Tag Archives: online support communities

Social Customer Service | Need to Scale the Team or Not?

Most company social media (SM) activity is promotional - brand, profile, product, offer. So the majority of available help is focussed in this area. Emerging, though, is the need to engagement with customers in a service and support, not promotional, environment.

In many cases, marketing departments are handling customer enquiries like a discussion, which isn’t good. Or are ignoring them, which is really bad. So, companies need to be customer service consistent at least, and this will soon be joined by the need to scale engagement team because social customer service will grow over time and as channels mature and companies succeed.

Therefore social customer service and support is not the domain of the creative team. If your service/support need is small now, ask yourself the question “will it remain small?”

Answer “yes”, and your design/creative/marketing department, with input from customer service will be fine. Answer “maybe not” or “no” and you could soon find yourself with a collection of small, disparate teams, dedicated by country, language or product line.

Is this a bad thing? For many companies it is because poorly regulated, inconsistent interactions is the least effective way to support customers and, in social channels, carries real risk of embarrassment or adverse (public) reaction.

How can consistency and scale be achieved? By design and deployment of the social service engagement to complement the creative and promotional aspects. This is not a creative agency/department core strength and is, perhaps, the unglamorous face of social media activity.

What’s needed for social programs that are established and need to be brought into alignment, or will scale as milestones are passed, is an approach and structure to provide a platform for the aims and culture of an enterprise social program. I’ve created an image of it here:

Social Team Infographic
Key Features for Establishing and Scaling the Social Support Team

The corporate steps every company should follow are on left side of the image. I may have over-simplified as it’s not my area of expertise, however, companies such as AntsEyeView, Radian6, Lithium and others are well positioned to advise or provide.

On the right I’ve summarized the key team elements. Excluded from this are corporate community management and creative resources because these sit on the left, but day-to-day community management and customer engagement is covered.

Many organisations manage with part-time and small teams working within or side by side with creative and customer service teams but, once your team grows beyond a single location or skillset, or gets to 10 or more people, a lot more structure and focus is needed maintain control and focus on what you doing. This doesn’t diminish the ability to adapt and flex to meet changing needs but does, however, require attention and process to prevent things becoming unwieldy and deliver consistently.

With scale comes the need to specialise. “Super-moderators”, natuarally skilled across the whole environment, are already becoming difficult or expensive to hire. Finding individuals with potential, and developing them through coaching is the way to increase capacity and deliver consistent outcomes.

More to come on related topics in the near future.

Industry certification in Social Media? Not a bad idea, but not necessary in my view

Jeremiah Owyang recently posted on this topic. I agree with what he wrote, but believe that certification is needed to achieve consistency and not expert status. To explain…

Industry-level certification won’t deliver much value in my view, as each company’s need, each program, each project and each channel is different. Additionally, social customer service is not yet established or consistent enough for such certification to be meaningful. Industry certification is like trying to hit a fast-moving target at half a mile with a bow and arrow. Fun setting up but hitting the mark is difficult.

He speaks of experience, which is a vital ingredient, but the demand for talent and experience could well have the same effect that the Y2K issue had on IT sector pay 11 or more years ago. Young, inexperienced people with little more knowledge than a regular IT user were paid a lot of money as companies screamed out for resources to help save them from the meltdown. The current demand is, I confess, a bit different but experience takes time and there isn’t enough time available to allow talent to mature at its own rate.

So, what’s the answer? Well, outsourcing could well be. I have a vested interest which I am happy to declare now. My employer is a contact centre outsourcer, employing around 45,000 people around the globe, and does a ton of recruitment, training and development every week.

Why is this relevant? Well, contact centre outsourcers focus on managing customer interactions and are not burdened with other company stuff such as research and development, marketing, managing channels, and fighting off the client’s competition (though the services delivered are a component in doing this). We focus on the conversation and taking it to the customer’s (and hopefully client’s) desired conclusion. To achieve this, at a cost that the client will pay and to the required standard, we have incredible resources to identify, recruit, train, develop, retain and manage the right talent. People are taken from little or no knowledge to “capable” in just a few weeks and continue to develop with regular coaching.

We do this on a huge scale for regular voice, email and chat programs, and on a smaller scale for social programs. Even though smaller, we still have more people engaged in social customer service and support than many specialist companies employ.

The result is that every client program has social-certified agents. No need to adopt someone else’s standards, or create from scratch. As every program is different, a key element is customising to satisfy the unique needs while leveraging experience from elsewhere. Success is achieved without running the risks brought about by limited capability and exposure. This way, no one goes online without achieving the agreed basic standard and what they are allowed to do is determined by their level of experience and achievement.

Why would a company develop their own program when they can leverage the experience and best practices of others? Which is better?

I’ll post again with more details on this topic over the next few days.

The impact of customer service in social media is a rounding error, Customer Response Summit 3

I attended CRS3 (Scottsdale, AZ) last month as a sponsor and speaker, and was impressed by the very open way in which delegates discussed their drive to improve their understanding of customer service in social media, and the ways they’re establishing and improving their existing activities.

