20 lessons from the frontline of social customer service

20 LessonsOver the last few years I have helped a wide variety of organisations to embed best in class social media customer service. From hugely risk averse and heavily regulated financial service organisations, to stiff upper-lipped government departments with global responsibility for citizen safety through to fmcg cereal and shampoo carelines, they have all required different solutions. However, setting up and delivering, best in class social customer service does require some core elements, so I thought it would be useful to distill this experience to give my 20 learnings from the frontline of social customer service.

20 learnings from the frontline of social customer service:

1. Have a strategy: The chances are you have started delivering social customer servicing in an ad hoc way. Probably your PR or marketing team saw that customers were sending support queries on social media and started responding. Maybe at that point you got your customer service team involved and maybe even formalized your process somewhat. My bet is that you did all of this without stepping back to consider what your strategy was. This is a mistake but its OK; you can develop a strategy retrospectively. Get your core stakeholders together and work our what your social customer service needs to deliver; where is it going, what is the vision and how does it support your business goals? Once you have this in place you will know how to take it forward and start to realise the benefits social servicing can offer to your brand and customers

2. Fix customer pain points: Have this commitment from the off. Your social customer support should be a squeaky wheel; it’s the way in which you will hear the truth about the service you deliver and the way in which your customers hear the truth too! Make sure you capture common friction points and have the resolution to take them back to the business to get something done about them, even if the cause is something that has been part of business forever. Best in class social customer service should be a catalyst for change if its not, it will only damage your reputation in the long run

3. Provide end-to end resolution: Where possible, keep customers in channel. Where you can’t do this (for example, where you need to verify customers or obtain personal information), take them to DM/PM or send a secure LiveChat link where they can speak to the same agent. Call them if you need to. To deliver best in class social servicing your agents should take ownership through to resolution. If you pass them to self-serve routes, make sure that they can actually resolution this way and give them a route back if they can’t. Don’t give them an email address or a web form to complete “they could have emailed in the first place but chose not to. And whatever you do don’t pass customers to a phone line“ it will infuriate them and cost you a fortune.

4. Keep internal structures only if they make sense for the customer: This follows from my previous point. In social customer service there should be no wrong door for the customer, they should not be passed to a different department. If you do need some queries to go to a different department, triage them internally, make it seamless for the customer. And only do it if you have good reason, i.e. that having a different team handle the query will deliver a better outcome for the customer.

5. Empower your agents: Your social agents should be selected for the service skills and also the softer skills that social requires, e.g. judgment, empathy and tact. This wider skill set demands an appropriate grade and reward these people are the public proof of your brand promises. Let them self organise. Give them permission to handle issues in the way they see fit. Listen to them when they tell you whats wrong with your business. Let them be themselves when they talk to clients and encourage them to own issues to resolution. Champion them in your organisation as they are your brand ambassadors

6. Tone of voice is crucial: Social media requires a very different tone to traditional support channels and getting your agents ready for this is a challenge. Begin by defining the right tone for your brand and then work with your agents so that they can deliver within this tone but also maintain their own personality. The objective is to deliver a consistent experience that is in line with the brand but is also human and personal. Its not easy but it is possible. Encourage your agents to put themselves in the customers shoes and practice mirroring and empathy.

7. Training and governance are essential for safe operation: Make sure you have a well-defined target operating model and clear, workflow processes. Consider as many potential situations as you can and work out how these should be handled within these processes. Make sure your agents have these documented for reference in a playbook or set of guidelines. Train your agents in social media not just how to use it but also its etiquette and best practice. Test their responses before they go live and make sure that they are confident and comfortable handling issues publicly.

8. Good team leaders are essential: A good team leader will champion the team, instilling the culture and ethos that a great social servicing team needs. They also act as the conduit for insight back into the organisation, allowing you to capture actionable MI to ensure that service improvement is continuous.

