For brands, this translates into sudden support spikes. In 2016, Con Edison weathered the impact of Storm Jonas upon New York City. Intuit, maker of TurboTax, saw its own tsunami of questions rising out of the new U.S. tax bill. And sporting goods providers Walmart and Dick’s responded to mass-shootings with emergency PR and new gun sale policies.
But social messaging demands a new approach to crisis management. Corporate silence or blanket PR statements fail to satisfy expectations for digital customers. The added stress of these unpredictable events can cause social care support teams to crack. As we venture further into the age of uncertainty, here's how you can protect yours.
5 ways to prepare for unexpected support spikes:
1. Create, communicate and maintain a Social Customer Care Playbook
A digital customer service playbook details processes for how different departments should transfer knowledge seamlessly to one another, and how service agents should engage securely in social conversations with customers. An effective service book should include the most common scenarios seen in social messaging inquiries and how to respond appropriately. The playbook provides consistency across your team and creates processes that can be measured, refined and scaled.
A playbook should be a go-to resource for agents, both trained and newly hired. Businesses that embrace a playbook have a higher potential to succeed when it comes to social customer service. It acts as a safety net for customer care agents, setting parameters whilst giving agents enough freedom to show initiative and craft their own unique responses to incoming queries and questions. It is there as a guide to give internal cohesion around customer engagement. A playbook, even more importantly in this case, will set out your crisis escalation plan. An effective escalation map should include:
- Clear guidelines explaining which messages agents can respond to
- A comprehensive breakdown of the types of messages frontline agents can’t immediately respond to, and the team responsible for each type
- A quick method of escalating messages, along with the full case history and context, to the relevant team
2. Stress test your crisis management plan
Rarely a support plan ever survives its first contact with a crisis. Digital support teams can’t know how their agents will react to added pressure, or what a critical backlog of tickets will do to panicked customers. The best thing support teams can do is to run annual or semi-annual stress tests where teams are pushed through mock crisis scenarios, perhaps by other teams.
3. Use social as an early warning system
Social media sentiment analysis isn’t a new concept, but applying it to predict spikes in support is. Just as financial trading algorithms analyze news stories to make stock trade recommendations, brands can use social media platforms to track events that threaten to disrupt their business.
Airlines, for example, can and often already do, monitor the weather. But researchers from the University of Warwick have discovered that social sentiment can serve as an even better early warning system for hurricanes, storms, and floods. The metadata from social postings allowed the researchers to predict the weather with greater accuracy than traditional weather sensory equipment.
Brands in any industry can track keywords and metadata important to them so their support teams can mobilize early. Travel brands can track terrorist attacks, retailers can track policy changes, and all brands can stay ahead of support spikes.
4. Implement cross-departmental preparation
Brands need to offer a united front during a crisis and it’s important for business units to agree on their response. Public relations will need pre-prepared statements so agents know how to answer questions. Marketing teams may need to take on the role of support, and product teams will have to provide digital support teams with information on how the crisis will affect their service.
When Storm Jonas dumped more than 30 inches of snow on New York City, the local utilities provider Con Edison used social media to respond. Its business units banded together and its digital support team sent proactive messages to customers warning them of the impending storm. Because digital support agents are many times more effective than their legacy support counterparts, Con Edison was able to respond to the crisis without having to bring on as many additional agents as they had in past crises.
5. Train care teams to maintain an empathetic tone
Empathy matters twice as much during a crisis. Customer's expectations around response times, agent courtesy, and switching channels skyrocket, and under stress, agents are under twice as much pressure to maintain an even, empathetic tone. Make sure your digital support playbook includes a section on handling customers inquiries during a crisis.
Prepare for the unexpected
In an uncertain age, brands can prepare themselves by developing early warning systems and preparing their agents with digital support tools that can weather any crisis.
Get prepared by learning about your customers: Download The State of Digital Support 2018.