How to Maintain Traditional Customer Service in the Social Media Age

You’ve been monitoring your Facebook wall and Twitter pages, responding to customer inquiries. But what are the next steps you should take to stay abreast of the latest trends in social service?

The emergence of social media communities requires you to track a new set of customer service metrics. Fortunately, you’ll have a better understanding of who your customers are and their service expectations. In some cases, it might even mean the end of traditional service level agreements (SLAs).

Service Level Agreements — How Will They Change?

SLAs are becoming more complex to manage because of the public, viral nature of social media channels like Facebook and Twitter. Some consumers decide to “cut the line,” gravitating to these channels because they think they will get the fastest response.

So, are SLAs still relevant? Is it acceptable to let customers “cut the line?” Should you always prioritize Twitter service requests over requests placed through traditional service channels? What should be the response time on each channel — be it web, email, phone or social media?

The fact is that SLAs still have a purpose, but because of the very public nature of social media channels, companies need to know where their customers are and understand expected response time on each of those channels. It’s a delicate balance: Companies must understand that some channels require faster more personal responses, but traditional service channels still demand attention.

We have a few recommendations on how to handle impact of social channels on service requests and traditional SLAs.

  • Know inside and out who your customers are, what channels they gravitate to when it comes to customer service, and the expectation for response time on those channels. For example, if the majority of your customers frequent Facebook and Twitter for customer support, invest more in personal, timely responses from both your customer service and marketing teams. When a consumer asks a question on Facebook, he does not want to receive an automated response, fast as it may be. Consumers expect both personal and fast replies on Facebook. If you find that many of your customers seek help on your social media channels, host knowledge bases on those networks. It is a good way for consumers to find answers to commonly asked questions, and it frees up the time your customer service team would otherwise spend personally answering the same questions over and over again.
  • Evaluate how urgent the inquiry really is, and see if you’re able to answer quickly and personally with some initial suggestions to solve his or her problem. If the answer requires further involvement, that’s ok. Tell the consumer his inquiry has been received and that it is being further evaluated by the customer service team. This will not only show that you’re responsive, but it will also give you more time to escalate the issue and route it to the correct representative in a more reasonable timeframe. Customers will understand that every service question cannot be answered instantly.
  • Social media service instantly reflects on your brand and directly impacts your company’s marketing efforts. If you are slow to provide an initial response, or you don’t provide any response at all, it can cast your brand in a poor light. Your social media responses are public and will be read and shared with other consumers. The fact is that social media has really blurred the lines between marketing and customer service. Just make sure the two teams work together to tackle social service.
  • Don’t ignore traditional channels because you’ve become focused on social media. Remember that social media has simply provided a new channel for engaging with your customers; it has not replaced the other channels. And just because a customer is reaching out to you on Twitter does not mean you need to drop everything and respond instantly; you must evaluate and discern the level of urgency first. The balance is important: You can’t simply move all of your great service exclusively to social media channels at the expense of traditional channels.

Better Metrics Management

In social service 2.0, it’s important to track several metrics and adjust your strategy as volume and complexity grow. Response time, time to resolve, tickets opened per day and tickets resolved per day are all part of traditional customer service metrics, but social media can render them more complex.

Devise a system that allows you to track the number and complexity of support requests coming through social media vs. phone or email. Keep track of response times across sites like Twitter and Facebook. As time increases, develop a strategy to push complex requests to another channel, such as email, where customer service representatives (CSRs) can quickly match up new inquiries with cases that have already been opened. As the volume (tickets opened per day) mounts, create canned content, in the form of responses or linkable knowledge base articles, for the most frequently asked questions.

You should also monitor these additional metrics that specifically involve social media channels.

  • The “net-new” group of customers. These are the people for whom you’ve provided a support channel over social channels. It’s likely that this new group of social users is different than the customers who have been contacting you via email or phone.
  • The number of times other customers — not the company — respond to support requests and inquiries. For example, a visitor to your Facebook page asks technical questions about a particular product release, and he or she is quickly answered by one of your Facebook fans. The frequency of this sort of event indicates the value of your social support, and shows how many brand advocates you have.

Marketing and Customer Service Both Report to Social Media Training

If a B2B company has established an online community to address technical problems, customer service probably owns the social media effort. But B2C companies are heavily invested in tracking customer attitude and effect on brand issues. In these companies, marketing will have to collaborate with support teams about inquiries via social media channels.

Make sure that each team knows the protocol for dealing with social media. Hot button issues will arise — via Twitter in particular — and sometimes you’ll have to respond as quickly as possible. In such cases, it’s appropriate for marketing to step in and indicate that they’re responding in turn.

In anticipation of these issues, have a triage and a crisis response plan in place. As discussed, a negative comment on Twitter doesn’t automatically constitute a crisis that requires interrupting a service rep. Discern the nature and depth of the complaint and respond appropriately. As a safeguard, monitor who in the company is responding to inquiries to ensure collaboration between marketing and customer service.

Bottom Line: Adapt and Evolve

Consumer facing companies will have to learn the rules of the road for social service 2.0 if they want to survive. SLAs with long windows of response time simply don’t work on today’s public social platforms.

Know your audience, understand the tight response expectations on social media channels, and keep in mind the very public nature of these platforms that will directly impact your brand. Use tools like knowledge bases to save time and costs, and make sure your marketing and customer service teams are tightly connected and openly communicating with one another.

While you can’t totally control whether consumers “cut the line” by racing to social networks, you can control how quickly and personally you respond on those channels. Stay on top of important metrics to make sure you are responding to each customer, regardless of the channel he is using, in a timely, thoughtful manner that will reflect positively on your brand.

Source: How to Maintain Traditional Customer Service in the Social Media Age