• July 26, 2010
  • By Jo Ann Parris, vice president, relationship technology management, Convergys

Going Viral: Social Media and Customer Service

Any executives who don't think it's necessary for their businesses to have a customer service presence on social media need only to witness the $180 million fallout experienced by United Airlines in the wake of the YouTube video "United Breaks Guitars." With nearly 8.5 million views in 10 months, this video quickly became a cautionary tale for companies that are reluctant to acknowledge the impact social media can have on a business and slow to incorporate the medium into their customer service strategy.

"United Breaks Guitars" is obviously an extreme example. The entertainment factor of the catchy song and cleverly produced video did as much to attract people as the message itself did. But that extreme merely serves to underscore the influence of typical social media use. According to one report, 12 percent of consumers have posted on social media sites about a service experience, with the average post being viewed by 45 people.

To put this in perspective, if 1,000 customers had a bad experience with a company, 120 would post about it online, with perhaps 5,400 people viewing that negative message. And those social media posts carry weight with the people who read them. Research shows that 14 percent of consumers have recently read about a bad customer experience through social media, with 62 percent of them intentionally stopping or avoiding doing business with the offending company as a result.

However, those forward-thinking companies that have embraced social media as another channel through which to nurture their customer relationships are finding that channel to be very effective. By monitoring social media and intervening when necessary, companies give themselves the opportunity to defuse what might become a negative customer interaction.

While social media is not likely to replace the contact center, technology innovation is creating a demand for the ease and convenience of social media–based customer service applications. Research shows that 24 percent of consumers have already used social media for customer service interactions with a company and another nine percent would like to do so in the future.

And while the young tech-savvy Millennial generation may be leading this charge, older users are quickly adopting the technology, too. The average age for a Facebook user is 38.4 years old; on Twitter it's 39.1 years old. Much like texting and SMS seven years ago, social media is quickly growing into another form of popular communication that businesses need to incorporate into their multichannel contact center strategies.

When operationalizing social engagements into the contact center, companies should be:

1. Listening to the unheard — The most relevant conversations about a brand may be the ones companies aren't even aware of. Social listening vendors act as a kind of Google for the ever-expanding social galaxy — finding brand keywords, assessing sentiment, and applying analytics to understand trends about a company. The use of these tools must not be limited to the marketing and public relations departments. Customer service managers and site leaders need this data. For example, a cable company's regional outage will affect the volume of inbound calls, emails, and Web-site inquiries. The contact center and service leads need to see this data so proper actions can be taken to protect the customer experience.

2. Decisioning for personalization — Not all tweets and Facebook updates are created equal. Real-time decisioning separates the social "signal" from the noise, applying a set of rules-based automation to deliver the right tweet or post to the most appropriate agent within the service department. These decisioning tools should be integrated with CRM and back-office systems to identify the tweet of any high-value customer or medium-value prospect. As social profiles grow, the ability to link a customer to her social presence will increase the personalization of the service experience.

3. Engaging to nurture — This is where the contact center excels. Agents are the voice of the company, interacting with hundreds of customers each day with well-defined business processes and policies that keep a contact center humming. The social agent should become an integral player as social media extends beyond marketing and into customer service departments. These are people who know how to remedy situations, reward loyalty, and nurture the customer relationship.

Social media is a unique tool that, if used properly, can take the company/customer relationship to the next level. By listening, understanding, and caring about customers' preferences, companies can improve customer loyalty, raise satisfaction, and reduce costs. 

[Editors' Note: For more on social media and CRM — and social media in the contact center — see CRM magazine's Social Media Issues of June 2009 and June 2010.]


About the Author

Jo Ann Parris (jo.ann.parris@convergys.com) is vice president of relationship technology management at Convergys. She is responsible for sales, marketing, and solution management for Convergys' portfolio of self-service and automated solutions.


Please note that the Viewpoints listed in CRM magazine and appearing on destinationCRM.com represent the perspective of the authors, and not necessarily those of the magazine or its editors

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For the rest of the July 2010 issue of CRM magazine — which examines the past 15 years in the CRM industry — please click here.

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