A new challenge for customer service: Social media

The trend towards growing mobile Internet connectivity across Asia has continued to pave the way for the use of web-connected smart devices, creating a whole new challenge for customer service in the form of social media.

While platforms like Google+, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are dominant platforms in the United States and Europe, the Asian market presents a myriad of social networking platforms including Weibo in China and Sina T in Hong Kong, all of which are used as a social channel for public expression. This growing trend has resulted in consumers in Asia taking to these social channels to publicly talk about experiences with service providers, or issues with products.

Social media has created a powerful tool with a global reach, and news or commentary, good or bad, travels fast. A traditional conversation about a bad service or product experience might reach a handful of people, but a Facebook or blog post could easily reach hundreds.

In this way social media has changed the communication dynamic between consumers and the companies with which they do business. While traditional service channels feature a contained, one-to-one interaction, social media allows consumers to air their issues publicly, leaving it to the company to decide when and how to respond.

Social media sites can have a profound influence on consumer impressions of your company as well as future purchasing decisions. In fact, Convergys research has found that in both the United States and United Kingdom more than 70 percent of consumers who heard about a bad experience via social media intentionally stopped doing business or avoided doing business with the offending company.

Just as social media has forever altered the way we communicate with our friends and family, it is also changing the dynamics of business communication. This makes it more crucial than ever for companies to learn to treat social media as an important interaction channel and leverage it to not only promote the company brand, but also to protect it.

Many companies are unaware of what their customers are saying about them on social media channels, and do not know how to monitor those channels to find out. Even companies that do know are often unclear over what comments warrant attention, what action to take, and what can be safely ignored amid the continuous barrage of social media “noise.”

I recommend companies follow a three-step approach — “Listen, Decide, and Engage” — to manage the complete social media experience. This approach will not only help companies increase customer loyalty and strengthen the company brand, but will also help increase sales and reduce total cost of service.

• Listen – Using technology to monitor social networks, blogs, forums, and traditional media in real-time to analyze sentiment and listen for issues is the first part of an effective social interaction strategy. Listening helps you proactively protect your brand and gives you insight into positive customer experiences that you can leverage to increase brand awareness, improve your customer service, and strengthen customer loyalty.

• Decide – You can enhance the data collected from listening by defining business policies and rules about how your company should respond to posts and comments. Business policies and rules can determine which issues are actionable – that is, which should be elevated to an agent based on customer sentiment, influence, lifetime value, and other key factors for a personalized response – and which social media interactions can be safely ignored.

• Engage – Giving skilled agents the tools they need to facilitate and guide online support and collective crowd sourced resolutions is extremely important for social media interactions. Engagement work teams should have the ability to assign and route posts, tag results with relevant information, and classify and mark action status on items. Community advocate, Social advocate, and Managed Listening Services are roles that agents can handle in the engagement phase of a social interactions framework.

Companies should not wait for a crisis situation to go viral or a spike in customer churn to actively engage in managing this ubiquitous and complex communications network. There are tools and customer management solutions from companies like Convergys that can help businesses manage and take advantage of the human need to express praise, satisfaction, dissatisfaction and disappointment via social media. These tools also ensure that business owners are on top of the conversation with results that are relevant and are monitored in real time.

By strengthening their customer service operations with intelligent solutions from customer service providers that leverage analytics, metrics, and influencer data specific to social media channels, blogs, video, news or forums, businesses can provide better service and use social media to garner feedback and protect the brand, while attracting and retaining customers.