ImageCan you hear your customers' cries for help?

With people spending more time than ever Facebooking, tweeting, and relying on online communities for products, services, and authoritative information, organizations naturally have begun asking: How do we turn social networks to our business advantage, especially when it comes to customer service?

Cue the emerging concept of social service — customer service, with a social networking overlay — which continues to evolve just as quickly as the concept of social media itself.

It’s early days for social service, but practitioners have already seen concrete business results. As with any CRM project, however, the best results come by not just pursuing big-picture “social service,” but first articulating exactly what your social-service program should achieve. In other words, start by asking the right questions, to create a rapid-action plan designed to meet your particular business requirements.

Social Service: 4 Best Practices

The best place to start any social service program discussion is by identifying which of these four best practices will best help your organization excel at providing social service:

  • Community management: Enable customers to form self-service communities of interest around your company’s products and services 
  • Multi-channel service: Employ social technology to handle customers’ service requests, while ensuring that your business quickly resolves those cases
  • Social “voice of the customer”: Use social technologies to gather and analyze post-sale and post-service customer feedback
  • Experience management: Enable customers to express their delight, while ensuring that your business can quickly mitigate any dissatisfaction

Here’s more about each of those best practices, and how to put them to work for your business:

Community Management

Community management is a great first step for many businesses’ social service programs, given its great bang for buck. Examples of advanced community management programs abound. For example, many high-technology companies — including Apple — offer support communities in which customers largely solve each other’s problems, and in the process, generate a valuable knowledgebase for self-service troubleshooting. The business, meanwhile, clearly benefits from the low costs involved, as well as the potential for high levels of customer satisfaction.

As organizations gain more skill with community management, the next step is typically to integrate support communities’ knowledgebases with your contact center, since service reps will be troubleshooting similar issues. Make reps’ jobs easier, and case resolution times shorter, by giving them access to all sources of authoritative information.

Multi-Channel Service

No matter the customer service issue, businesses must hear when their customers are having trouble, including via social technology. Already, we’ve seen a lot of businesses begin to support this approach. Airlines are a great example, as we saw in the wake of Iceland’s 2010 volcano eruption. Bank of America (not one of our customers), meanwhile, employs a dedicated Twitter monitoring team. It watches for any customers with banking problems, then attempts to resolve those issues as quickly as possible.

In the future, expect to see these types of dedicated Twitter teams merge completely into the contact center, as organizations launch a universal queue that includes social networks. That way, no matter how a trouble ticket gets raised, and regardless of the business model (not just B2C, but B2B too), the contact center will log all issues and flag them for resolution.

Social Voice Of The Customer

In customer experience terms, the voice of the customer means ensuring that your business has a formal process in place for gathering — and responding — to customer feedback, or soliciting said feedback post-sale or post-service. Typically, feedback gets tracked as part of a unique profile maintained for each customer.

Social media takes this concept one step further. Why not solicit feedback via Twitter or Facebook, and maintain a social profile for each customer? Developing this social voice of the customer will also enable businesses to connect with their customers for non-service purposes. For example, say you’re in charge of research and development for Panasonic’s Toughbook division (which makes ruggedized laptops) and currently rely on email-based surveys of customers to review how the devices are performing in the field. Given the amount of time that people now spend on social networks, by surveying customers using social media, you’d likely see greater survey participation, as well as more timely feedback.

Experience Management

How do you monitor what’s happening in the social media sphere? Putting the right business processes in place to handle this monitoring will be essential for mitigating developing problems with products or services. Customer experience management, interestingly, ties in directly to the marketing channel, though requires not just reaching out, but managing the overall customer experience. To do this, when approaching social networks, always ask:

  • How do we find people who are having problems?
  • How do we log those issues, and ensure that they’re resolved?
  • Are our customers happy, post-service?

Future Social Service Cross Sells

The above best practices are starting points for building a social service program today. Going forward, expect to see additional CRM capabilities get added to the mix, such as social cross-selling. For example, customers call audio manufacturer Bose when they need help connecting their new audio system with other gear in their house. Oftentimes, they need additional cables, which Bose then offers to sell them. Cue happy customers, plus additional revenue for Bose. We haven’t seen this type of social cross-selling happen yet, but expect to see it soon.

Jump In, Learn As You Go

As with social selling and social marketing, when it comes to social service, it’s early days; no on has all of the answers. But that doesn’t mean that your business can’t put social CRM to work by pursuing community management, multi-channel service, the social voice of the customer, experience management, or any combination thereof.

The only requirement? Begin by defining your social customer service business goals — such as more efficient service and a better customer experience — to ensure that your social service plan boosts the bottom line.

Learn More

Why become a social business? Because with 800 million people using Facebook, and 175 million registered on Twitter, the world’s gone social. Don’t miss out on the opportunity to build valuable marketing, sales and service relationships on social networks.


Photo courtesy of Flickr user Johan Larsson.