Why CEOs should lead customer service through social media

Although social channels have become a powerful and cost-effective tool for customer service, management may be in the wrong hands.

Social media offers the opportunity to redefine service delivery to customers, change the way they think and talk about the company's brand while drastically lowering service costs. Seventy-one percent of consumers who have had good social-media service experience with brands tend to recommend this to others, 1 and 70 percent of companies who try social customer service on several forms.2But they assign the right organization "owner" for that effort?

Outside the call center
Often, it's a pioneer — the internal marketing or corporate communication functions — usually social media takes ownership. That makes sense when social channels are used to build brands, drive loyalty, and increase sales. In the domain of customer service, however, marketing often lacks the resources, expertise, or institutional support to deal with issues, especially in the face of a rapidly increasing number of requests. Many managers feel that interaction with dissatisfied customers must be done from the public eye and try to direct them to one-on-one call-center conversations even when they prefer real-time social media. Some executives worry that customer service problems are "polluting" marketing channels such as corporate Facebook pages.

A powerful but underutilized alternative is to find social customer service in the operations function, like other customer service channels. Service operations, which have often emphasized expensive call centers, are designed to deal with questions on a scale that has so far escaped social media, which in many companies handles 5 percent or less of service requests. Social media channels can work well together as call centers to upsell products or capture service-to-sales opportunities-with some additional benefits. One is that social platforms make it easy to guide customers to relevant web pages or video content. Other costs: on average, handling incoming phone calls usually costs a company $ 6 to $ 8; interactions using social media, less than $ 1.3 Not every service request matches social media, of course. This channel works best for simple problems that lend themselves to a full response in writing. But that type of written communication can be quite fluid: one large retailer joins a social-media conversation to offer support and guidance to customers who discuss relevant products or express frustration with competitors' offers.

How it looks in practice

When a financial services company pushes forward with plans to build social channels, it reaches a new level of collaboration between marketing and service operations. The chief marketing officer maintains control of a broad social media strategy. Service channel ownership, however, is given to chief operating officers, with the specific goal of saving money by diverting traffic from the organization's call center. Together, CMO and COO chair the steering committee overseeing cross-functional handoffs between marketing and operations.

The company selected a group of experienced customer service agents and tasked them with developing new services. The leader realizes that balancing two goals — productivity and customer satisfying experience — will raise the performance bar considerably. They also understand the risk of managing services across open channels, especially if the customer feels ineffective interaction. To minimize these risks, agents are selected for new roles along with several important characteristics: in-depth product experience, excellent writing skills, and the ability to act as a strong customer supporter. They are given additional training, both on the technical side of social media and compliance (such as the right type of information to share on public channels and when to take private conversations, either through private digital channels, such as direct messages on Twitter or e-mail, or by telephone ).

Initial IT investment remains low. Rather than investing up front in the changes needed to integrate social media channels into the existing IT service infrastructure, companies provide social-media agents with specialized software tools that are separate from the system, which they can access when needed. This not only allows companies to bring social-media services online faster but also provides real-world tests that can help shape the development of integrated systems on the road.

As this example shows, aligning customer service for the digital age gives new senior leaders various opportunities and challenges. Integrating customers 'social care efforts with service operations while also increasing coordination between various social-media functions will probably become an increasingly important part of many companies' strategies to attract customers. After all, they will only become more urgent that companies hear them out and handle their problems in the social space where they spend a lot of their time.

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