OPINION ~ By Mpumi Nhlapo, Head, Sales & Service Management, T-Systems South Africa
Providing social customer service and support in today’s multi-channel environment is by no means an easy task. Previously customers were forced to interact with organisations using a single medium (the telephone) that was private, one-on-one communication.
Since the advent of social media platforms, even more communication platforms have been opened up and not only do customers expect to have their customer response queries addressed on these platforms in real-time, but these customer service interactions are now no longer private and have been moved squarely into the public domain.
Customer service now subject to public scrutiny
In light of the open nature of social media platforms, the impact of having the customer service business functionality moved into the open means that a company’s internal problem resolution process is now exposed to public scrutiny. In such a connected market it is no longer possible to compete solely on price, and customer experience has become the key differentiator and surest way to gain new and retain existing customers. By ensuring a seamless customer experience from purchase through to product support, an organisation can ensure that they remain relevant. This means being accessible to the customer at all stages throughout the life journey, and providing information and engaging on the platform of the customer’s choosing.
The reality is that most businesses don’t just decide to adopt social media and other digital communication platforms – they’re pushed into it. Ideally for organisations, they’d want issues to be dealt with quietly under the radar in a way that cannot negatively impact their reputation, but this is short-sighted. The reality is that consumers are discussing your brand, your product and your company, regardless of whether the company is on social media or not.
Opportunity for businesses to be responsive
Social media provides businesses with a valuable opportunity. Showing that they are skilful and responsive to addressing issues related to their business functionality has the impact of positioning their brand favourably.
Arguably this means that the impact of social media depends on how an organisation views social media and digital platforms. If a business perceives social media as a threat to its reputation, this is indicative of the likelihood that they have not taken the time to fix the challenges they’re having internally. This in turn impacts their ability to service the customer. Smart organisations have seen social media as an opportunity to demonstrate how committed they are to providing relevant customer service, how open they are to communicating transparently, and in so doing they’re realising the benefits that come with being able to understand their customers better, and work with their customers towards service resolution.
Given that conversations are already happening online, how can organisations effectively monitor social media for conversations that are already taking place about them? The answer lies in technology, of course. There are already a number of smart social media and digital monitoring and listening tools – some of them open source and others proprietary solutions. Tools like these can be set to notify you immediately of any online mentions, giving you the opportunity to respond swiftly. Technology is also available to gauge the sentiment of online conversations, allowing timeous intervention that addresses the issue appropriately.
Shift from reactive to proactive customer service
Data gathered from social media and digital monitoring and analysis also has the potential to enable a transformation from a reactive customer service model, to a proactive one. From a business perspective, by engaging with customers on social media, organisations are able to spend more time getting to know and understand their customers, which forges a deeper engagement on a long-term basis as you earn their trust incrementally.
From a consumer perspective, if businesses use and analyse the data they’re producing on social media platforms, they’re able to access services and products that are more specific and relevant to their needs; and businesses get to know how to respond to their customers better. This in turn could lead to more proactive customer service and issues can be pre-empted so the customer isn’t even aware that there are issues. Furthermore, the longer an organisation has been running social media analytics applications, the more data there is on which to build predictive capabilities that use trend analysis to identify patterns between data and common customer issues.
While there are still many changes that need to happen to existing customer service models before we can progress to a truly proactive social customer service model, it all starts with the acknowledgement that we truly live in the age of the customer. It is the “Internet of Me” as far as the customer is concerned, and all interactions need to be personalised and customised for each individual, according to their preference.
What will happen to businesses that fail to evolve their customer experience into a proactive and social one? By the time such a business realises that they’ve made a mistake, it will already be too late. Businesses that fail to keep up with moving social and digital trends lose customer relevance and they’ll be closing their front doors soon after.