What do you do when your flight to San Francisco is cancelled at midnight and the airline insists on rebooking you and your spouse on two separate flights? Or you are watching the last few minutes of “Homeland” and the cable picture starts pixilating for the twentieth time this month? Or you have been waiting for two hours in an examining gown to see your dermatologist? Or your favorite gourmet cookie shop that says it is open Sundays until 8, isn’t?
If you are like millions of consumers around the globe, you jump on Twitter, Facebook, your social media site-du-jour or your blog, and complain to friends, family, followers and the world about the lousy service you are experiencing. Perhaps you even locate the company’s Twitter handle, if it has one, and complain directly. Will people there answer? How quickly? Will they actually help? And will you go back on social media and report you are now a satisfied customer, or fume even more about their misguided (or lack of) response?
When companies today try to meet their customers where they live, they increasingly find that it is on social media. Now that such sites are an integral part of the culture, using them for customer care is moving from cutting-edge concept to business necessity. That was the message from panelists at a session titled, “The Real Value of Social Media for Customer Service,” at the recent Wharton Social Media Best Practices Conference. The panelists were all recipients of 2013 Social Media Leadership Awards given jointly by Social Strategy 1 — a social media monitoring, analysis and managed services company – and Knowledge@Wharton.
“A year ago, when [consumers] got a social media response from a brand on a customer care issue, they were pleasantly surprised,” said Dennis Stoutenburgh, co-founder of Stratus Contact Solutions, a company providing one-to-one customer engagement and multi-channel solutions. “We’re getting to the point now that if companies don’t respond, they will have a black mark against them.”
“Using the right tone with customers is not a ‘set it and forget it’ model.”— Bianca Buckridee
Other panelists representing the airline, banking and credit card industries reported that their companies have set up Twitter handles and, in some cases, a second handle dedicated solely to customer support. But they say that’s only one step along the journey to effective social media customer service, which they also referred to as “customer care” or “social care.”
“A lot of people think that Twitter is a fad and you can’t really use it effectively to talk to customers,” said Bianca Buckridee, vice president of social media operations for JPMorgan Chase. But that hasn’t been Buckridee’s experience. The company tapped her in February 2012 to launch their social media care initiative after she pioneered a similar successful project — singlehandedly and on a shoestring — at the regional bank Sun Trust. One advantage she sees in social care is that customers can go to Chase’s Twitter page and actually see the individual with whom they are talking, which she feels restores some of the intimacy and comfort that is lost in a phone conversation. “We have customers returning to the channel saying, ‘Hey, let me know when Theo gets in,’ or ‘I want to talk to Danni; she knows exactly where I’m at and what I’m going through.’”
Another advantage identified by Buckridee is that for the first time, Chase has a customer service team that crosses its lines of business. “It’s so cool that our customers can tweet one handle and get help for a litany of things. A retail account, a credit card, a mortgage, an auto loan, a student loan, investment questions…. You’ve got one team now that can actually allocate that and get an answer to you, pretty much in real time.”
Barclaycard US initiated its Twitter care handle in first quarter 2013, according to Brian Mook, assistant vice president for social media. He described how his team prepared for the launch, spending the first few months of the year in an intensive customer listening campaign to identify pain points and trends.
American Airlines instituted its social media presence back in 2009 using an outside agency but, in 2011, brought the process in-house. It now has 17 employees dedicated to social customer service, four to brand engagement and one to social media measurement and reporting. This year, its focus in the social space is closely aligned with the company’s massive brand transformation initiative. According to Katy Phillips, a senior analyst in social communications for AA, “What’s really important to us, especially after the rough year the company had in 2012 with bankruptcy and [public relations] issues, is to go from being vigilant about protecting our brand reputation in the social space — which we should always be doing anyway — to really building customer loyalty. I think we’ve created, and will continue to create, some ‘wow’ moments for our customers.”
