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How to integrate social networks into your Customer Service mix

By Anna Drennan on Aug 1, 2011 4:00:00 PM

As more communication between companies and their customers moves onto social networks, dealing with complaints and queries quickly and effectively becomes a necessity.

Power to the people is encouraged by brands who want to reach their customers online, and who encourage fans and followers to speak to them through marketing messages. Facebook pages and Twitter accounts inevitably become a forum for customers to vent their frustrations. Why pick the route of private, often-ignored emails if you can post a complaint publicly, where you know a response is business-critical?

These complaints can have a major impact on brand reputation, but as your social presence scales, managing them is a real challenge. Typically, marketing and social media managers own Facebook pages and Twitter accounts, created to push out promotions, yet aren’t equipped to deal with those who speak back.

Customer service teams are best suited to deal with complaints and questions – it’s what they do. They already have structures in place to process problems, but what they don’t have is experience in dealing with public brand communication.

Bringing social networks into your customer service mix is certainly not a quick and easy process. Marketing and customer service have never shared space in this way before and greater communication and collaboration is needed between departments. The way in which you organise your staff may need reworking.

So how can this be achieved? There’s no quick fix, but at Conversocial we’ve seen some of our customers do it really well. It takes time, good management and thorough training.

What we’ve seen work well:

1. When social networks are integrated smoothly, customer service and social media managers work together to establish processes for escalation. Due to their public nature, certain comments and tweets will always fall under the domain of Marketing and PR. It’s important to establish how to pass these on from the start.

2. Customer service managers devise unique SLAs and service processes for social media. We’ve seen some of the most adept, who see the business-critical nature of public complaints, set stricter and more ambitious response times for Facebook and Twitter than email, for example.

3. Customer service through social networks is best handled with transparency. Managers devise community rules and expectations to be displayed on the Facebook page itself. Telling your customers exactly what they can expect from you, as well as what you expect from them (what comments will be removed) provides for a much smoother relationship.

4. Social Media teams lead training for customer service departments on how Facebook and Twitter work to get them familiar with new territory. Depending on your staff’s level of experience, this could be anything from setting them up with their own profiles to explaining how social networks are successfully used by businesses.

5. Social customer service can’t just be transferred in one swift handover. At first, it’s effective to have thorough approval chains for responses– just like any training process. Until your customer service agents are thoroughly versed in brand guidelines, it’s not worth risking the bad PR.

6. For big enterprises, organising response chains can be especially complex. Customer service departments are already stratified by speciality (support for different products or services). At the moment we’re seeing teams of social media service experts sourcing expertise from relevant groups. The next step will be a social media representative in each service team, and eventually all customer service agents will have to work as competently with Facebook and Twitter as they do email and phone calls.

7. It doesn’t stop there. Integrating social networks isn’t just a matter simple training and delegation. Customer service and marketing need to change the ways in which they work together, permanently. Customer feedback has always been an important point of contact between departments, but now different teams will have to report on brand success together. Progressive customer service teams are tracking response time and sentiment, but these aren’t of internal interest alone. These statistics need to be fed back to marketing teams, as crucial measures of brand reputation.

Ultimately, this timely process needs a little more than a good cooperative spirit. Changing business communications in this way is potentially a logistical nightmare.

Tools can help, and more and more companies are turning to Social Media Management Systems to facilitate a heightened level of internal communication and collaboration around social conversations. But however they choose to manage it, all companies need to follow the leaders and start socialising their customer service soon, or their brands will pay.

Topics: Customer Service, Facebook, Twitter

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