The Social Customer Economy

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While some companies are starting to see that customer experience is critical to their business processes, few understand the role of social media tools. 

The Carphone Warehouse (CPW), an independent retailer of mobile phones and services, with more than 2,400 stores in nine European countries, faced having to publicly acknowledge customer complaints in the cloud. “Customer service is increasingly generated by peer-to-peer interactions, on their terms, in value relationships and networks they create,” CPW executives said. “We realized we can’t control customer complaints in the cloud, [but] we must interact with customers where they are.”

A customer turns to Twitter because: 1) her complaint via traditional channels seems to have fallen through the cracks; 2) she feels her complaint has not been taken seriously; 3) the digital ecosystem allows agents to be more objective/empathetic than traditional service channels; 4) she expects immediate resolution to issues that require cross-departmental solutions; and 5) she avoids the contact center, where she has come to expect a raw deal. 

CPW’s strategy? Bravely change customer-company interactions by harnessing the power of social media to say, “I’m sorry.” (Visit http://snipr.com/mar10-issue for the online extra “5 Tips for Twittering.”) CPW has found Twitter offers a new opportunity to listen and engage, to address customer complaints and feedback more quickly, and to positively influence customer opinion—all without the need to increase staff to field tweets. CPW uses Twitter for “first-line” customer queries about handset setup, repairs, stock availability, and delivery issues. If a customer wants to know whether a certain town has a CPW store, CPW can twitter a link to the store. Even geographical boundaries become a nonissue: A European traveling on a United States train once sent a tweet to CPW asking how to remove a SIM card from his phone. CPW twittered the solution. 

And yet CPW has learned that Twitter is only one ingredient in a larger mix of customer interaction channels, and that conversations that start in Twitter may end up in traditional channels (email, phone, or chat). (See the flowcharts, below, for three possible scenarios.)

An unforeseen but positive benefit was that sharing customer complaints with executives helped drive necessary change within CPW. It’s now typical that the service rep not only resolve the issue with the customer directly, but also update the missing information on CPW’s Web site, alert CPW’s channel operations about the misunderstanding that happened in a CPW store, amend details on the order-confirmation emails that are sent, and notify the contact centers and headquarters about which credit or debit cards can be used online and in CPW stores. Real transformation is happening!

 If you can’t afford a social media monitoring tool (such as Visible Technologies, Radian6, Lithium Insights, or Nielsen BuzzMetrics), start with basic searches on: Twitter (search.twitter.com); blogs (www.technorati.com); forums (www.boardtracker.com); Google news alerts for your brand name (www.google.com/alerts); and alerts that extend that name (e.g., “[brand name] sucks,” “[brand name] fail,” “[brand name] love”). With that you can start your social media data collection—and your strategy!

Customer service professionals say that their success venturing into Socialmediaville has provided unprecedented C-level visibility, promotions, and a new outlook on the importance of customer service and customer interactions. For more information on this and other social media customer service reports, go to: www.forrester.com/crm0310. 

Natalie Petouhoff (npetouhoff@forrester.com; @drnatalie on Twitter), a Forrester Research senior analyst, serves business process and applications professionals who work with customer service, CRM, and social media in customer-facing processes.

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