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Social media customer service presents new challenges

Effective social media customer service requires companies to make some key decisions on staffing and division of labor.

The adoption of social media has empowered customers to have a "louder" voice when they speak to an organization....

Customer complaints are no longer restricted to phone-based communication between customer and company. Instead, customer frustrations can be aired on social media and be displayed for all to see.

Organizations have to be ready for the new challenges that social media customer service presents, including deciding how the organization should interact with customers on social media, which sector of the company should handle those communications and what kinds of skills customer service representatives should have to effectively handle issues on social media platforms.

Companies must determine whether a separate, standalone group should handle social media-based communication or whether agents in the contact center should take on the responsibility. Deciding on a division of labor in this way comes with its own requirements and special challenges. Regardless of where social customer service lives in your organization, you must make sure whoever is handling it has the right skill set and tools to ensure the quality of service mirrors that of every other channel the company is present on.

Challenge No.1: Where does social customer service live?

A standalone social media-focused group. Many organizations, especially those new to social media customer service, have decided to isolate the handling of social media communications. With this avenue, the organization recognizes that social customer service requires a focused approach and, therefore, must incur an additional cost of staffing a separate entity in order to get it right.

Social media communications provide another set of data points supporting a voice of the customer program.

Social media customer service is a relatively new practice that companies are still trying to figure out, so many companies see the value of isolating the work to a separate group. This allows for extensive oversight and management and may be a good course of action for companies that are just instituting social customer service.

Handling customer issues on social media is much different from interacting through traditional channels, such as phone or email. It oftentimes requires the agent to have specific skills and it may be more effective to hire staff that has these specific skill sets. Social media is a volatile channel that can build or harm your company's brand and reputation and, thus, needs "white glove" attention.

Contact center. Many organizations have handed the social media reins over to their contact centers, which is a method that has its own benefits and challenges. If an organization wants to ensure their service is consistent, regardless of channel, it makes sense to put the responsibility for all channels under the same roof.

In their ongoing battle against employee attrition, contact center managers are continually trying to provide exciting career paths to entice agents to stay. Since social media customer service may require additional skill sets from agents, managers can set up a structure that rewards agents who learn new skills. In this way, contact centers create incentives for agents to develop new abilities and reap the rewards of a workforce of agents who can multitask and are adept at multichannel customer service.

Social media communications provide another set of data points supporting a voice of the customer program. Having a single place for the collection of data helps to assure the data is collected in a consistent manner.

Challenge No.2: What tools/skills are needed for social customer service?

Regardless of where social media interactions are handled, a set of common practices and tools are required to provide the best customer experience.

Agent attitude and skills. The first requirement is to have agents with the right demeanors and communications skills handling social customer service. Agents should be empathetic, able to deal with complicated customer issues and can interact with customers through a variety of communication methods. Agents handling social communications often deal with harsh criticism of the company that can spiral out of control if it isn't resolved -- or at least responded to -- in a timely and efficient manner. A good agent will be alert, quick to identify the posts that need the most attention and choose his words carefully when corresponding with customers.

Invest in a knowledge base. Even the best agents need a place to refresh their memories on key skills and workflows, which is why a knowledge database that contains a "single version of the truth" is critical so that all agents, regardless of which department they work in, have access to the most up-to-date and accurate information for resolving customer issues. The knowledge base should contain relevant articles and training documents that agents can access whenever they have questions on how to handle an inquiry.

Integration with CRM, other systems. Embarking on social customer service means nothing if a company can't connect consumer exchanges to other key customer data, which is why having a CRM system where all customer interactions are recorded is critical to any organization. Companies must have a history of each customer's journey throughout the entire relationship to improve marketing and customer retention practices. Companies might even invest in a business intelligence (BI) tool to support the compilations of data from various sources, such as CRM data, surveys, etc. Investing in a BI tool can provide data-driven insight into key issues and process breakdowns to improve customer satisfaction.

Social media has empowered customers to have an influential voice in how the public perceives a company. It is up to organizations to address customer concerns on this channel and control the conversation so their reputations aren't damaged and provide a consistent customer experience. For some companies, this might mean a complete re-evaluation of their customer service infrastructure and technology investment in order to do it right.

Next Steps

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Whole Foods' social data mining enables voice of the customer initiatives

This was last published in July 2015

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What are your company's main challenges with social media customer service?
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Our main challenge is turning the raw data that our Agents harvest from their customer interactions into meaningful business insight. Even with specially trained Agents and market-leading social analytics tools, our MI generates few Eureka moments. 

Our other big challenge is finding software and tools that can operate across a wide spectrum of European languages. There's a lot of resource and support for English language, but we've found that the software vendors offered minimal expertise for non-English, and we've had to develop our own experts for pan-European services.

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Thanks for your comment...one piece of good news is that you are not having lots of Eureka moments, hopefully that means you have your pulse on the overall business.  Interesting point about European languages and the challenges they present, my guess is that as the tools show value, other languages will be incorporated quicker.
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