Social media was once the playground of marketing and comms teams, where memes were shared, adverts were created and emojis were in abundance – but not anymore. Facebook, and particularly Twitter, have emerged to be important channels for delivering powerful customer experiences.

by Stuart Banbery

Latest research suggests that 77% of customers say that valuing their time is the most important thing a company can do to provide them with a good service (Source: Forrester Research). So if you’re looking to build engagement, satisfaction and channel-shift – social media provides a real opportunity.

Now you may think that it’s only the infamous “Millennial” that takes to Twitter to ask a question or air a complaint. In fact customer service interactions on Twitter have increased by 250% in the last two years (Source: Twitter). The 15 million active daily Twitter users in the UK are now receiving excellent customer experiences on this channel from the private sector, so they expect the same level of seamless service elsewhere.

"Social customer care" is not a new idea, yet providing integrated, multi-channel customer service still presents real challenges for large sections of the public sector. But get it right, and there’s the opportunity to create meaningful engagement that encourages people to see your digital channels as the first place to ask a question. Having a social media account and just “broadcasting” at people is no longer enough, you now need to be “always on” and ready to respond.

But how, when culture and investment remain two significant barriers to digital transformation, do we meet and delight customers on these growing new channels (Source: comms2point0 and SocialSignIn)

One of the reasons I love my job is that I get to see how leading brands from every industry are embedding and harnessing social media to create exceptional customer service – driving operating costs down, and customer value up.

In this guide I’ll share some of the best practices and examples I’ve seen. Whether you’re just getting started or trying to take your social customer care to the next level, the same fundamental rules apply.

Be where your customers are

It’s better to do a fantastic job on one or two channels, than a poor job across many. So the first task is to find out which channels your customers are on and how they want to speak to you – this will tell you where to focus your resources. Boosted posts may drive traffic and followers to specific social channels, but where are your customers organically socialising and talking to you.

To understand where your customers are, search for mentions of your brand across the most popular social channels, refining your search by location or date – you can do this natively or using simple social listening tools. For most organisations, Facebook and Twitter will return most search results and should therefore be the primary focus for your social customer care, but it’s also worth checking Google+, LinkedIn and Instagram for niche segments of your audience.

Be Proactive

Your brand is no longer what you say it is, but what your customers tell each other it is. On social media, it’s now your online community that wields the most influence over the perception of your brand. So being oblivious, or neglecting conversations that happen online can be damaging to your reputation.

You will need some technology that allows you to monitor these conversations. Social listening and media monitoring functionality in the latest social media management platforms will alert you to any direct or indirect mentions of your organisation or an important issue closely related to it, across social media, web and print. It may be people discussing changes to frontline services, a recent customer service enquiry they never received a resolution to, or maybe singing your praises for a recent community event. The fact is, if they don’t @ mention you directly you may never be aware of it.

Now, the next step is key. Don’t just wait for your customers to ask you a question directly – of course you want to be responding to this too, but it’s equally as important to proactively engage in conversations and correct misinformation, provide advice or supply a web link to further information. One of our clients, Manchester City Council, does some great work in this area and is consistently near the top of the GovRank system. They spend a lot of time “talking” to their community on social media, using a warm, natural tone of voice. We are now seeing more local authorities using these kind of techniques, 53.4% of councils are now social listening or media monitoring – a great step towards harnessing the power of social data

Measure and Manage Volume

The number of social media enquiries you receive will be affected by the size of your constituency and how active you are on social media, 78% of councils reported an increase over the last twelve months – so demand is growing. The volume of enquiries you receive and the resources at your disposal will to a large extent dictate the best way for your organisation to manage these enquiries.

But regardless of the number of digital enquiries you’re receiving, it’s essential you take a baseline measurement now and start tracking. Currently 56% of local authorities don’t track email volumes and 49% don’t track social media volumes. Only by tracking trends can we accurately allocate resource and future proof an organisation against changing consumer behaviours. Once you’ve done this you can even get really smart and track peak times for each contact channel over the course of a week. If all of your agents are trained on telephone, email and social media etc, they can then be moved around to meet weekly fluctuations. This is where flexibility is so important to an organisation.

