Chapter 10: The Future of Customer Service

In this guide, we’ve presented a model for enhancing customer experience through social customer service. We’re now at the stage where social customer service is becoming an established part of doing business. Tweet any company and most will respond, publicly and quickly. And, although many companies haven’t begun delivering of social customer service at the level consumers expect, they know they must — and are working toward that goal.

As a result of this change, the future of customer service is much clearer and, perhaps, even predictable. It is being driven by three powerful trends, all of which would be impossible without social media and the adoption of social customer service. First is the growing integration of social customer service with other departments as a key source of customer and market insight. Second is the adoption of Social Identity, which allows companies to track individual customers using their social media handles as universal identifiers, enabling a unified customer view. Finally—but far from least important—is the mobile revolution: the technology-driven cultural shift that has put smartphones and tablets in everyone’s hands and made those devices, increasingly, the primary means of connecting to the online world—and your company.

In brief, social customer service will become more intelligent, more mobile and less anonymous.

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Social is a mother lode of business intelligence waiting to be tapped

Social media means that local problems can gain global exposure in mere minutes. But it also allows businesses to get in-depth, real-time insight into their customers and supply chains that can be instantly fed into relevant business units. It gives an amazing opportunity to engage customers at the point-of-sale, whether in-store or at the online (or mobile) checkout — with the potential to directly encourage sales and increase customer retention. Over half the revenue of leading internet retailer JackThreads comes from mobile commerce — and they report that their customer service team receives more product questions through Twitter than any other channel (JackThreads 2013).

The transport industry provides a perfect example of the immediate need for information, and the positive value that is created by taking a proactive approach via social. The social customer service team of Greater Anglia, a UK train operator, is based in the central command center (Greater Anglia 2013). They engage their customers in real time, not only to deliver service, but also to gain feedback about what is happening across their network, and feed this back into the rest of the business.

From anonymity to universal social identity

One of the more frustrating problems for customer service has been the lack of a unified customer identity. Prior to social media, each new inquiry by an individual customer tended to create a new identity for that customer within the customer service system. Back when the phone was the only channel available (other than letters and telegrams), the problem didn’t exist because most people had only one phone number to work with. Now, however, customers have multiple email addresses and can phone from work, from home, or from their cell phones. Even IP addresses can change, depending on the location of the computer being used. The same goes for delivery addresses; people often move to a new home or switch jobs. This is the challenge companies have been struggling with for decades: how to create ‘single view of the customer’ regardless of the channel being used or the customer’s physical location.

Social identity has the potential to tie all of these details together. Your Facebook profile ID is fixed (even if you change your name), is deeply tied to your real identity through the social graph, and is already linked to most of your email addresses, your phone numbers, and potentially even your credit card accounts. What’s more, most people are constantly online now, whether via computers, tablets, or smartphones. Social sign-ons gives businesses the opportunity to connect social data to core customer records and use it as a primary identifier. This is possible in-store and offline: many hotels and travel companies are now issuing tablets to ground staff so they can display up-to-date and personalized customer information.

Using a #SocialFirst approach, companies can finally put an end to the ‘anonymous customer.’

Mobility: Leveraging social media communities for customer service

The potential value of both previous trends is made even greater when combined with the third and possibly most important, trend: smartphones, tablets and the advent of continual connectivity. This is not just about social as a take-it-with-you-wherever-you-go channel, however. The real power comes from leveraging social media communities with the customer-as-a-service concept. Here, your most knowledgeable and loyal customers, in addition to being brand advocates, take an active role in delivering customer service by making their product expertise available to your brand’s customer community via social media.

This peer-to-peer resolution can have the dual benefit of cost reduction and increased customer satisfaction. According to Gartner, companies that integrate social communities into customer support realize cost reductions ranging from 10 percent to 50 percent. Accenture research shows that companies can also increase the degree of loyalty and advocacy they have with those customers. And the concept is bound to grow significantly. Gartner predicts that community-based peer-to-peer support, carried out on platforms like Conversocial CROWDS, will quickly replace up to 40 percent of existing phone support.