Why Do Customers Use Social Networks for Customer Service? Because They Can…

Every day, an increasing number of connected consumers are taking to social networks to ask for help or express sentiment related to business or product related experiences; some do so to seek resolution from their peers, others broadcast questions or comments as a form of catharsis; and a smaller group of consumers actually hope to receive a response directly from the company. The reality is that social media is the new normal. A myriad of social networks, whether you use them or not, are now part of the day-to-day digital lifestyle with Facebook, Twitter, Yelp, Youtube among others becoming the places where your customers connect, communicate, and engage around experiences. They take to these social networks and more because they can. The question is, what are you going to do about it?

Social Media as a term and as a movement garnered significant momentum going back as far as 2005 and 2006. Here we are more than six years later wondering whether or not social networks are a fad. Skeptics point to the deterioration of Myspace (although it’s coming back…again!) or the botched Facebook IPO as evidence that social networks are just the latest craze that will go out of fashion a la cassettes, floppy disks, and CD-ROMs. Yet, they won’t. At best, they’ll evolve. But nonetheless, businesses will have to adapt to new forms of engaging with customers to ensure positive sentiment and more importantly, invest in long-term loyalty and advocacy.

I believe that businesses will learn how to engage in new networks one of two ways. Either businesses will recognize the opportunity to earn relevance through an “a ha” moment. Or, they’ll say “uh oh” upon witnessing the impact of a crisis on business, branding, and customer influence when a negative experience goes viral.

Recently, Sitel and TNS released a study of social media customer service to explore the growing trend. The report features the responses of more than 1,000 consumers in the U.K. and while still nascent, we see a landscape that is shifting beneath our feet. What’s clear is that consumers are becoming more connected. Traditional call centers and knowledge bases work as designed, read…as best as they can considering the circumstances. Traditional customers are no longer alone in their role in defining markets.

Connected consumers think and behave differently. One key difference that I learned when writing my book, The End of Business as Usual, was as provocative as it was revealing. When faced with a problem or question concerning a product, traditional customers will first seek out resolution through traditional service means. Connected customers, on the other hand, will either first express dissatisfaction to their friends in a social channel and/or proceed to search for or ask peers and companies for help in online communities or social networks. In other words, traditional customers will seek out information and connected customers expect resolution to find them.

Seven-percent of individuals age 16-24 will first complain in social media and 71% will search for a solution online before they relent and contact the company directly. Revolutionary? Hardly. Profound? Yes. There’s an old saying among trendcasters that reminds us to look at the behavior of younger generations if you want to plan for future engagement. The idea that connected consumers will first share negative sentiment to a group of hundreds or thousands of people will eventually play a role in the overall perception of the business. More importantly, to engage with connected customers requires an omnipresent service team tracking activity and engaging customers when and where necessary.

When asked how companies could improve customer service, 17% of 16-24 and 25-34 year-old asked for faster response times on Twitter. Across all age groups, an average of 25% want companies to post video demonstrations, tutorials, and instructions. This is another huge difference between traditional and connected consumers. Consumers want to see how things work not just read or hear about it from company representatives. This is one of the reasons why Youtube is the second largest search engine behind Google. Visual references are a way of communication and discovery for connected consumers.

As you rethink the future of service, you cannot lose sight of your traditional customers. At the same time, you must bring connected customers into view. No need to reinvent the service center yet. However, listening, learning and adapting starts with research. To better understand the extent of your connected customer behavior, start with these tips…

1. Use a social media listening service to see what people are saying today. If you don’t have access to budget or existing tools, try SocialMention, it’s free.

2. Observe the frequency and reach of service-related mentions. Prepare reports based on your findings and share with key stakeholders. Here’s a free template to help get you started.

3. Are there any trends related to the mentions? Do they require direct engagement or do they offer insight to improve experiences.

4. Develop an ongoing listening and alerting system. It will only get louder as time progresses.

5. Implement a triage and information process to get information in, to the right people, and back out to customers.

6. Establish roles and responsibilities.

7. Learn and Adapt. Improve products and services based on insights.

8. Stay integrated. Make sure that social and call center teams communicate knowledge and best practices.

9. Be proactive. Don’t just address negative commenters or those with questions, engage those who are positive as well.

10. Host forums or town halls to get ongoing input and direction to improve…everything.

Originally published at AT&T ‘s Networking Exchange blog

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The End of Business as Usual is officially here…

  

  

Image Credit: Shutterstock

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  • http://www.velocitydigital.co.uk/ Mike McGrail

    What a great, simple piece that anyone who struggles to get the importance of social media from a customer service point of view should read.

  • http://twitter.com/gilbertoegil Gilberto Gil

    Succinct and eloquently put.

  • http://twitter.com/jnoche John Knight 

    What about platforms that are no intended for CS? Like Pinterest, not really a place to hold discussions but customers ask questions there. Also, platforms really need to enable 2 way API’s to help foster usage of their platforms (like Google+ and Yelp), not having the ability to use a single system to monitor, respond and track these put unneeded pressures on businesses to address.

    • http://www.briansolis.com/ briansolis

      It is the new reality. Call centers work for a different type of customer need. People will vent and share their experiences wherever they are. It’s up to businesses as to whether or not they want to engage where and when those negative experiences are shared.

