While the phone is still the primary way customers interact with companies for service, social media sites like Facebook and Twitter are quickly gaining ground. Here’s what you need to know.
If you’ve been in business a while, you’re probably sick of hearing about “the next big thing” in customer support. Over the past few decades we’ve seen call centers spring up then get outsourced to foreign countries, and we’ve seen some people move to email, online ticket based systems, and even web based live chats. So far, call centers are still the primary method of problem solving for most people, but that may be changing. However, the change isn’t coming because of live chat or specialist web based support systems – it’s social media that’s driving the change.
If you’ve ever tweeted something negative about a well-known brand, you may well have seen social media support in action. There are several companies that monitor Twitter for mentions of their company, and will respond to negative mentions with an automated asking the poster if they need any help. If the user responds, they’ll get an answer within a few hours.
Some companies take this a step further, by having a specialist staff member monitoring tweets during office hours. This staff member will converse with customers and answer basic questions quite quickly, forwarding more complex queries to the right department.
When Things go Wrong
Offering support via Facebook and Twitter is a nice idea, but if you don’t train your staff properly, it can easily go wrong. A thoughtless staff member might “Like” something inappropriate on Facebook, or re-tweet an off-colour joke on Twiter. That could do a lot of damage to your brand.
Another common pitfall is over-use of automation. If you rely on a bot for your Social Media interaction, and your customers catch on, then that could do more damage than just not bothering to use social media at all. Consumers want to feel like they’re talking to a human, rather than just being sprayed with random marketing messages.
With that said, the benefits can be far greater than the potential downsides. Employing a strong social media policy as part of your unified communications strategy could be useful in a crisis. If your website goes down or your VOIP providers have some capacity problems, how will you communicate with your customers? A good unified communications strategy relies on you having lots of options for achieving the same goal. Reaching out to your customers via social media is a valid strategy.
Customers as marketing
Street teams are popular with indie bands and other products aimed at young people. The idea behind street teams is that you use your most loyal customers as grass-roots marketing people. Instead of being paid a typical wage for their work, they get rewarded in other ways -typically free products, or tickets to shows, autographs, and small “money can’t buy” items. The strategy behind street teams can be applied to almost any product, though. A clever PR company can get people on-side for even the most mundane product, and get people evangelising for their company via social media. It costs nothing for a person to re-tweet a message about server downtime, and if you make it interesting or funny as well as helpful, you’ll find that most people will be happy to spread the word for you.