Frank Eliason was the man behind the keyboard when high-speed Internet, cable TV, and home phone service provider Comcast launched its immensely popular @ComcastCares channel on Twitter in early 2008. About two and a half years later, he joined financial services firm Citigroup as senior vice president of social media. Recently, Eliason exchanged emails with CRM maga-zine News Editor Leonard Klie to discuss the value of social media from a customer service standpoint and the advice he would give other companies just starting to get into it.
CRM: What were you doing at Comcast before the Twitter project started?
Eliason: I was hired at Comcast as a customer service manager in September 2007. In February 2008, my role changed to digital care, which I was creating from scratch. I first tweeted in April 2008.
CRM: What prompted you to launch the @ComcastCares initiative?
Eliason: We started to reach out to bloggers my first week with the company. As we did this, we had successes on many fronts, which led us to create the role. In February 2008, I started an internal newsletter to share what we were learning online. A senior leader in Mexico, Scott Westerman, told me about Twitter. I started watching Twitter and was fascinated by the real-time information it provided and the ability to search easily for information.
CRM: What resources did you allocate to the process initially?
Eliason: Specifically toward Twitter, for the first six months it was just me. During this time, I was able to assess the space and start building guidelines to effectively work with and learn from our customers in the space. Eventually, for our digital care efforts we had 10 people. Our work was much more than just Twitter; it included blogs, forums (including our own help forums), YouTube, and Facebook. Even with all these spaces, the bulk of the work came via email. On Twitter we had one person at a time, and we covered from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m.
CRM: When you search for and respond to comments on Twitter, have you ever received any pushback for “butting in” to a conversation that wasn’t initially intended for you?
Eliason: A few times, but not often. It is the reason we usually start the conversation with “Can I help?” This way, they know we are there if they need us, but we are not intruding in the conversation.
CRM: Have your interaction guidelines changed over time?
Eliason: Not really. We’ve made a few tweaks regarding information to share and how best to engage. The biggest change has been in the availability of tools. When we started, there was not much to work with.
CRM: In general, how are interactions on social media different than through other channels?
Eliason: The best social interactions are similar to the best customer service calls we see in the call center. They are personal and demonstrate listening, and a connection builds between the caller and the agent.
CRM: What unexpected benefits did you notice from the @ComcastCares initiative?
Eliason: The speed of information was even greater than I could have ever imagined. We knew things before other contact channels. We could find out more regarding so many more things, such as competition or regional events that could be creating an impact to our business. That speed is where the ROI is.
CRM: Have you been able to measure an ROI?
Eliason: We had many metrics we concentrated on at Comcast, and those are very similar to what I concentrate on at Citi. My focus is on the customer, and at both companies we use Net Promoter Scores to follow this trend. We know that after helping people, their Net Promoter Scores jumped dramatically.
From a service perspective, we also look at how we dealt with the information. As an example, a few years back we learned of a channel outage via Twitter. We were able to also learn it was impacting our competitors and what the cause was. We found this all out within three minutes. We were able to place messaging on the phone system before the calls came in. We then measured the number of calls that reached the message and hung up. In this one incident, taking the number of people who called multiplied by the average cost of a call, we saved more than $1 million. We were also able to reach many more people by broadcasting the information via our social channels. In Twitter alone, with retweets, we reached millions of people in minutes.
Another ROI that is often overlooked is the process improvements that can occur based on listening. If you find
a failed process via social media and fix it, that ROI can easily be measured.
CRM: What is a company risking by improperly providing proactive support on Twitter?
Eliason: Even if your organization provides world-class service, social media might highlight opportunities to help other customers. The biggest mistake companies make in social media is either ignoring customers who tweet them or being slow to respond to them. If you commit to being on Twitter, realize that commitment is to your customer.
CRM: Have you been able to tie your Twitter support to other interaction channels?
Eliason: This is absolutely a key aspect. While at Comcast, we were able to track all social contacts via our internal tools, and the information would be available to others. At Citi, we are working to tie our measurements to customer surveys, which we do after contacts in our other channels. We also built Twitter into our mobile application, making it easy for customers to tweet with us.
It is important for customer service to serve the customers, even in social media. This is how we do it at Citi, and it is how we did it at Comcast. Many companies try to do this through PR or marketing, but those areas are not as well versed in dealing with customers.
CRM: As a pioneer of social media for customer service, what advice would you offer companies looking to adopt a social media strategy?
Eliason: The big thing for companies to watch for in the coming years is how they implement social media tools internally. We have watched tools like Twitter make the world a smaller place, and now we can use similar tools to connect our employees around the globe. This will mean better understanding and more nimble organizations.
For those looking at social media, first listen, not just for your brand but also for what is important to your customers. Then develop a strategy that helps meet the needs of your customers.
News Editor Leonard Klie can be reached at email@example.com.