Customer Service using Social Media Channels is a nascent discipline, which is good, because fewer customers than most people think are actually using it – but its time will come. Just look at the usage from the customers perspective, barely 17%. American Express and ECHO just published some findings that paint an interesting picture. I would also challenge some of the results, or methods, or both. Not because I know better, but because I am confused about what exactly they are asking and how they asked. When these results are compared with some recent research (company perspective) I conducted with thinkJar, there is a bit of a gap between what companies are spending time and money on, and what their customers are actually using.
OK, I am going to dissect the above a bit, and ask others to tell me I am wrong. My take on the data is that while 17% said “yes”, only 1/2 of those used social to “seek a response from [the] company to help [you] with a service issue”. It is obvious that is was not a ‘select one choice’ question, more likely a ‘select all that apply’, which makes piecing it together that much more complex. Even then, these are certainly not all customer service issues. For example, ‘praise’ is certainly not an ‘issue’, but could be tracked, possibly recognized. My point here is that no matter how you look at this data, it is 17% or lower, who are using social channels for something most people would call “customer support”.
A secondary issue I am having – it is all about me, sorry – is the stated methodology. I am hoping someone can help me out: “Research was completed online among a random sample of 1,000 U.S. consumers aged 18+. Interviewing was conducted by Echo Research between February 22-29, 2012.” If this was truly an “online” survey, then the results are skewed. Meaning, when you ask people who are online if they use a digital channel you will get different results than if you stand on the street or call on the phone. But ECHO are smart folks, so I must be missing something. Any ideas?
Preferred Channel depends upon Complexity
Yes, Yes, Yes – Absolutely! It is beyond complexity too, it also includes the level of personal data involved. The complexity part makes sense, more on that in a moment. From a data perspective, at one end of the spectrum is ‘none’ the other end is that there is a social security number involved. It could be the simplest of issues, but if a customer needs to provide very private data, they will use the phone. According to the research, for a simple inquiry, ‘website or email’ was the top choice, at 38%. Now, I am going to pick on ECHO again, just a bit. There is a pretty big difference between a website view (aka; self-service) and email (please help me), but who am I to criticize? The major point to note here is that ‘Social Networking Site’ at 7% was tied for least preferred channel – even for simple!
As an inquiry becomes more complex, the preferred channel transitions to the higher touch, synchronous choices, such as face to face; 24%, up from 11%, and phone; 38%, up from 16% and (“speaking with a ‘real’ person” – love that). In the ‘more’ complex range, ‘website or email’ drops to 15%. No surprise, ‘Social Networking Site’ was tied for least preferred; 3%. Finally, for “difficult” inquiries, phone jumps to 46%, face to face up to 30%; Social finally has sole position as least preferred, at 3%. This is probably not a surprise. Is it?
Conclusion, of sorts
There is some interesting data hidden in the AMEX/ECHO report. There might even be some interesting information and a few insights, but you need to use this along with your own customer data. I wrote recently about trusting data versus your gut, and this certainly applies here. It is also very clear that while customer are increasingly using social channels for different reasons, the traditional channels are not going anywhere any time soon. Forrester data suggests that people often do not start on social channels, they start on traditional channels, switching only when the experience is poor. Are companies driving this initiative? Who let the Genie out of the bottle and who is trying to put it back in?
This post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet.
In this next installment of my ‘connect the dots’ series I am going out on a bit of a limb. My objective here is to help people understand the importance of ‘New Normal’, in writing this I have a better sense of it myself. Working backwards, the ‘New Normal’ is very similar in concept to what Seth Godin calls “Weird”. The best way for me to describe ‘Weird’ is that it is the rest of the story, left out in most Long Tail discussions. The Long Tail, as discussed by Chris Anderson, talks about the outliers, the ones who live and purchase at the edges of the spectrum. In other words, the Long Tail does not talk too much about the rest of the distribution, at least not from the customer-centric perspective. While I have heard New Normal used before, I have not seen many illustrations of what it might look like (other than teenagers walking down the street texting from a mobile phone).
The value of the diagram is to illustrate to others, using specific examples and to talk about the ‘New Normal’, moving beyond buzzwords or hyperbole.
The New Normal has been and can be used to understand many of the changes and challenges many people have been talking about for a while now. Ideas such as; The Social Customer, The Collaborative Organization, Social CRM, Social Business and more might be better understood with a simple illustration. Think about the distribution of communication channels used 5 years ago, versus now. We simply have more choices. This is not only about customer communications, think about the ways in which you communicate with your peers now, versus 5 years ago. Would it be interesting to chart some this with your own data?
What exactly is ‘New’ about the New Normal
When applied to a business context, the bell curve is being ‘flattened’. While Chris Anderson and peers talked about Amazon and Netflix –this is now about your products, services and your customers. The long tail is now the ‘tail wagging the dog’. Let’s bring this a little closer to home; the customer journey. What follows is an objective view, with some sweeping assumptions and data without research data as the foundation. For the purists among you, I am focused on the journey and channels of communication, not the product economics of weird, nor long tail.
Consider the number of modes of communication that a customer used from evaluation to purchase for your product 10 years ago (If you did not have a product 10 years ago, think of your own journey). There might have been a Yahoo search, then a phone call. Maybe an email and a website visit. For the sake of this conversation, let’s speculate that the number of channels used averaged 3 and for 70% of the customers they used between 2 and 4 channels. The rest likely used between 1 and 5 channels. This brings us really close to a pretty, normal distribution, though slightly narrow and steep.
