Feb 22, 2012


Published on February 22, 2012

Social networking forums are spiralling in popularity as people round the world use them to stay in touch with family and friends – be it to strengthen relationships, renew old bonds, forge new ones or just have fun.
With social media taking off at an unprecedented pace, their utility has crept into various organisational functions as well. And, with more and more customers using social networking its high time companies jump onto this customer service bandwagon as well.
A social networking service model will help organisations to actively engage, interact and service customers so as to boost both service quality and operational performance. This in turn improves relationships with customers by increasing their satisfaction, loyalty, retention as well as brand reputation manifold.
The next obvious question is how. Well, customers do not hesitate to declare their opinions on public social networking platforms and are especially vociferous when it comes to voicing their displeasure about a product or service. All it takes is one angry/annoyed post and the bad buzz can go viral for the whole world to see and form opinions accordingly.
Now only if the management were to tap into these valuable public mentions by monitoring where their company name pops up (Facebook posts, Twitter feeds, etc.), not only can it directly address the issues or concerns but also spot crucial opportunities for product improvement! A definite win-win for the organisation!
This can go a step further when customers can directly post comments on the product/service's Facebook page to voice their queries, complaints, demands or suggestions.
The organisation can capitalise on the ideas, expectations of change or even bad experiences and criticisms by regarding them as valuable insight and dealing with them accordingly.
For instance, take the legendary case of Jeff Jarvis who vented about his beleaguered experience with a ‘lemony laptop and tortuous service' from Dell in a catchy titled blog, ‘Dell is Hell'! This single experience gathered such steam that within a week, the New York Times and Business Day picked up the story. Soon enough, Dell turned itself around and harnessed the power of social media by creating a ‘Dell Community' where customers can post problems and browse blogs, forums and groups to find solutions and advice. The latest news is that Dell has launched a ‘Social Media Listening Command Centre' to leverage the power of social networking in customer service!
As Laura Thomas, marketing communications senior consultant at Dell propounds, “Thanks to social media, customers have a voice like never before. When customers wanted to discuss a product or service in the past, they'd dial a call centre and their problem would be addressed behind closed doors.
Only the customer and the company would hear the complaint or praise. Now, these issues are aired publicly to potentially huge audiences of potential buyers.
At Dell, we still rely on a number of traditional channels for help desk services, but are increasingly looking to social networking to actively engage with our customers and ensure they have a good experience with us!”
Not a cakewalk
Social networking channels do offer unlimited capabilities to gain valuable insight into customer demands, opinions and problems, but the most genuine of attempts can go awry if they are not handled carefully and attentively. Incorrect or too much use backfires and so do too many marketing or rehearsed responses.
Caution is important as customers may resent organisational interference in their personal interactions as they share views with family and friends. There is also the problem of unrealistic expectations as dissatisfied customers expect quick information and immediate interaction while the company may be unable to keep up with the real-time frenzy. Moreover, everything is transparent and visible. Anyone can see how a company deals with issues - which ones are resolved and which ignored – and draw their own conclusions.
At the listening post
Integrating social networking into an organisation's customer service strategy requires a dedicated and planned presence – not merely popping up to answer a few questions. While big companies can afford to have a dedicated ‘ social networking liaison' team trained in social media to monitor websites and blogs for their brand name and listen, engage and address customer issues, smaller entities too should actively use software intelligence to keep track of what customers are saying about them in the virtual world. Some tips:
Build a centralised response process and embed it across all aspects of the organisation that not only answers customer questions and solves problems but can also route issues to concerned departments.
Fashion an effective strategy of an initial live, public response to smoothen ruffled feathers and then take the issue offline by following up on more appropriate channels for extended help – email, chat, SMS or phone.
Set up a customer service presence on social networks with say, a separate tab on your Facebook page or dedicated Twitter feeds.
Enable customers to engage with community of peers as well as customer service agents who respond directly to them. You can also use them to incorporate special offers, competitions, surveys, etc.
Above all, customers will feel listened to and respected only when the organisation deals with the issues in a timely manner.
This level of personalised attention, service and support is bound to instil undying loyalty and trust in customers and very soon the brickbats will turn to compliments and recommendations galore!
Payal Chanania

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