Forrester Research has noted we have entered the Age of the Customer, a “fundamental transition of power away from institutions and organizations toward customers who now have the information, tools and systems they need to get what they want, when, where and how they want it.”
In this new reality, brands will compete and differentiate around customer experience. Today’s customers are more empowered than ever and want consistent and high-value in-person and digital experiences, no matter how difficult that might be for an organization to accomplish. If brands can’t make it happen for them, customers will have no problem shifting their loyalties to competitors who can.
That’s why social customer care presents a significant opportunity. Customers expect companies to engage with them across their preferred channels. Customer service started with in-person interactions. As companies grew and technology advanced, this rapidly evolved to telephone, email, web self-service, online communities and live chat. All of those engagement channels remain viable and should not be overlooked. However there is an undeniable sea change happening in social and mobile messaging.
Nearly 3 billion people are active on social networks globally, with many of them sharing product experiences with family, friends, colleagues and communities. As such, it behooves brands to protect their online reputation by listening, responding and learning from customers at scale. With the rise of social media and mobile messaging apps, there has never been a better or more crucial time to do that.
What’s more, it’s important to know that an increasingly number of customers today turn to social networks to communicate with brands on service and support issues. In fact, Gartner predicts 90 percent of all customer service will be conducted via social media by 2020. Not surprisingly, most customers expect a response within an hour. And when brands do that, 70 percent of customers indicate they are more likely to become brand advocates, according to HP research.
From the growing body of evidence, it is clear brands have a real opportunity to ensure further success tomorrow by developing social customer care as an essential and integrated channel of support.
Start with these three steps to establish or re-invent your social customer care service and support program:
1. Adopt a social-first mentality
Customers talk about brands on social channels because they want to be heard. Every one of these customers matters. Every conversation counts.
Unfortunately, the average business only responds to 11 percent of people who reach out to them on popular social networks, according to Sprout Social. When companies do promptly respond, Sprout says customers reciprocate: 75 percent are inclined to share their good experiences on their own profile; 70 percent are more likely to use a brand’s product or service; 65 percent are more loyal; and 25 percent are less likely to go to a competitor.
By making social media and mobile messaging a first point of contact — and by really listening — brands have an opportunity to heighten customer satisfaction and brand loyalty.
2. Create a social customer care team
Winning companies understand the importance of being customer-centric. We are nothing without our customers, so it makes sense for companies to engage on all social and mobile channels.
Accomplishing that, however, can be complex. For one thing, companies must monitor and interact with customers across a growing array of online communities and social sites. In my organization, we have a support footprint that spans nearly 100 countries, covering 10 different languages.
Given this complexity, it is important to establish dedicated social customer care teams and hire committed, energetic and well-trained individuals. After all, these people essentially serve as brand ambassadors for their organizations.
But beyond that, social customer care teams also play an essential role in helping to improve operational efficiency. Our research shows social agents handle 40 percent more customer cases than phone agents. We also have found social and mobile messaging to be three times faster than chat and two times faster than phone. It also costs an average of about $1 to address each customer interaction through social media compared to about $6 for each telephone call, according to McKinsey & Company, allowing companies to reinvest quicker and serve their growing customer base.
3. Don’t forget online communities
While social media sites are increasingly popular, many customers look for advice to solve their problems via support forums. In fact, online forums and community usage actually jumped from 31 percent in 2012 to 50 percent in 2014, according to Forrester.
One of the more popular aspects of online communities is that responses to questions often come from other customers and not from the vendors themselves. Some customers are all too happy to weigh-in with answers because they want to share what they’ve learned. Others are technical wizards who volunteer their time as part of a more formalized expert program sponsored by various technology vendors.
Online communities should be viewed as channels for every organization’s effort to retain valued customers and enhance their shopping experiences.
Customer support representatives will always have the unenviable task of preserving relationships with customers who are already upset and potentially inclined to take their business elsewhere. But that daunting task of today can become a critical enabler of tomorrow. Organizations will ultimately succeed or fail depending on their services and support philosophy, infrastructure and human capital. Nowhere is this more visible than in social customer care. Great social customer service can create differentiation at scale in the ‘Age of the Customer.’