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Social Media as Customer Service
RightNow Summit '10: Panelists discuss how social media should be addressed across all departments.
Posted Nov 30, 2010
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COLORADO SPRINGS, COLO. — Adam Sarner, research director at Gartner, a business technology research company, moderated a panel addressing the importance of social media in the customer service realm at the RightNow Summit ‘10. The panelists included Maryellen Abreu, director of global technical support at iRobot, Ben Baker, senior director of customer service of MySpace, Lisa Larsen, director of customer care at Drugstore.com, Dr. Natalie Petouhoff, chief strategist at Weber Shandwick, and Stuart Magrath, head of customer design & digital, customer value at AMP.

Sarner put human nature at the forefront of the discussion, aligning social media with the human need to communicate.

"The internet has built for us the biggest communication channel man has ever developed," said Sarner. "If you think about it -- it's TV, newspaper, radio, it's the printing press, it's the phone, all wrapped into one. And it gives access to more people to be able to communicate.  I don't think [social media] is a digital native thing. I think this is a human thing."

Sarnerturned to the panelists and ask them, "How we we fit this human motivator for communication into how businesses operate?"

Each panelist described how social media has benefited their respective businesses. Abreu from iRobot mentioned using private forums to test out ideas and receiving quick feedback from customers.

Petouhoff spoke to the communication breakdown between departments since the advent of social media, elaborating that,  "I'm a right-brained rocket scientist which means that I love social because its the technical part -- the tools, and it's also the interaction. As a former Forrester analyst I was writing about customer service and what I was seeing was that customer service was doing great things, marketing was doing great things, and that PR was doing great things, but that they weren't talking to each other. I was pontificating as an analyst saying, ‘everyone should really get along' so I had an opportunity to join a PR company and so now I am walking my own walk by working with customers that not only do PR and marketing but also customer service."

All panelists agreed that this scenario is common among many businesses and that the responsibility of social media should be shared among many departments.

"I think customer service should still own the customer service interaction but I think that there is a place for everyone at the table and we need tools and processes and leadership that can put everyone in that same kind of mindset," said Petouhoff.

Larson described how using social media has brought her marketing team and customer care team come together. Drugstore.com now has weekly social media meetings that include customer service, marketing, public relations, and businesses owners.

"It actually has made us all work together and realize how important each one of us is," added Larsen.

Sarner brought up the inevitable: when a customer does say something negative about a brand within social media. Abreu shared a story in which Treeblogger.com wrote negatively about the company after an iRobot agent told the blogger's father that he could simply dispose of a product without recycling. Abreu "embraced" the blogger and asked her for her opinion on implementing more green practices into the company, causing her to in turn write positively about her experiences with iRobot.

"[iRobot] want[s] to make sure that we are reaching out to people, taking care of a bad experience, and turning it around so that when people do decide to purchase and they do their search online, they'll find positive experiences....[if] somebody says something bad about your brand if you can change their mind and then they say something great. That's a wonderful experience. That's a great thing for people to see," observed Abreu.

Petouhoff noted that social media is "not a fad" and that it is "here to stay."

Larsen concurred: "[Social media] is a train coming right now at us and we need to get ready and we need to get on it now or we'll be in trouble."

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