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  • http://evenonesparrow.blogspot.com even one sparrow

    This is so interesting! I think I’m both a traditional and connected customer. I recently had an epic battle with Clear4G on the phone AND the internet. I started on the phone and didn’t get a call back from the supervisor as was promised, so I turned to Twitter. Twitter was completely useless — they responded after an hour and didn’t have real resolutions, kept saying they would call me and never did, and so I went back to the phone and spent over an hour getting what was initially promised. It took me ranting about the importance of value propositions, being a trustful company, and having integrity for them to give me what they TOLD me I would get from the beginning. It made me wonder, how many people without business experience would have done what I did? Most would be stuck with a bill they shouldn’t have to pay. (Blog post to come soon, once Verizon sets up the internet. Oi, internet companies!)

    • http://www.briansolis.com/ briansolis

      Unfortunately, this is more common than we’d like. It puts you in a position to have a reluctant relationship with businesses…and who wants that!?

  • http://www.strategicpropositions.com Jose Palomino

    I’m intrigued by the findings about the difference between traditional
    and connected customers. Companies can’t solely focus on the
    traditional, because then they abandon their influence to the next
    generation. Similarly, they can’t only focus on the connected, because
    the traditional customers are still a driving force. It definitely
    takes a balance, and I think more companies should be doing research —
    or at least reading blogs that present the research — so they can
    better understand how to serve their customers effectively.

    I
    wonder if more and more, customer service departments will have to grow
    to cover BOTH types of customers, and especially to be available to the
    connected customers — and respond as fast on Twitter as the customers
    are expecting. What do you think? Do you see CS departments growing,
    or just trying to stretch their people as far as they can go?

    • http://www.briansolis.com/ briansolis

      I see new breeds of CS teams emerging to tackled the connected set. Some do and do not report to traditional CS leads.

  • http://twitter.com/JoeCascio Joe Cascio

    I think most people turn to friends (either on or offline) first when they’re having a problem because they want some emotional support, validation or commiseration first before having to enter into an anticipated unpleasant and frustrating battle with a company. Also, social networks have finally shifted the balance of power into the hands of consumers and they’re enjoying exercising that power.

  • http://symphonical.com/ Gaëlle @Symphonical

    Thanks for sharing your knowledge in such concise way. The variety of social network is a real challenge. How do you keep an overview of all the streams? Do you focus just on the biggest ones?

  • http://hollygrande.com Holly Grande

    One of my colleagues put it: “Social media is the new telephone.” Customers aren’t going to call when they can post, tweet and share their issues and crowd-source solutions.

    There is a really fantastic case study about a UK Telecom company who had fun with a customer who posted a complaint to a web forum. The customer was having issues with his router overheating because his cat liked to nap on it. The company was monitoring the forum, and they reached out to the customer and sent him a new router – in exchange for cat photos. In the end, the company earned a loyal customer.

    My agency wrote about social CRM (and cat photos) in a recent white paper, if you’re interested in the read: http://www.cookerlypr.com/2012/04/how-is-social-media-like-a-telephone.html

  • http://www.cendrinemarrouat.com Cendrine Marrouat

    I am a little hard of hearing and being able to use Twitter to reach a company’s support team is heaven. I actually recently had to contact Twitter about an issue I had (read my article on this here: http://www.creativeramblings.com/dell-customer-service/). They were awesome!

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  • http://www.engag.io/Abdallah Abdallah Al-Hakim

    interesting to read this article because I was researching some traditional support tools such as UserVoice and Get Satisfaction. Anyone has a particular recommendation for one or the other?

    • http://www.briansolis.com/ briansolis

      I hear both are very good at what they do.

    • http://www.engag.io/Abdallah Abdallah Al-Hakim

      Thanks. They seem like it. However, get satisfaction has more emphasis on community integration

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  • Olivia

    I have been on both sides of this issue, both as a customer who has used social media to connect directly with a company and as the voice of a social media account for a company. I have to say that I find this trend both a gift and a curse but the weight of which is entirely dependent on how the company chooses to use it.

    A company I have seen do this very well is Zappos. They have created a voice that conveys their open door policy about customer service. After all, they do have a 24 hour customer service line with some of the friendliest representatives in the business. Theirs is a model that I think it would be useful for other companies to take a look at.

    If it is in the budget, it is useful to employ someone full time to monitor all social media and web presence. It is this generation’s answer to a call center. Though it may seem counteractive, social media is actually a way for companies to connect more and make a more personal connection.

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  • Anonymous

    MY PROBLEM is contacting the social media through social media, it is impossible. Google has been spamming my site with a virus via adwords for 2+ weeks, but nowhere can I contact anyone at Google to sort this put. Aside from removing the adwords from my site and a source of $$, what are my options? Give me good ol’ customer service any day.

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ABOUT ME

Brian Solis is a digital analyst, anthropologist, and also a futurist. In his work at Altimeter Group, Solis studies the effects of disruptive technology on business and society. He is an avid keynote speaker and award-winning author who is globally recognized as one of the most prominent thought leaders in digital transformation.

His most recent book, What's the Future of Business: Changing the Way Businesses Create Experiences (WTF), explores the landscape of connected consumerism and how business and customer relationships unfold in four distinct moments of truth. His previous book, The End of Business as Usual, explores the emergence of Generation-C, a new generation of customers and employees and how businesses must adapt to reach them. In 2009, Solis released Engage, which is regarded as the industry reference guide for businesses to market, sell and service in the social web.

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