09/07/2012

Social media is now a cornerstone of how a business interacts with its consumers – so much that Socialnomics founder, Erik Qualman, goes as far as to state that: ‘The ROI of Social Media is that your business will still exist in five years’. Consumers are using it to exchange product info – good and bad – and with the megaphone of social media, even a few wayward comments, not to mention a scathing rant, can seriously damage a brand’s reputation.

Yet according to Gartner, 75 per cent of organisations do not connect social media operations with customer service operations. This disconnect makes it virtually impossible to monitor and respond to customer needs, much less shape and enhance brand loyalty. Here, Richard McCrossan, Strategic Business Director at Genesys , explains why it is critical to integrate social media and customer service, and looks at the key areas to consider to achieve it.

According to a recent survey from McKinsey & Company, nearly three-quarters of major enterprises today use social technologies to improve customer service, and nearly 71 per cent use these technology platforms to acquire new customers. There’s good reason that these statistics are so high. Social media has become a vital touch point for brand engagement — making Facebook, Twitter, Yelp, blogs, chat, SMS and other channels as relevant to consumers as a brand’s Web site, contact centre, sales representative, or store.

Just take a look at the exclusive world of the New York, London, Milan and Paris Fashion Weeks, once the exclusive territories of the rich and famous, now tweeted and You-Tubed by celebs and Fashion Houses to the great wide world.

However, so many businesses don’t understand how to use social media, or who should be using it, and indeed when asked, are not finding it particularly useful. Research by the UK’s Glasgow Caledonian University and IT firm NSDesign found a quarter of the firms that use Twitter don’t find the website useful and 35 per cent of those with blogs say they don’t give returns. The research also showed that 40 per cent of small firms keep using Facebook even though they don’t find it useful. So is it worthwhile?

Take social media beyond the marketing department

It’s certainly no accident that discussions around the use or value of social media often revolve around the ROI it can deliver. Too many businesses are still focused on the sales potential of social media and to support this, social media activities – when they are managed – are handled by the marketing department, with other departments getting involved ‘as and when’ they think it might be helpful.

But too often there is a divide between the various departments that are engaged in social media throughout the enterprise — marketing, corporate communications, PR, investor relations, online sales, and the contact centre — with each running their own siloed operations. Marketing and corporate communications use social media for brand advocacy, marketing and focus group activities, while the investor relations department uses social media to report earnings, human resources uses it for recruitment, and the legal department to protect brand assets.

But when issues arise, the following scenario is all too common: A frustrated customer searches online for answers to a question. If a solution can’t be found, a call is placed to customer service.

While a discussion with customer service will resolve most issues, some customers will find the interaction only aggravates matters, and a vocal minority of them will take to social media to air their grievances — and that number is growing fast. All too often the company has no overall approach to its communications strategy that integrates social media to the contact centre and to marketing to manage the problem.

According to Forrester Research, 16 per cent of customers have already vented about negative customer service interactions through social channels, such as online customer reviews, blog posts, and Facebook status updates. Researchers led by Jim Jansen, associate professor of information science and technology at The Pennsylvania State University, and Twitter chief scientist Abdur Chowdhury looked at half a million tweets, and found 20 per cent of them were apparently people ‘asking and providing’ product information. Assuming three million tweets a day, that would translate into 600,000 posts daily of direct relevance to brands!

Connect social media with customer service

A different set of tools and skills is now required to successfully handle customer issues. What’s more, businesses need to adopt a new strategy: one that integrates social media operations with customer service to best address the myriad of reasons why people use social channels to research, advocate, or attack your brand — and to leverage the information these people provide. Indeed, data integration can mean great promise to organisations that seize its opportunity — and enormous peril for those that don’t.

Gartner research has found however, that 75 per cent of organisations do not connect social media operations with customer service operations. Yet through an integrated approach, companies not only gain the ability to listen to consumer sentiment about their brands, they can prioritise these sentiments to determine the appropriate actions, engage with consumers as never before possible, and integrate the resulting interactions across the entire enterprise: marketing, customer service, and other customer touch points, to deliver a truly effective and satisfying customer experience.

To build strong customer engagement in the age of social media, businesses can follow four critical steps for social media integration:

1. Listen – gain visibility into social media content communities and develop ways to capture consumer sentiment about products, services, and the level of emotional engagement that exists around the brand. It is critical to establish a robust presence on social sites, so that as well as capturing customers’ social media handles/profile information, specific comments or concerns can be tied directly to actual customers or prospects. In this way any responses are much more productive.

2. Prioritise – new business rules and work flows need to be developed to help an organisation use social media information. A key part of this is prioritising what action, if any, is warranted from social media posts — and by whom. It’s important to distribute any unresolved posts so queries can be handled appropriately and quickly. This can dramatically enhance the customer experience.

3. Engage – when responding to issues, interactions should ideally occur in-media. So if a customer tweets, the response should be in a tweet. Social media can also be used to reach out to offer new products and services to high-target, high-worth consumers via their most-used channels. At this point, it’s important to understand a customer’s influence or ‘Klout’ – a measure of an individual’s Twitter influence based on their ‘ability to drive action’. A wealthy customer may spend millions with a company each year, but perhaps only has 75 Twitter followers. Another customer may spend only very little, yet has 5 million followers.

4. Integrate – there is often a great divide between the various departments that are engaged in social media throughout the enterprise – marketing, corporate communications, PR, online sales, the contact centre – with each running their own siloed operations. Failure to integrate these operations results in duplicated efforts to resolve issues without one knowing what the other is doing. This leads to a poor customer experience, which in turn could well result in losing that customer.

Through true integration, companies don’t only gain the ability to listen to consumer sentiment about their brands, but they can prioritise these sentiments to determine the appropriate actions, engage with consumers as never before possible, and integrate the resulting interactions across marketing, customer service.

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