer care organization must adopt, here’s what I’ve found talking to these groups:
Responding to Social Customers May Hurt Your Brand. As stated above, any company who haphazardly responds to customers in social channels without a strategy may be encouraging customers to yell at their friends to get your attention. This will only spiral down further and further.
Outbound Strategy –not Inbound: Support groups must go where customers already are, and this means beyond the call center walls into social networks, third party forums, and online review sites. At a minimum, they must monitor and develop a triage system.
Linear Escalation Now Fragmented: Previously, call center and customer care issues were cleanly routed into queues using support software, now, it’s dirty and messy as the social web is filled with unstructured data, multiple instances repeated across social networks, and a rapidly changing discussion in real time.
Customer Woes Escalate in Public in Real Time. In a few of the most extreme cases like Motrin Moms or Dooce vs Whirlpool we saw these issues escalate during a weekend. As a result, corporations must practice their firedrills in the anticipation of a Friday night crises before a three day weekend when executives are away.
Anyone in Company can be in Support. Unlike prior years where support was often routed to trained dedicated customer care professionals, now anyone in the company can participate in online tools and support customers. This poses significant threats and opportunities for scale.
Customers Can Do Your Job For You: Similar to #5, companies now can tap into their customers (yes, those people who give you money) to do your job for you, but you’ll nee to provide them with service, recognition, and access.
Must Factor in Social Influence –But Know When To Draw the Line. While we’ve already documented the many examples of punkings, we also need to curb our instant reaction to catering to influencers as this could cause bad behavior from influencers in future scenarios.
Special Treatment is Shared in Public: Related to #7, assume special treatment to angry customers is now public, as they’ll tell others around them what worked –potentially forgoing your business model.
Support is the New Marketing. As prospects read reviews from your existing customers, they will undoubltly read reviews on ratings sites, blogs, and forums. Since we know customers trust each other often more brands themselves the support group is one of the most important business units in the company, and cannot be ‘swept under the rug’.
Must Seek New Business Models. Many support organizations are now profit centers, they generate revenues through service level agreements or upgrade and upselling. Now, because customers can self-support each other, many support executives must rethink their strategy. Savvy companies like Autodesk and Intuit have already integrate social support communities right into the product experience.
How the Contact Center Evolves: Traditional to Social Media Social media is not just a ‘new channel’ where existing processes are applied, there are significant changes required in approach or risk public customer backlash, support teams must be aware o f the following changes:
Traditional Channels vs Social Channels: Rather than use traditional communication channels like phone, web, online chat, and email, Social Media support centers will reach customers where they already are –in social networks where they talk to each other.
Inbound vs Outbound: Rather than waiting for customers to contact the contact center on phone support, web, or online chat, they are being proactive by listening to customers and responding to them in their own native social channels. Expect savvy brands to anticipate customers needs by using Social CRM databases to find trends, locate issues before they surface, then contacting customers before their issue surfaces.
Post Issue vs Real Time Response: Call centers often occur once a customer has had a negative issue, and a frazzled or frustrated customer calls in. The goal of Social Support is for support agents to contact customers before they call the support center, reducing expensive high touchpoints.
Incident Resolution Scripts vs Lifestyle Content: Call centers have one one primary mission and often a secondary: to solve customer woes and get them off the phone as quickly as possible to keep costs low, or flip to upsell opportunities. The contact agents script has been carefully designed to solve customer issues quickly and efficiently, yet, social media support may involve discussions and true dialog that build relationships with the customers beyond product support. Expect lifestyle content, news, industry happpenings, and even marketing deals to emerge in the same social channels to offer more value for customers.
One-off Incidental Relationships vs Long Term Relationships: Contact center interactions often are short term, with different staff interacting with different customers with no long-term relationship building. In social media support, a handful of the same folks may participate in the social support efforts with their public persona appearing, this building a known relationship as a human with customers. See how regulated Wells Fargo does it right with their Ask Wells Fargo Twitter help account.
