Back to the basics: Customer service with social media

While sifting through some old papers the other day looking for candidates for the recycle bin, I came across some materials I created for an email customer service workshop back in 2004. This workshop was aimed at small-to-medium sized businesses and built on some work I did back in late 1990s for another larger organisation.

The premise of the workshop then was to make business owners think about how they were treating customers who made contact using that new fangled (but not really new, even then) technology. One of my points back then was to ask people to stand in the shoes of their customers and consider why they might choose to send an email rather than pick up the phone. Clearly it wasn’t simply because they were lazy or even rude.

The rest of the workshop might sound familiar to people working on creating customer service policies and procedures that use social media – it focused on addressing four things – Customer Expectations, Quality Service, Technology and Processes & Procedures.

One of the underlying enablers was human resources – I said it was important ask:

  • Who performs email customer service?
  • How do they perform email customer service?
  • How do you empower staff to give excellent email customer service?

I also talked about the meaning of quality customer service by email and writing styles.

All good advice… and my first thought while reviewing that work again was that it was still applicable to online customer service using social media.

However, this isn’t entirely true.

Using social media for customer service is different to email – email is like a private telephone call between two people, where social media is like answering that call on speaker with a room full of other customers, staff and other stakeholders, like shareholders or citizens. Even the media might be listening.

Unlike providing customer service via social media, providing customer service by email could be easily packaged up. Responsibilities were clear; the internal mechanisms could be hidden mostly from view, if you responded in a timely manner at least. But increased transparency is changing everything and we can’t blame the customer for picking the channel they feel is more effective or immediate. We also need the right tools and technologies inside organisations to support that external face of customer support now that responsibilities are less clear. This is quite different from email after all – yet it is interesting to observe the companies who keep wanting to treat social media simply as a funnel back into their legacy support channels.

To redress this, lets go back to what was universally right about my original approach to email customer service: Your first step should be to put yourself in your customers’ shoes and understand what they want to achieve by interacting with you online. Then the design process can begin.

For more on this topic and some specific examples of how companies are using Facebook for customer service, see this recent post by my Stuzo | Dachis Group colleague, Jack Jokinen.