This post was inspired by a discussion over on the CRM Outsiders blog that was in turn inspired by a discussion over on the SocialCRM Pioneers group led by Jeremiah Owyang and Ray Wang. The original question was posed by my pal Mike Fraietta of Jive Software. The issue in question was: What impact does the number of Twitter followers have on your ability to get help via Twitter? What impact *should* your number of followers have? Mitch Lieberman states, and I agree, that we are starting to develop some bad habits. We are essentially rewarding people for whining online, by coming to their rescue… As long as they have a significant number of followers. With fiascos like Kevin Smith and Southwest Airlines, brands are scared, which is definitely understandable, that a vocal "influencer" will forever tarnish them beyond the point of repair.
Does the rest of the customer record matter?
A vocal influencer may provide negative word-of-mouth, which may cost you potential customers. However, this particular person may not be a customer, or may not be a profitable customer (yes, sometimes, it IS ok to fire your customers). What’s more valuable: to keep this vocal person happy who may or may not be a profitable customer (or not a customer at all), or to keep happy someone who you know is an important and profitable customer? Ideally, you would do both; however, more often than not, it’s rhetoric. When you have to pick and choose: what do you do? John Bernier of Best Buy’s Twelpforce, aims to help every customer with no regard to who the customer is. He has built a well-oiled machine and he was able to do so due to his company’s orientation towards service and commitment of necessary resources to the cause. “It doesn’t matter who they are and where [what channel] they are coming from.. We provide value and service that’s valuable, going out of our way to service the customer,” John told me during our interview.
As part of SocialCRM, you should be able to have visibility into a customer record, marrying social data with internal data on that customer. Whether you decide to help everyone, or to help selectively, you (and other relevant personnel within your organization) need to have access to complete and current information to make the decision of whom you help. Moreover, being able to reference context (such as previous conversations and purchase data) when she sends you a tweet, is undoubtedly crucial to providing a seamless service experience.
Is it even possible to respond to all queries? And even if you could, should you?
I think your ability to scale your reactive service depends on the type of business you are in, and the way you have structured your organization. Companies with consumer-facing products receive more Twitter messages than B2B companies (I have no empirical data supporting this, but it’s based on observation). There are simply more consumer customers than business customers. The type of good or service you provide is a consideration too. Products with higher repurchase rates create more opportunities for questions and service queries. Products with more intense purchase decision cycles also invite more assistance. Last and certainly not least, the more problems your product has, the more service your customers need. I call all of the above reactive service.
Proactive service, on the other hand, is structuring the collaboration channels within your company in such a way that they allow and strengthen collaboration channels between customer and company. For proactive service, your effort should not vary with how many inbound queries you get. You should be working your butt off to involve your customer in product creation, in a way that makes her feel valued, and not "used" for her feedback. You also need to figure out how critical roles within the organization allow for this collaboration, and how to get them to collaborate with each other. You should still engage in reactive service, but not at the expense of proactive service. Even though reactive service tasks feel more urgent and can thus crowd out proactive tasks, it is important to invest in forward-looking strategies. It’s the whole issue of short term fire-drill vs. a long term strategy.
In order to help you deal with the current fire-drills though, you should establish processes that allow you to do more and efficiently. There’s been some debate about automation and its place in social media. We are going through the process of figuring out how much of the Attensity product should be automated. My view is that the response itself should rarely, if ever, be automated. However, the system should figure out what the question is asking, find the right response (in internal FAQ or external user forum) and suggest this response to the company rep. This way, the rep can craft a personalized message, while cutting the research time (I actually blogged about this a couple of days ago).
How can you scale customer service?
As I reference above, the key is to establish the right internal process and a smart system that makes you efficient. This system should result in activating the right resources within the organization, and for a large organization should involve at least some degree of automation and routing (by message type, content, tone, etc). But even more importantly than tools and processes, you need to become a culture that welcomes customer support – both kinds: not only reactive, but also proactive. Socialize your existing support teams to receive inbound queries and to collaborate with the product team. Instead of providing only phone support, encourage your service reps to jump on Twitter as well. Twelpforce does it well, and so does Zappos, so it is possible (I recently wrote about my experiences with various companies here). Socialize your product team to and establish channels for customers to co-create with you, making her a stakeholder of the product’s future. And we all know that great service and a great user experience is the best marketing and PR. And if you need me to sell you more on the value of being proactive vs. reactive, service-oriented vs. "salesy" – check this out: customer retention is cheaper and more effective than acquisition.
And finally… social (networking) responsibility:
To echo Mitch’s sentiment, we have created a system that sometimes (not always) rewards obnoxious socially visible behavior by providing the fastest customer service to the perpetrators. Our ecosystem makes it OK for the customer to hurl insults at companies, but not the other way. In the court of social media opinion, we side with the consumer before we would side with a company. Whereas that’s a welcome development, as it’s shifting the balance of power in the consumer’s favor, we have to be careful to not over-shift that way. We have to remember that at the end of the social media helpline, there are people too. We have to demand mutual respect, and we all as consumers and brands have to step up to the plate to set boundaries. I love this post from Jacob Morgan that urges companies to create SSCLAs that would establish proper expectations. I think it’s a great idea, and do hope it catches on. The SSCLA achieves several things at once. Firstly, it provides a better customer service experience, as she now knows what to expect (do all queries get answered? how often? etc). Secondly, it holds the company responsible to its promise. Finally, it holds the customer to a standard of social conduct.
And remember… With power comes responsibility, so if you are an influencer, you really need to set an example for people within your network by treating others with respect, whether they are individuals or companies.
– Yes, we all deserve excellent customer service.
– Companies need to provide it by scaling their reactive service in the current term, while building for the future: through proactive service and collaboration.
– Companies need to spell out what is reasonable and possible to expect.
– In return, we must adjust our expectations.
– We need a new social contract that requires social dignity and responsibility from both sides.
What are your thoughts on this complex question?