Customer Support Skills vs Social Media Skills: While we’ve already seen a traditional skillset emerge for contact centers, expect a new skill set will be required to learn: brand monitoring tools, social media workflow, listening tools, social CRM training. Beyond the tools, they’ll have to learn conversational marketing, conversational support, and have a high degree of gut feeling to determine if an incident will need to be responded to. Furthermore, they’ll need to quickly ascertain the social influence of customers, as that will impact the triage process, that’s right, certain customers with more Twitter followers will receive priority treatment over others.
The Future: While Strategy Remains Constant, Expect Resurgence of Vendors and Measurement This isn’t a revolution but instead evolution, in fact both types of centers will focus on issue resolution and customer satisfaction rates. Both will have dedicated teams.Voices from customers cascade into social channels, and in both cases customers will likely share their experiences to their friends in social channels. Expect that contact centers in India and Philippines to quickly gain steam in this area, cut deals with one of the 145 brand monitoring companies, and offer these pilot programs to their clients. Lastly, expect that studies emerge that show the cost savings by heading off customer complaints early and responding to them before an incident goes ‘viral’ or reduction in low cost social channels vs higher cost call channels emerge.
Update Dec 11: Although Dell gave me an invite to come to the grand opening, I was unable to attend due to travel, they’ve now launched their Social Media Listening Command Center, see above.
Large companies are struggling internally to support customers in social channels. Why? It’s a long term commitment, goes against existing support avenues, and is a major cultural shift. I want to kick off an opportunity to tell your story of customer service, why? If support in these mediums is making your life easier as a customer, it’s important you provide companies with this feedback, so they can add to their internal business case. If you’re a customer, and have been supported, service, helped, or thanked by a company and their employees in social channels, here’s your chance to tell them:
If you work for a brand monitoring or listening platform company and want to run a report for me, I’ll be happy to post your data findings after a quick review. While there are very quantitative ways of measuring improved customer satisfaction, reduced response time, and lowered support costs, there’s nothing like good ol’ fashioned qualitative feedback.
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
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
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.
Recently, I started teaching puppy Rumba tricks beyond the basic sit and stay, I even made a video. How do I do it? I show him the move, then praise and reward him once it’s done. Repeat, over and over. Although customers aren’t dogs, (save for Purina and Dogster), we’re slowly training our customers that if they want better customer support, that they should say it loudly and in public –thereby influencing their friends.
[As companies accelerate their social support efforts, responding to customers in public reinforces the behavior of complaining to everyone they know]
An Increase In Companies Providing Social Support
The most notable example is ComcastCares who is more responsive to customers using Twitter than on the phone. Secondly, the recent customer service flareup reported by popular blogger Dooce forced the Whirlpool to respond to her when she wasn’t satisfied with support from the call center. BestBuy launched Twelpforce, a way for its thousands of employees to answer questions from anyone that has a problem. Want more examples? See these recent examples for B2C and B2B.
Three Opportunities For Companies To Evolve Customer Support
This isn’t just about rise of social tools, in fact, customers have had bad experiences before. The difference? Their voices were just limited to those they could tell in physical proximity. Rather than think of this as a threat, companies should see this as three distinct opportunities:
Fix the root issues, beyond the customer vocalizations. Looking deeper, this isn’t about social technologies, it’s really an indicator that the support systems within these companies are deficient. In many cases, customers try the standard support effort, hit a wall, then seek other avenues for self-venting, help, or just sheer observations of their frustrations.
Transform your support processes and go where customers are.Companies should continue to support customers on the mediums that they’re using (like social sites and soon mobile), as they are unlikely to change their existing behavior of being social and telling friends about their life and work experiences. Expect companies to grapple with outsourced crowdsupport in GetSatisfaction, UserVoice, Facebook Groups, Yahoo Answers, and community bulletin boards.
Evolve your support systems to connect with the modern marketplace. Expect a rash of social CRM features, companies and solutions to appear that connect existing call systems, knowledge boards, and customer databases with the public web –closing the gap that was once the firewall.
In the end, there will be hundreds of companies that won’t care what customers think, or have their margins squeezed to tightly they can’t afford to innovate and may suffer the fate of any organism that doesn’t evolve in a changing environment. This is an easy fix: their competitors will listen in, and poach their unsatisfied customers.
