Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Making social service work: 5 tips even small companies can use

Editor's note: This article was originally written by Michelle McGovern and published by Sales, Marketing & Service News.

Let’s get this straight right now: Social media won’t replace traditional customer service channels. But it will enhance what you have to offer – and this company got it right.

Customers want help on Facebook and Twitter just like they wanted the fax after the 800-number, email after the fax, and chat after that. Not one touch point replaced the other, but they all added to the customer service experience – either making it better, more convenient or faster.

The iContact customer service team did it all as customers demanded over time, including when the call for a response on social media arose. Like most companies, the first venture into social media was with a corporate Facebook page, LinkedIn page and Twitter account, which customers followed and interacted with.

Service followed Marketing’s lead
“But customer support couldn’t function very well on the company’s corporate sites,” says Sean Hawkins, iContact’s Manager of Technical Support. “It was mostly handled by Marketing, and they’d have to reach out to us in Technical for the answers.”

When iContact was faced with this all-too-familiar situation, the departments worked together to build a strong, independent support social media presence. Here’s how it successfully panned out.

Set the team, the sites
In iContact’s case, a strong team of technical and service professionals already existed to help with internal issues – the “Support Engineering Team” – that could likely respond to many of the support questions that came in through social media. To avoid overwhelming the team, Hawkins added a few more reps and gave charge of them to Team Lead, Support Engineering, Jeremiah Methven.

They were assigned to take on the social media requests that came in via the new strictly support urls for Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, which trickled in slowly at first. In fact, “we still got a lot of requests on the marketing page, so we started to monitor both sites regularly,” says Hawkins. “Eventually, we ended up being on top of it so well, we’d send marketing issues to Marketing.”

Refined the response
As in many cases with a new medium and a quick-to-please-customers approach, there wasn’t much time to train the team in the finer art of handling social media – if there is such a thing.

So no organized training. “But at first, if one guy wrote up a response, he’d have others look at it to be sure it was OK,” says Methven. “If it was really good, they’d use it as a best practice for the same issue in the future.”

Eventually, they created some best practices for social media customer responses any company would want to follow: 
•    Keep it professional
•    Keep it simple
•    Stay focused on the issue
•    Take it off-line after an apology or if it’s an emotional issue, and
•    Send a private message, email or call customers for complex or anger-ridden issues.

Engage with customers
“But we didn’t want our social media sites to just be a place to dump questions or complain,” says Hawkins. “It was meant to be a community, too, where people can share ideas and engage with each other.”

Reps are asked to re-tweet or post tips and articles that can help customers use their products better at least once a week. Agents write the tip, a supervisor checks it, and it’s posted. “It can prevent calls on issues and we often give (customers) information that gets them involved with us, with other customers,” says Hawkins.

“But Friday is Fun Day,” explains Methven. “Customers might see pictures of us doing something fun – if time allows, of course.”

Results are in
Going social was initially a response to a current customer request. “But it’s made a substantial impact,” says Methven.

While phone, chat and email requests are still the more popular communication channels – phone being the most used – social media reduced the use of them by as much as 3% each month.

Sean Hawkins will speak at the International Customer Management Institute’s Call Center Demo and Conference in Atlanta on Oct. 21-23 

Sean is a Customer Experience, Contact Center and Help desk manager with over 12 years of experience. He has a terrific pulse on incorporating innovation into the contact center. He's implemented social, outsourcing partners, new technology, and new products, while maintaining an award-winning contact center.

In 2011, his team was awarded the ICMI "Global Call Center of the Year" for Small to Medium-Sized Centers. Follow on Twitter @SeanBHawkins

Jeremiah Methven is the Team Lead for iContact's Support Engineering team, who handles support for the iContact API, the iContact for Salesforce integration and social media channels, all while documenting product bugs and issues and assisting internal agents. Follow on Twitter @MethvenJ

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