The Handshake Between Social Media And Customer Service

As I sat and listened after delivering a convincing pitch on digital marketing to a blue chip company, I was getting more encouraged about the response of large corporations in using digital marketing to reach the evolving Nigerian consumer. Whether some businesses believe it or not, their target audiences are already forming digital communities and what they do or let slip from their hands will have an impact on the perception of their brands.

While some are busy considering if their tech savvy audience is worth all the trouble, some others fear the unknown digital terrain. Inspite of the seeming uncertainty, some other dynamic brands are developing engagement campaigns (Wema and Sule, Lifebuoy) and responsive design (GTBank) in reaching an already waiting digital audience.

Pushing marketing the same way it is being done on one-way traditional broadcast channels is no crime, but social media provides an opportunity for customers to react – and they have been doing it already.

According to a research carried out on consumer behavior and brands on social media, 82% of respondents said they have at one time or the other shared their brand experience on social media; 31% of them said they do that to protect others, another 31% said they do so in order to bond with others. However, 27% of them said they do that because they expect the brands themselves to respond.

While businesses are still battling with how best to approach social media platforms, customers are taking it a notch higher. Rather than calling the automated customer care channels, they are tweeting, pinging, and chatting to share their opinions. Businesses that have confined social media to marketing alone are losing an opportunity to build relationships with their customers because there is no denying the profound influence of social media on customer service.

Maybe I’ll write about how social media improves customer service later, but here are my thoughts on how social media can be a powerful tool for turning customers into raving brand ambassadors.

a. Deleting is not a working strategy – neither is denial

So, the web designer convinced the project manager to include a Facebook or Twitter link to the company website and it later get’s abandoned?

Being on social media means being there, not just including a link. To a traditional marketer assigned to a profile page, any negative comment or complaint on social media is not good for business and must be deleted. God help you if you are caught doing that. However, to a customer service personnel, it is an opportunity to turn an angry customer into an ambassador. So how do complaints or angry comments on a Facebook wall look without attention? They have an impact on brand perception and the people who read them.

Denying the impact of digital conversations on your business may not last long as other businesses are already harnessing the benefits. What does social media mean for your business?

b. Get your tools right

Once you have identified how social media integrates into your business strategy, you need the right tools – not vice versa. If you have not established your objective for going social, it is difficult to identify the tools of the trade. If you are approaching social media harphazardly, it’s easy to be thrown in different directions. Just as several platforms exist, so do tools to simplify the process.

You need social listening tools to identify mentions of your brand, you need engagement tools to communicate with your target audience, and you need analytic tools to track, measure and analyse outcomes. What tools will work best for your business?

c. Who speaks for the brand?

Whatever technology can replace, it will eventually do; especially because of cost and predictability of outcomes. Tools will deliver service but only the right kind of people will deliver a service experience. Getting the right kind of person to manage your brand online is a big deal. Who can forget the Omojuwa vs Arik saga or the Facebook administrator for Nescafe who couldn’t hold it together.

People interacting with brands online expect the brand to be friendly, unofficial and yet respectable –  it is definately not for an unsupervised intern. The content managers, online strategist and people who manage the brands online must understand the character of the brand as well as tact, especially when they are dealing with a large youth market who will fight back, sometimes anonymously.

d. Handshake across departments

If marketing departments used to own social media channels, it is time to realise this goes beyond marketing. Since more interactions between brands and people on social media are issue-related, several brands are realising this and are developing teams across several disciplines to handle integration into social media – Marketing, Corporate Communications, Human Resource, and Legal. If you have the courage to group customer issues, you can have separate handles to manage your social media efforts e.g. @ComCastCares, @ATTCustomerCare, @BTCare, @ASOS_HereToHelp, @ GTBank_careers, @GTBank_help and @gtbank_cards .

This significant change represents the biggest challenge for contact center officers. They not only have the responsibility to attend to good old-fashioned callers, they have to meet the demands of digital customers as well.

e. Measure and Control

Of all the benefits of digital marketing and social media, this seems the most attractive and difficult. Attractive because you can now measure the impact of all your efforts – tweets, hashtag tracking, fans, followers, online/software reports, analytics, and push your online advocates to justify their costs. You can also track how many people visited sites as against newspaper ads and fliers which once printed, you can only have an estimated projection.

It therefore presents an opportunity to measure your efforts and tweak them in order to find the best method and tools that help interact with your audience in a profitable way.

f. Prepare for crisis

These social changes give brands the power to publish and connect. That’s the good news. The other side is that every customer is a potential global journalist; you cannot afford to mess with the ‘wrong’ ones. Since social media is an emerging terrain, expect a few skirmishes, from mis-tweets to insults, and some will even try to pick a fight. You need to prepare for all these. Having a scenario mapping or crisis plan will save you a lot of time and money. Ask Omojuwa vs Arik (I heard he got an iPad now courtsey Arik). Check here

One important fear for brands is opening up your business to seemingly faceless people, especially when we believe the youth market is highly volatile. Rather than being incapacitated by fear, you can set up a process that helps mitigate potential problems and transforms challenges into brand building opportunities.

It is important for businesses to be proactive beyond using social media as a branding and marketing channel. However, this rapidly evolving field focuses on meeting customers on their preferred channels, and using them as an effective channel for solving product related issues, crisis communication and product testing.

It will be interesting to see how businesses respond to this trend in 2013.

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