9. Operating hours and SLAs should be led by customer: Do some basic analytics on your social spaces, when do customers send the most queries. If it is during the evening or weekends and you only operate in office hours, then look at extending your service. The same goes for your SLAs, an 8-hour response time is not going to do any good at all but this doesn’t mean you necessarily need to respond within 2 minutes. Ask your customers what their expectations are and deliver to that. The chances are that 30 minutes – 1 hour will suffice, unless your business is particularly time critical.

10. Get the tools that work for the agents not the ones that procurement think you should have: Don’t stick with a tool that doesn’t do the job just because it is cheaper or you already had it in house. Get the tool that lets your agents do what they need to do. Agents need to be fast, so get a tool that lets them see queries and respond quickly. Agents also need to track ongoing conversations, so make sure that they can easily see threads. Sit with you agents and find out what else makes their lives easier and if it means changing tools, then bite the bullet and do it.

11. Train and practice for crisis and surge: Don’t wait for the worst to happen. Pre-empt it and prepare. Work out how your agents can spot a crisis and ensure they are clear on what to do when one happens. Run a crisis simulation on social media to test out your processes and responses so you are confident in your crisis handling ability. Prepare for surge events in the same way. Consider what you would do if an event happened at the weekend or out of hours. How would you scale to handle it?

12. Create clear escalation routes into the business: Your crisis training should ensure that agents are able to spot a query that requires escalation but you also need to ensure that the people you are escalating to are aware of their role. Train them, set SLAs and make sure that everyone knows their roles and is accountable. Training, process and leadership all have a role here if customer quality is to be maintained.

13. Be ready to offer proactive support: Proactive support can be a lifesaver if unforeseen issues arise. If you have a systems outage, a well-timed tweet can head off a volley of calls to the contact centre. Proactive updates and information on your social channels will mean that you can control the situation. You can also use proactive support in other instances, for example, proactive messaging around product launches and clear FAQs can help educate customers and offset support calls. Make sure your operating model is setup to do this; create the right channels for this information to flow through to your social servicing team and ensure that the right messages can be generated and released at the right time.

14. Build up repository of support materials for internal and external use: Be creative use Vine, video or other tools to create support materials to make customers lives easier and deflect support calls.

15. Build lines of communication across the business: Great social customer service can’t work in isolation. They need a two-way dialogue with other departments, for example, with product or marketing teams to understand when new launches or campaigns go out, so that the social servicing team is ready and prepared and also briefed to share feedback and insight. Consider how your teams collaborate internally and share learning; do you need to bring in a collaboration tool like Yammer, what MI needs to be shared, who needs to meet and when?

16. Don’t silo social from digital: I can’t stress this enough, social and digital journeys should be fluid and should inform each other if you are going to deliver a truly seamless experience. Consider the whole customer experience and look to innovate your multi-channel journeys across social and digital, not as separate touchpoints.

17. Measure your activity: Go back to your business objectives and your social customer service strategy and set measurements that reflect the outcomes you want to see. Understand what your social customer service delivers for your customers and for your business. Use your metrics to build a culture of continuous improvement; check for quality and customer satisfaction and then review your results, what could be improved? Action your insights and feed them back into the business to inform product design, operations, innovation, marketing and other areas of the business that can benefit from real-time customer insight.

18. Make your social customer service activity visible across business: Get screens put up around the building (and especially in the CEO’s office) to show your social feeds and your key metrics. Demonstrate the importance and value of what you do and make the customer voice heard by all.

19. Work your community: If you have a community look at how it can work to support your social media servicing or work harder more generally for your business? For example, could you use an advocate program? Or could your community be leveraged to provide peer-to-peer support? Revisit your strategy and consider the role the community could plat in helping to deliver against this.

20. Keep improving and innovating your social and digital servicing: Keep fixing customer pain points and seek to add value through digital and self serve tools but keep a human option there for those who need it. Stay abreast of your customers’ needs and expectations so you can offer support where and when they need it and look for opportunities to make it evermore, relevant, proactive and personal.