For me, There were two standout presentations. I’ve added a few sentences to summarise the highpoints:

Jeff Russakow of Yahoo started proceedings. “Looking ahead,” he says, “the current is not sustainable in the future. The proliferation of devices with all the associated interoperability and configuration issues, and the much narrower margins achieved by companies, are a good indicator that the cost of supporting a customer has to change.” Clearly Jeff says this from his own perspective, however, the writing is on the wall for all businesses as consumer expectations shift and cost pressures build. So what does the future look like? Most likely customers will be given much better self-help and peer-help options such as online knowledge and community forums. Additionally, companies must do more to prevent the customer from needing help. Jeff called this “Tier -1″.

By building more features into products, companies increase their complexity. This increases the gap between what a product can do and the user’s ability. Much complexity needs to be hidden away and, as pioneered by Apple, the user interface will be simpler with individual applications designed around a task rather than a range of tasks. Similarly, the shift towards the cloud (and (applications installed there) will result in fewer installation help calls (because installation is replaced with configuration). As this type of call accounts for around 25% of help requests the impact is significant. I’m indebted to Jeff for his insights.

Carol Borghesi of Telus followed with a challenge to the claimed importance of social media, stating that “the impact of social media on customer service costs is so far a ’rounding error”. Additonally, “the future must be established by companies delivering against expectations they set with customers”.

 Carol also shared the following phrase “customer service is the drip tray of the organisation”. This resonated with me. The vast majority of customer interactions are necessitated by something that happened outside of the customer’s expectation. Whether this be a software installation that failed, or a credit card statement showing items you didn’t buy, or an abnormally high mobile telephone bill, the customer’s need to interact is not always as they wish.

Then, of course, it can get worse when the customer calls to make a change to an arrangement and has to get in touch again because the transaction was not carried out as agreed. Imagine the impact if a company always did what it said it would - the cost of customer support would reduce dramatically, customers would be happier, and margins would be healthier and customers happier.

Customer preference is important in the choice of communication channel, and this is where social media has a part to play. Before social networks, Twitter, community forums and chat came along the customer was able only to have a conversation or correspond by telephone or e-mail or in writing. The proliferation of online channels has opened up wonderful possibilities for the consumer but created a nightmare for the organisation. The best companies are those that are thoughtful about the customer’s preference and manage and meet customer expectations. These are the companies that will succeed!

There were a number of other thought-provoking what helpful presentations made. Full details will be available on the CRS three website. I met a lot of very good people this week and wish them all success on their journey in social media and improving the customer experience. The conference was held at the Western Kiel and resort and spa in Scottsdale which is a lovely location, and provided the perfect atmosphere is delegates sought to learn and contribute and improve.

Webcast: Serving Customers through Social Channels: Looking Beyond the Hype

Last Thursday (October 6), I presented this topic. A recording is available here. Through examples, I explained how releasing a new product need not create the customer support spike so often a feature in the product lifecycle, and how switching from email support to community forums can dramatically reduce support transaction costs and improve customer satisfaction.

TSIA’s John Ragsdale provided the introduction and identified the following as key challenges to community success:

  • Knowledge management: leveraging community content for self-service and assisted service
  • Microtransactions and page views: ‘bleeding edge’ technology does not guarantee community success
  • Staffing models: how many employees are required, what skills, how to manage?
  • Process, process, process: defining the customer experience and delivering it
  • Core vs. context: Is community management really in your DNA?

It’s clear that many companies focussed attention on the underlying technology platform in the early days assuming, incorrectly, that minimal human resources would be needed to deliver on their investment. This resulted in unhealthy communities and an environment that gave little to either the corporation or the community.

A community is like a garden. Having put in so much effort to get it looking good (or paid the landscaper to do this) it’s counter-intuitive to step back and watch the weeds take over, the lawn turn into a hayfield and the bushes run wild. Executives wanted (and still want) a place where:

  • Users find what they’re looking for, ask questions, and receive answers
  • Contributors feel that their contributions are valued
  • The environment feels safe, welcoming, encouraging
  • There is life, interaction, energy
  • Access to the collective knowledge, experience, brain-power of followers
  • Interaction between peers, and company and community, is real and valued
  • Help is delivered at lower cost, and with greater customer convenience
  • New audiences are reached, including those that would never call

So what constitutes the right approach?

Social media, according to Erik Qualman, is not about technology but about people. Therefore, technology is merely the enabler and the health and energy of the community comes from people that participate. They will come, but what will compel them to stay?

Listen to the webcast recording, please. A lot is explained in a short time.

Going back to the garden analogy, having paid for the garden to be landscaped (or having done it yourself) you then have the structure in place but not the maturity. Plants, trees and shrubs need time to grow and they need to be encouraged and guided (fertilised and pruned). The gardener you employ (or the time you devote yourself) is needed and the garden takes on a beauty and shape as time goes by.

Beyond the social media hype, it’s all about people. On the outside, there are your customers, fans, followers. Without them there is no community. On the inside, there’s the team that clips, manicures, feeds, nurtures, moves, encourages and shapes the content and environment within the framework enabled by the technology platform. Get the team right and you can realise the vision of a community and the return you anticipated when the adventure began.

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