Formalise Social Media

One of the common themes I hear is that there’s a grey area between Comms teams and Customer Service teams regarding who is responsible for what around social media. This has the potential to undermine a project to successful embed social media. We need to start treating social media as we would any other contact channel if we want people to come back to us on there again and again, that means putting clear processes, KPI’s and SLA’s in place. 

Integrating your social media management platform with wider CRM systems is a huge opportunity for UK councils to deliver fast, personalised and effective customer service – but currently 93% of authorities do not follow this integrated approach (Source: comms2point0 and SocialSignIn). Having customer data from all touchpoints at your fingertips when responding to a social media message, will allow you to respond in a more informed way – easily triaging, assigning or escalating issues behind the scenes.

It’s really important that wherever possible you respond to customers on the channel where they’ve contacted you – pushing customers to another channel is a very jarring experience. You’ll probably find the enquiries you receive usually relate to the same few topics, so having templated answers ready will help provide the speedy service your customers are looking for and allow you to focus on the more niche enquiries.

Decentralise Social Media

Speed of response is crucial on social media. If someone in the Comms or Customer Service team receives a specialist enquiry and has to retrieve the answer from a department before replying, that will result in a slow response and poor experience for the customer.

One of the best, and most effective practices I’ve seen is to have a “Social Media Champion” in each department, each with the autonomy to respond directly to the customer regarding specialist questions. This will create internal efficiencies, remove bottlenecks in customer services and improve customer satisfaction.

Assigning specialist questions to your “Social Media Champion” in each department will help you identify enquiry trends – you can even use a rota system so that the responsibility isn’t falling to the same person each week. Marking the end of your tweets with a name or some initials will signify who has responded and help to humanise your digital contact, this is a technique used by one of our clients Virgin Trains, who do some great work in this area and are a useful brand to follow.

Social Customer Service… is just Customer Service

As with any contact channel, agents will need to use empathy to interpret a customer’s emotional state and decide what kind of response is suitable. Is it light-hearted and can an emoji or GIF be used? Is it more serious and formal, with the conversation needing to be taken into a private message environment where there is no limitation on character limits? Don’t forget other customers could be affected by the responses you give online.

But a few golden rules of good social customer service always apply:

  • Close the loop and always sign-off with a "thank you".
  • Be consistent across the organisation in regard to tone of voice and response time.
  • Share sensitive information via private message – this will avoid pushing them to email.
  • Don’t delete or hide negative comments – instead, take the conversation private.
  • Like or quote retweet positive comments to promote your great social customer service.
  • Hold your hands up when you’ve made a mistake (See United Airlines on how not to do this) and thank them for raising the issue.
  • Don’t engage with a customer who is just out to argue publicly.
  • In the event of a crisis, cease all outbound comms and issue posts that reach everyone.
  • And don’t forget to promote your social media channels across all touchpoints.

Consider holding a lunch and learn, where agents can share ideas and experiences on best practice. Maybe buddy-up those that are less confident on social media with a colleague that’s very competent, this will help them overcome their fear and achieve the right tone of voice. Secret shopping your own organisation will undoubtedly reveal some stark insights into what’s working really well, but also where improvements can be made.

Strong social customer service is now a key ingredient in a wider comms mix and reputation management strategy. Those investing time and thought into the role they want social media to play, both for the organisation and the customer, will be rewarded. One of the joys of working in the public sector is the opportunity to make a real difference to peoples’ life. Social media will help you reveal clear customer insights, resolving their important questions quickly, without taking up precious customer service bandwidth.

comms2point0 and SocialSignIn have recently published a new eBook which provides a snapshot of where UK local government is at with embedding social media into customer services. This free resource highlights, trends, challenges and solutions that will allow you to benchmark and accelerate your progress, download it now by clicking here.

Stuart Banbery is marketing manager at SocialSignIn

image via Wystan

Original source – comms2point0 free online resource for creative comms people – comms2point0

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