Customer support is tactical, a cost-center, and the clean-up-kids at the company. Well, that’s the mentality that needs to change. Instead, customer support can be strategic, a value center, and proactive towards customer needs.
The lines between marketing and support continue to blur, as customers share their experiences (most recently, Dooce vs her Whirlpool washing machine) the support experience she has becomes a PR task. Support organizations must quickly evolve as customers connect to each other –and share their stories –using social technologies.
How Customer Support Organizations Must Evolve:
Companies need to stop treating support as lowly department to deal with customers problems, and start to advance their role.
Go Beyond the Official Support Domain
Some companies only support customers on ‘official’ requests such as calls to 1800 numbers or support tickets generated in help systems. The evolved support organization must go to where customers already are at, like in the social web to find, triage, and respond to customers. For example, Logitech was proactive in responding to my customer needs in Twitter –shifting the conversation to email and solving my problems. The many companies who have joined Get Satisfaction, conduct support on Twitter and Facebook are already demonstrating this value.
Become A Strategic Asset to Marketing
Outsourced support site Get Satifaction’s credo that “Support is Marketing” is spot on. As customers share their product experience with their trusted peers –they influence their network. Comcast’s Frank Eliason and his Comcastcares team as an indicator of a PR blessed support individual becoming a marketing asset. As a result, customer support experiences are indeed the scope of marketing. Perhaps the most trusted members of a company are not the VPs of marketing and their shiny blog, but the rough and tumble support technician who resonates and resembles a customer.
Influence Product Development
Customer touching groups have more insight to the needs of the market and must integrate with product development teams. For example, Intuit integrates community in their actual product –enhacing how customer voices influence their next-generation. Customer interactions should be recorded, prioritized and share with product teams who are designing the next generation of products.
Let Go and Allow Customers to Self-Support Each Other
In many cases, customers as a collective know more about the product set than a support team or product team do. Microsoft and other tech companies have developed a thriving community of customers that self-support each other in their developer forums. Companies struggle letting go of answering questions about products, but should instead use the right collaboration and knowledge capturing tools to allow customers to self support each other.
Become Proactive, Not Reactive
Support organizations must not only be responsive and wait for customer issues to go awry, but be proactive and head off issues before they become customer problems. Beyond companies forced to issue recalls, asking customers how their experience is going on a regular basis is key. Expect support organizations to develop advanced monitoring strategies and couple with CRM systems to instantly alert stakeholders of issues that can be corrected.
Anticipate, And Move Beyond Real-Time
Most companies already have 24/7 support organizations that can handle customer needs round-the-clock yet need to prepare for real time responses. Shuffling customers with issues (esp influencers) into a queue only amps frustration. The truly evolved support organization anticipates customer issues using proactive techniques mentioned above.
The path to the evolved state of support isn’t easy, to start with, companies should get started by:
Measure based on Value –Not as a Cost Center
Support organizations must not only measure based on customer sat, number of calls received and closed, but develop marketing and PR metrics. Measure on how many crises were diverted, new knowledge gleaned, and interactions in the open web.
Develop An Internal Marketing Plan
Get a seat at the table by demonstrating the strategic component of customer facing support efforts. Show marketing, product development, and leadership teams why your scope has increased –as should your internal influence.
Enhance Your Existing Processes
Put in processes that enable support in the real-time open web. You’ll need the right roles, processes, and tools to grow where your customers already are. Develop a triage system that integrates marketing’s efforts in social with your own internal processes to identify, triage, and react to customers.
Conduct Internal Training –and Fire Drills
New technologies require new processes, skills, and roles. Support organizations must train staff to learn new tools like mobile, social networks, and brand monitoring tools. Conduct internal “fire drills” and have contingency plans to avoid staying off this list.
Expand CRM and Customer Systems To Connect to Social Web
Customers are off the reservation, as should your systems. Learn to identify, prioritize, and capture customer interactions as they spread to social platforms and the to mobile.