If you had a checklist of skills you’d expect public sector communications professionals to be well-versed in, you probably wouldn’t include dealing with customer service requests. But it’s increasingly becoming part of the landscape we work in.
by Ian Gallagher
The crux of our digital team’s job is supporting channel shift. Our brief is to help to move customer contact online and away from face-to-face and telephone.
At this stage, the organisation doesn’t formally include social media in this brief. But we ignore it at our peril.
We’re proud of the work we’ve done to grow our social media platforms and make them more engaging, but we accept that with this comes a greater amount of customer contact.
As a result, I’m rather well versed in missed bin collections, dealing with potholes and fly-tipping!
So, what of the social media-savvy customer?
They have already ‘channel shifted’ – they’re using social media to contact us as they would their supermarket, bank or broadband provider, and they expect a response.
Broadly speaking, your average Twitter user will ask how to report something or respond positively if you show them how to self-serve. Your average Facebook user will expect you to deal with their query within the platform and is less receptive to being asked to self-serve.
A lack of formal link between comms and customer services isn’t your customer’s concern – they just want a resolution. You can ignore them and risk reputational harm, or get stuck in (something comms folk are usually pretty good at doing).
We’ve built up a network of contacts around the council who we know will answer queries received via social media, which is fundamental to making this work. In some cases, the customer gets a quicker resolution this way, which is what they’re aiming for in the first place.
The issue for the organisation here is how we capture this information. Whenever we sort something informally, there’s no formal reference number, no log of the request on our systems and often a difficult job to do in managing expectations. We’re not trained customer service operatives, but as soon as we reply to the customer we create an expectation of service and resolution.
We’re regularly speaking to our colleagues in customer services to look at how we work together to improve the ways we deal with this contact. It would be brilliant if we could help train customer service staff to answer social media queries, to give them another string to their bow and help us with our channel shift targets.
How is this playing out elsewhere?
I’m interested to find out how many other comms professionals have found themselves in this situation, and how they are dealing with it.
I know of quite a few councils which have already formalised the link between customer services and comms, but equally I’m sure there are lots which haven’t.
Either way, I think it’s an interesting debate. And a challenge
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got some recycling bags to order!
Ian Gallagher is digital media officer at Leicester City Council
How do you stack up on the social media/customer services challenge? Take part in an important new survey for local government with industry experts, SocialSignIn, and comms2point0 to receive a free copy of a new report for the sector. More here.
image via jeff owen photos