Update: I polled my microblogging network on which brands have supported them on Twitter, see which brands have ‘taught’ their customers to yell at their friends.
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.
Update: Jennifer Leggio extends the conversation, and sees the same trend
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.