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Ten tips for honing social media customer service skills

Navy Federal Credit Union ingrains customer service in social engagement, sometimes the only channel where sailors at sea can get critical questions answered. Here's how they do it.

ORLANDO, Fla. -- If you think your organization doesn't need to address your agents' social media customer service...

skills, it's time to change your mind. Three groups are driving the need: millennials, customers with limited cellular connectivity and social media addicts who are most comfortable communicating via those sites.

For proof, look no further than trends identified by Navy Federal Credit Union (NFCU), which launched a social customer care program in February 2015 to augment its call center:

  • Incoming posts from customers to official NFCU Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts will have quadrupled from 2015 to 2018 -- if trends hold true -- from 26,000 to a projected 110,000.
  • NFCU posts -- including comments -- to customers and prospective customers increased from 14,000 to a projected 44,000 in 2018.
  • Despite the rapidly increasing volume, the social care team -- now 12 full-time members strong -- was able to reduce response times to social posts to 6.5 minutes so far in 2018, compared with 19 minutes in 2015, the first year NFCU measured it.

NFCU serves active military members, retired military and their families. Georgia Adams, supervisor of NFCU's resolution social care team, is charged with managing all that messaging.

Adams said active military members are very active on social media channels for two reasons. First, they're very comfortable with it. Moreover, at sea or in foreign-land deployments with limited connectivity, it might be the only way to contact the credit union -- and they have real financial problems that need solving in their daily lives just like the rest of us. Or, maybe, they just want to get the app to work on their phone so they can solve their own problems.

Your social CRM team is not competing with marketing; you're backing each other up.

While marketing teams might have handled social messaging in the past, many companies are now either dividing social media duties between marketing and customer service teams or drawing up plans to do so in the near future. Social CRM strategies offer a blueprint for service agents to manage growing traffic on social sites.

That's where NFCU was prior to forming its social care team. Two social media strategists in the marketing department became overwhelmed with real customers asking for help in their replies to posts.

"All of a sudden [in late 2012], people started to realize that social media could be more than marketing amplification -- it didn't have to be reposting of some ad," Adams said. "People started showing up and asking questions, and those two strategists were not enough to answer them."

At NFCU, marketing still handles branding, ads and other promotions. Agents -- the ones trained with customer service skills -- engage the customers who need one-on-one help with individual cases.

Call center leaders who attended her instructional session at the ICMI Call Center Expo also indicated social traffic was increasing at their organizations and were looking for advice to either develop or burnish their own social CRM strategies.

Adams offered much advice for getting teams with these particular social media customer service skills up, running and efficient. Here are 10 of those tips:

  1. First, determine how much service will be performed on these channels. The NFCU social team, for example, can answer everything except account-specific questions, which are left to call-center agents. But they often can give questioning customers a URL or app advice, so they can solve problems on their own. Set parameters from the start.
  2. Right after that, choose metrics to prove effectiveness. This is how you prove value to the leadership bankrolling a social media team. Responses, response time, sentiment analysis -- there are many indicators. Choose ones that make sense to your organization, and take baseline measurements before your plan goes into effect.
  3. Work closely with marketing. Your social CRM team is not competing with marketing; you're backing each other up. Marketing can help improve social media customer service agents with wording responses, information on promotions, branding rules and generally keeping agents up to date on daily changes.
  4. Open direct messaging. Part of NFCU's ballooning traffic came after the financial institution did this. It turns out customers didn't want to air their financial laundry on public forums -- and your customers, too, will likely respect the private channels.
  5. Set customer expectations. Will you be open 24/7? Social media is. If your team is available during a subset of that, put it right there on your profiles, like the Transportation Security Administration does.
  6. Plan for downtime and overwhelming times. When things get busy -- and that can sometimes be predicted with seasonal traffic or when marketing rolls out a particularly juicy promotion -- maybe your agents won't be answering fans with replies like, "We love you back." And maybe when downtime happens, answer all those fans. Whatever you decide, plan for variability to keep agents busy.
  7. Create protocols for fraudsters and trolls. They will come. Agents need rules and channels to deal with them in a consistent, efficient manner.
  8. Ditto for social causes. Social media social-justice activists from both sides of the political fence will put brands in a no-win situation when they threaten boycotts if the brand doesn't pull advertising from a TV show or other sponsorship. Make a plan on whether or not to take a strong stand, Adams said, and make responses consistent. The worst thing companies can do is answer once on one channel and not on others -- inconsistency keeps activists guessing and gives them hope to keep knocking at the door of all your accounts for much longer than if your team had just been quiet in the first place.
  9. Give the customer the benefit of the doubt. Your team believes them when they describe a problem, not blames them. Of course, there are limits -- i.e., when a poster reposts the same problem multiple times on multiple sites hoping to get a different answer; NFCU refers these customers to the first time they answered it and will not give different answers. And give agents policies to help make decisions when engaging customers.
  10. Train. Then, overtrain. NFCU builds redundancy into training, and Adams said sometimes it's possible some agents are ready before the months of one-on-one training and mentorship she requires. But it's better to err on the side of conservatism than to set them loose on social without enough resources to engage customers in public forums.

On that last note, Adams cautioned attendees about not being serious enough about bolstering social media customer service skills. They need to be trained on with whom they will engage and what they will do in each situation.

"If you've got an agent who is sitting there on their first solo shift and something in a gray area comes in and they don't know where to look for guidance, it's nerve-wracking," said Adams, the veteran team leader who formed the team several years ago. "It's nerve-wracking for me, making a decision on engaging or not."

This was last published in May 2018

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