A social media marketing ecosystem is a business imperative in the digital age. Companies must monetize social media by listening to customers, prospects, and influencers. Professional and personal discussions offer deep insights to engage customers and open up new revenue streams.
Informed market analyses forecast large-scale adoption of social media initiatives across industries. However, the implementation approach remains unclear. It is reminiscent of the Internet dilemma of the 1990s: Companies knew adoption was a must but were unsure of its value as a marketing channel.
Most apprehensions on social media arise from the lack of clarity. Debunking the myths will help formulate an effective social media policy for integrated customer service.
- Myth 1: Social media is Twitter and Facebook
While Twitter and Facebook are among the most popular networking sites, a corporate social network must include dedicated Web sites, user-created blogs, wikis, discussion forums, newsgroups, YouTube, and other online channels that enhance the brand.
A mere presence in social media does not suffice. Constant interaction and structured messaging are required to create a positive impact and address negative sentiments. Community building is the key to online advocacy and the best way to keep negativity in social media under check.
Social engagement must aim at making communities and forums attractive to customers. Rewards and recognitions linked with the usage and promotion of communities create a buzz and kindle enthusiasm in the brand. Building tightly integrated communities based on demographics, location, interests, and product preferences generates meaningful conversations.
- Myth 2: The existing customer service team can manage social media
The stakes of "social" customer service are high. An analysis of customers served via social channels by Firstsource reveals that the cost to serve is almost 80 percent lower than traditional channels, while customer satisfaction is 10-15 percent higher. It indicates the requirement for a focused social media approach to maximize customer value.
Existing teams may be able to execute specific aspects such as advertisements or evaluation of market sentiments, but only specialized teams can deliver differentiated service. A dedicated customer service team with "social" expertise can optimize the process. It can identify the target audience, provide comprehensive information, and manage the online experience.
- Myth 3: Social media is a standalone channel
Engaging customers through their preferred choice of service channel is a best practice. However, pervasive communication technologies have enabled seamless interaction across channels. Traditional customer service channels such as voice, email or Web-based chat must be integrated with social media tools for a consistent customer experience.
- Myth 4: The FAQ section on the corporate Web site can replace "social" service
Customers are increasingly relying on peer groups to make informed decisions and resolve queries. Social groups often scan corporate Web sites for specific information. A comprehensive FAQ section is necessary to enable self-service. Real-time updates and re-prioritization of FAQs based on search frequency delight customers. It cannot replace service channels, but can complement service through other channels. For example, queries on a discussion board or blog can be promptly resolved by redirecting customers to the FAQ link.
- Myth 5: The return on "social" service is low
The metrics to measure ROI of "social" tools for customer service have not yet been established. But companies that adopt the right strategy realize benefits that more than justify the time, effort, and investment. It reduces customer interactions through costlier channels such as IVR. In addition, it helps create a community of virtual agents to assist other customers and reinforce the brand.
- Myth 6: Social media can substitute all channels for customer service
The adoption of a customer service channel depends on customer preferences, demographics, and other factors. Customer service requirements and the level of affinity to service channels vary with customer segments. Generation X and Generation Y customers are tech-savvy and seek instant gratification. Social media is a natural choice for them. Customers in other segments depend on company-hosted solutions. A multi-channel customer service approach ensures a superior customer experience across channels.
Myths Aside, What Next?
Social platforms enable prompt response and personalization of service, leading to customer satisfaction and reduced cost of service. They equip companies to hand-hold customers and guide them towards self-service. However, the success of a "social" strategy depends on operational excellence.
Customer service through social media requires real-time monitoring, sharing, optimization, and interaction to protect the brand, develop customer loyalty, and boost sales. Tone analysis of conversations helps track negative comments and guides proactive action to minimize impact. The creation of a robust community of influencers and the management of incentives are key drivers. Engaging specific groups with offers and packages creates a unique sense of belongingness. Providing freebies, discounts, product testing opportunities, and disbursement of special community privileges among influencers ensure customer stickiness. However, such activities demand time and attention.
Companies need to answer several questions:
1. Is social media a core competency?
2. Do we have a pool of multi-skilled specialists for social media monitoring and communication management?
3. Do we have the resources to meet the incessant demands of social interactions?
4. Can we handle the platform end-to-end and provide customer support, perform data analytics, and identify selling opportunities?
5. Are we capable of leveraging social media tools, including text analytics and intent analysis?
The customer service landscape is rapidly evolving with social media. Engaging digital customers transcends resolution of queries. Online communities must be continuously harnessed with niche content. Companies must have a sound understanding of online tools and specialized resources to enhance customer service with social media. Joining the conversation is not a matter of choice in this age of publish or perish.
Saurabh Mittal is manager of the strategic initiatives team at Firstsource Solutions Ltd., a global business outsourcing company.