The week’s buzz was about whether 2012 is the year of the customer, the mainstreaming of social business, or the year of the feedback economy. Reminds me of the “Survivor” TV show where contestants (companies) are isolated in the wilderness (social media) equipped with a few basic tools (technology) and compete for cash. In this case, there is no ‘voting off’ the island; companies slide into oblivion because they get the social business equation wrong, leaving a very different competitive landscape and a handful of “Social Survivors”. No one knows who the Survivors will be, the wilderness of social media is full of what I call reality traps, gaps and chasms.
Christine Crandell in this week’s Forbes’
Despite big strides forward in technology, adoption and the ethnography of social technology, the gap between vision and reality is big. Part of the challenge is summed up in a question a multi-million dollar rapidly growing technology chief operating officer recently asked me, “Do we really need this social media stuff and all these people to manage it?” That question, asked in earnest, is a shining example of the mindset around social technology in the B2B market – it’s an “add-on” versus an “instead of”.
Most companies, and even marketers, do not see social business as the transformation to new business models. Instead they view it as tactical activities to promote their brand, educate the market and attempt to engage with their customers. A recent statistic by UmassD cited “the number of primary corporations on the 2011 Fortune 500 that have a public-facing corporate blog with a post in the past 12 months” is 23. The reason the number is so low is that blogs and other social engagement strategies are piled on to the heap of traditional stuff that marketing, sales and customer service are already doing. When asked why companies don’t stop doing ineffective activities, the echoes of “we’ve always done it that way” and the unsaid “therefore we always will” can be heard down the corridors and across the prairie dog cube farms. It’s an “add-on” versus an “instead”, and therein lays the problem.
The gap in social’s promise versus reality is most obvious in customer service. Expecting marketing or traditional customer service agents to address issues customers share on social media is like asking Survivor contestants to run a race where the puzzle pieces won then don’t fit together. Marketing is more concerned with brand sentiment and traditional call center agents not trained in social customer care do not fully appreciate the nuances and etiquette of social care. The outcome is a common complaint – requests for help via social media go unanswered driving more brand dissatisfaction. Best practice is to set up a small, specially trained and dedicated team of social customer care agents.
Taking a group of dedicated agents and training them on in how to engage customers, identify which posts are relevant and warrant responses, address them in the public forum, and build enduring conversations with buyers across multiple communication mediums is the core foundation of social customer care. These agents are instrumental in helping the company define the processes and skills needed so social customer care delivers not just the expected cost savings but also additional revenue opportunities. Structure, skills and training are one side of the social customer care coin.
The other side of the coin is technology itself. It’s nascent, evolving and grossly misunderstood. “It all sounds the same” is the most common comment I get. It’s confusing for just about everyone, even the venture capitalists that it. To the technocrats that live and breathe it every day the difference between a listening tool, a social community and a holistic social customer service platform is very obvious. To corporate executives it’s not; to them the devil is in the nuances. For customer service or contact centers managers, the evaluation and selection process for social customer care is a harrowing and potentially career-limiting move. Nevertheless, doing nothing is not an option.
Let’s clarify some misunderstandings. Listening tools are NOT the technology platforms from which to deliver social customer service. They simply are not sophisticated enough to fine tune which posts or comments warrant a response. That being said, a listening engine is one of many tools to filter, sort and manage comments. There is a big difference between finding disgruntled customer posts and having an end-to-end system that can automatically discern which posts warrant response, record them in the customer service and CRM system, route them to the right subject matter expert or agent, and report on the result. Additional tools are needed in the Social Survivor bag to bridge the gap between listening engines, social applications, traditional customer service and CRM applications. Lots of vendors can manage Twitter and Facebook posts with manual ‘cut and paste’; where the rubber meets the road however is in situations where conversations span across multiple social media channels and come in thousands a week.
Embracing social business seems deceptively simple. It is not just a marketing-thing; it is a critical customer care enabler. Yet some of the biggest challenges companies face are from: Lack of a cohesive strategy of how to become social business; lack of a competency roadmap on which skills to build in what roles; and systems that are not integrated and are unable to process the context of thousands of conversations daily to isolate and resolve which ones warrant action.
To deliver quality social customer service requires organizations to align outward, to the buyer/customers, instead of aligning inward, to each other. Recognize that social customer care is the next evolution for call centers and customer service groups; master it today and you’ll have a competitive edge tomorrow. Lastly, social customer care is a core stepping stone in the overall transformation an organization must take to become a Social Survivor.
What are you doing to become a Social Survivor?