Many Unanswered Complaints
How much have businesses taken advantage of social media customer care so far? Actually, not very much. An often-cited study by evolve24 – a Maritz Research company based in Fenton,Mo., that specializes in social media analytics — found that approximately 70% of customer service complaints made on Twitter go unanswered. Although the study is from 2011, the panelists believe that the percentage hasn’t changed significantly.
“If you’re not engaging customers during the entire product life cycle through social media, you’re missing out. Because someone else will.” –Dennis Stoutenburgh
But it might not only be for lack of trying. Panelists talked about some of the barriers their companies, and industries, face in their attempts to fully manage social media care.
For one thing, monitoring the social space — the “sheer volume of conversations out there,” as Phillips put it — to locate discussions about your brand can be daunting. “Even at American, it took us until about the middle of this year to be able to look beyond just mentions to our handle. We have a fairly large team for social customer service compared to most small businesses, and still we were only able to manage what was coming to our handle when we built the team up to 17 people.”
And that extends “outside of your typical social networks, [including] Facebook, Twitter and Google Plus, to finding blogs that are influential about your business sector,” added Brian Mook. “It takes a lot of time and resources. There are 40 top travel blogs; there are hundreds of top blogs for credit cards. In each one, people may be mentioning your brand, and they’re not necessarily specifying ‘@Chase’ or ‘@BarclayCard US.’”
In some industries, such as banking, social media care may run up against regulatory issues as well. Buckridee gave some examples of the hoops her team must jump through. “To a lot of customers, Twitter is very natural. They might want to send a DM [direct message, including private information]. But in the banking industry, your legal and compliance team says, ‘Uh-uh. The only thing we can take via direct message is name and zip code.’ So we have to route them through other channels.” Plus, said Buckridee, any links tweeted out by the bank are audited, and the link must take customers directly to the relevant page with a single click. “Heaven help us if we don’t do that.”
What about buy-in from your C-suite? Are they ready to invest in social media care? According to Stoutenburgh, often the individuals making the budget decisions are themselves not active social media users, and this becomes a stumbling block. “They still think Facebook is only for their teenage son or daughter. They are also fearful of blunders, because blunders get so widely publicized. But they have to understand that a community isn’t built through outreach or listening alone. There has to be engagement.”
Tone Is Everything
The panelists agreed that when executing social media customer care, canned responses are unacceptable. Responses must be personal, and it’s essential to strike the right tone. But how personal? And what’s the “right tone?”
“There are 40 top travel blogs; there are hundreds of top blogs for credit cards. In each one, people may be mentioning your brand.” –Brian Mook
At Barclays, “we do co-branded credit cards for 40 plus partners,” said Mook. “The big challenge for us was shifting our tone of voice: talking to Apple customers in their tone; talking to NFL customers in their tone as well. We’re still fine-tuning how to navigate business line to business line.”
“Using the right tone with customers is not a ‘set it and forget it’ model,” suggested Buckridee. “You have to do almost continuous daily coaching and training. My team might say, ‘Yeah, we really hit it out of the park with this one, because we got 67 re-tweets on this reply to someone with a funny response about QuickPay.’ Well, we did not hit it out of the park: If I was a person receiving this from my bank, I might even be a little offended. It’s difficult to do…. You have to keep monitoring.” Buckridee also described how her team might look at a customer’s Facebook page, timeline or Pinterest pinboard before crafting a response. “We strive to make it look real-time, but we’re really doing a ton of research in the back.”
Even with its challenges, social media customer care clearly represents a tremendous and growing opportunity for businesses to foster strong customer relationships. But, Stoutenburgh noted, this isn’t always apparent to his clients. “Every company wants to do social selling — everyone’s looking for ROI. When we show them their data, they say, ‘There’s an audience I want to sell to.’ But on the customer care side, they’re not responding. I tell them: If you engage here, you need to engage over here, too. If you’re not engaging customers during the entire product life cycle through social media, you’re missing out. Because someone else will.”