How about today? What would the number of channels look like for the same (or similar) product purchase journey? Again, not scientific, but the data is likely available for your business – Could we guess average of 4 channels? This is just one channel more, on average, but it changes the game. Based on the flattening of the curve, to get to that 70% of your customer base it is likely something like “70% of the customers use between 2 and 7 channels; a pretty big range, not as simple as it used to be. The key point here is that you need to dig in deeper and understand what they are doing on each channel. How many channels would we need to include to get to 95% of your customer population (the -2σ to 2σ in the illustration above)?
The important part of the flattening is not only the reduction in the middle, it is the increase on the edges. I want to be clear on a few things. The new Normal for your customers is dependent upon where they have been. The pace of change is determined by you and your customers, not by a consultant or analyst. Just for fun, if you want to see a Normal distribution in action, take a look at this graphic of the snow in Vermont, as it careens off the bell curve in 2012. All I can say is, I hope this does not represent the ‘New Normal’. There is a whole lot more to this story – just think about it. As always, the time Sword Ciboodle allows me to think through these concepts is greatly appreciated!
Recently, friend Paul Greenberg penned a short post (ok, a not short, 2-part series very worth reading) where he talked about the end of one era transitioning to the beginning of a new one. The points are sound. But, I would like to explore a different viewpoint, or maybe just add my own perspective. I believe that when we look back in a few years, we will see that the transition is going to take a bit longer than we imagined it would (In other words, it is not “the End” but it is “Ending” slowly). I am not going to nit-pick on words, this, is not about that. I might even suggest to Paul that he consider updating a Wikipedia entry (more on that in a minute). I will say that a more meaningful mutual benefit can be achieved if each side is willing to give more, as the value exchange equation is always a bit one-sided.
What is really being described here is a maturity model; on BOTH sides of the equation, this is new. If Social CRM is about a companies programmatic response, then engagement on the customer’s terms defines the format of the response. Therefore, Social CRM is different for every type of business. In order for it to work, both sides need to mature and be willing to invest emotionally and intellectually. Since the customer will mature at his or her own pace, we <company> are often left to guess where they are along the maturation curve. It is also important that a distinction be made between engagement and involvement. For the sake of this discussion (ie, no primary research references) I will draw the distinction along a continuum, where involvement occurs first and then by the addition of an emotional element engagement happens. Engagement is a deeper level of involvement, by being ongoing (As Paul notes) or emotional, possibly even intent driven.
A Bit of Research
Looking at Wikipedia as a starting point, as I remembered friend Prem Kumar referencing Employee Engagement in a post a while back. The Employee engagement Wikipedia entry is rather nice, while the Customer version is utter crap.
First the Customer side:
“Customer engagement (CE) refers to the engagement of customers with one another, with a company or a brand. The initiative for engagement can be either consumer- or company-led and the medium of engagement can be on or offline.”
Feel free to look for yourself. It misses the mark totally. Friend Graham Hill had some thoughts on the topic as well – Graham challenges the Inside-out marketing team only approach, and I agree. That said, what if the customer is able to define (control, augment) the rules of engagement, then maybe something has changed in the past 5 years, no? Conclusion; the maturation of the Social part of CRM part of the equation is to carefully manage actual engagement. Actual engagement is an actual bi-directional conversational flow/dynamic, input and involvement.
What if we tried to adapt the Employee engagement model for the customer? There would need to be some very obvious changes, but it is a much better place to start – and if after you take a look at this and then take another look at Paul’s post, you can see he is onto something. Take a look at the below and think about whether it is possible to alter some of the words, replace a few and begin to change the poor Customer Engagement definition above.
“Employee Engagement is the extent to which employee commitment, both emotional and intellectual, exists relative to accomplishing the work, mission, and vision of the organization. Engagement can be seen as a heightened level of ownership where each employee wants to do whatever they can for the benefit of their internal and external customers, and for the success of the organization as a whole.”
Employee Engagement impacts Customer Experience
There are lots of people writing about engagement, a term that is becoming as nebulous as social itself; but at least there is some history to work with here. Respected analyst/researcher Bruce Temkin has published a report regarding Employee Engagement as well. Bruce has spent many years thinking about Customer Experience. In the report, he draws a strong link between Employee Engagement and Customer Experience:
“The analysis uncovers a strong connection between employee engagement and customer experience as well as between employee engagement and productivity.”
Great, but…Where is the link between Employee Engagement and Customer Engagement? Does strong Customer Engagement lead to a more positive Customer Experience? I am not going to speak for Bruce, but I am going to hazard a guess that the link is not there because Customer Engagement is nebulous at best and as I have stated very poorly defined with competing agendas. Employees have, in theory, a specific mission: do a job and help the company grow, right? According to Gallup, 86% of engaged employees say they very often feel happy at work, compared to 11% of the disengaged. There is also a direct link to the bottom line according to research.
In the end, being Social is about being human. Social Media and Networking are really just new channels that we are all trying to figure out how to use a bit better. ie. How can we be as human as possible using electronic means. The technology is new, we are just trying to figure it out. As we become better at the usage of the channel, then we can move from demands to requests, from hyperconnectivity to right connectivity and from being social to being engaging. Engagement in this context is not like the picture above, because it can end at any time, quite easily. While technology is only a part, it is still an important part.
- There is a Big Difference Between Can’t and Won’t
- Stop Thinking in Two Dimensions
- No Beginning, No Middle and No End
- Rethinking the Customer Journey
- The Simplest Thing I Ever Had to Write
- Context Integration, the Future of System to System Interactions
- The Evolution of Customer Community
- The Fine Line Between Personalization and Creepy
- Experience Innovation
- Maybe We are Using the Wrong Words to Describe Collaboration
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