You can run, hide, duck, turn, cover your eyes, plug your ears, maybe then you will have successfully avoided hearing, seeing or otherwise experiencing the Facebook IPO. I sometimes; no, quite often, wonder what the fascination is all about. What exactly has changed? What is really different? Is it that Everything simply happens faster. Yes that is one part, I suppose. I am not sure that is always good though. When presented with the opportunity to put our foot in our mouth, we see it as an opportunity not to be missed and take full advantage. We share (Tweet, Post, Email) without thinking, only now it is more permanent (Google never forgets). This raises the question, what role are these ‘social’ channels in customer service?
The words we grew up with, now mean different things; Social, Engagement and Mobile, new context, new meaning. Think about it, when we were young(er) a ‘Social Engagement’ that was ‘Mobile’ could have easily meant a dinner party on a boat. A set of recent articles also suggests highlighting the importance of human social interactions to our well-being (HBR). Things do happen faster and some of it is social, some is just not – how can a company understand what is social, where does customer service really fit in, what is not and respond accordingly…at scale?
Introducing my Version of the Digital Interaction Process
I had the opportunity to co-present with Steven Thurlow, (our very smart CTO) to a small and engaged audience on Thursday. The topic was Social Customer Service. It was largely based on recent research done with thinkJar we shared the findings and went a little beyond as well. We took the opportunity to poll the audience, always wanting to learn. Guess what, the phone and email are still still ranked as the most important customer service channels. Surprised? I was not to be frank.
Near the end of the presentation, I shared the diagram below and talked people through it.
First, before I discuss it, I need to give credit where credit is due. My own thinking was (and is) influenced by conversations with Brian Vellmure and Esteban Kolsky. In my opinion social is a way of being and acting. According to many current discussions, one cannot be social be without digital (yeah, I know, not quite true). If I send a DM (Direct Message) on Twitter, is that social? If I message you on Facebook, is that social? Any more than an email, phone call or heaven forbid knocking on your door? Getting to the diagram; on the left is ‘Social’ and public, on the right is ‘Engaged’ and private (1 to 1, you and me).
The influence that Brian had on this was to remind me that what everyone is calling ‘Social’ is really digital. Once the conversation is taken private (DM, SMS, Email, Kiosk) it is no longer ‘Social’, until one side or the other decides to bring it back into the public realm (vent, complaint, review, kudos). The influence Esteban had was that in a way, you could overlay his infinity diagram (here) on top of this as the processes are continuous. On the left is the outside world, on the right is the inside world. If you get the stuff on the right working, then the stuff on the left is positive and good. Conversely, well, I probably do not even need to say it. Each side is a closed loop in its own right, but connected to the other side – a continuum of sorts.
A note on overused words. I have many words listed within the diagram many are over used within industry publications, blogs and articles on social media. often they are not only misused but only industry insiders are the only ones who care about them and pick them apart. There is a need, however, to be clear when they add value. For example, I put in there the word ‘engagement’. I am actually not a big fan of the word, but it makes sense in this context because it says ‘one person interacting with another in a way to adds the intent, context and a personal touch’. If Engagement is used to describe the activities on the left side, I think that is where it is misused. Yes, I know a presenter or Marketeer wants to engage their audience, elicit a response…another day.
There, the other word that everyone loves to hate. We all want to break down the walls, remove the divisions between departments, make sure everyone has all the data. OK, I got it, thanks for the advice (I live in Vermont, the livestock would have nothing to eat during winter without silos, but I digress). How exactly should I accomplish this goal? Does marketing need the invoice history? Does the product team need to know there is a billing dispute? Each team should focus on that person they are working to create value with and for. Spend time working to understand what they need and what you can offer. They might be a customer, they might be a prospect, influencer or partner. The key point is that they are a person first. What I mean by engage is to speak with this person at a human level. This by the way is the influence of Paul Greenberg, check his post on Engagement Here is a quote:
” The social customer is no longer a customer to gawk at, just a customer to deal with – like any other customer, with one explicit difference. He/she scales. Meaning they know how to impact other customers on a large scale who are “like them” in interests, and use the social channels that are not controlled by the company to do so.” – Paul Greenberg
In my follow-up, I suggested that:
“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.”
What I believe the diagram does is to dissect the issue and puts it back together. I try to illustrate the point that we are shifting from a focus of trying to control the left, to working with the person on the left. Talk to that person, interact with them at a person to person level, be human and be humane. If you want to call this Social CRM, maybe it is, if it is not Social CRM to you, then no worries – it is what it is. The key point is that the strongest bridge between your company and customers (past, present and future) are people. If you try to talk to everyone, worse, at everyone, then you are just broadcasting. As the number of people who choose alternate digital channels increases, it is only going to get harder…
What do you think, am I close?
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.
It is something many smart people have written about and it ‘feels like’ the right thing to do. Talk about it in a meeting, and you get ‘head nods’ of affirmation. But, we need to ask the tough question to find out where we really stand, as well as ‘why’. I am hoping that you are willing to be part of that process. Along with thinkJar, we are conducting a research project that challenges “Social Customer Service” a bit. Practitioners are invited to participate in the research, first by visiting the Survey (It should take about 10 minutes, tops) and/or participating in a follow-up discussion, if you are ready, willing and able.
The research and analysis will help to reveal insights in four key areas:
- Is the move to customer service using social necessary and beneficial?
- How to move from ‘traditional’ multi-channel to social multi-channel and cross-channel customer service?
- Knowledge management and social knowledge must collude, how can they be accomplished?
- Are communities what make ‘social’ work for customer service? Or is something else required?
Organizations face a variety of challenges, both technical and cultural, when they are considering adopting and emerging customer service processes. Yes, as much as customer service using Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Forums and Blogs has been talked about (evangelized, proselytized) on all the aforementioned channels, this is still very much an emergent practice. The survey results, interviews and subsequent analysis will help businesses to navigate the confusing and sometimes misdirected and hyped messages. Hopefully, if all goes to plan, the results will help the decision making process when it comes to adding and integrating new social channels effectively. One important debate topic, which the survey hopes to shed light on, is whether or not investments in social customer service is “money well spent.” Everyone’s knee-jerk reaction to this is ‘Of Course’ – but when you ask “why”, the answer is harder, and less consistent.
While Esteban will surely be chiming in with his own thoughts, here is a quick snippet: “We have been theorizing long enough, this is a good opportunity to ask the questions, directly to the practitioners regarding the direction of using social channels for customer service,” said Esteban Kolsky, principal and founder of thinkJar. “Further, this is an opportunity to understand both how the decisions are made and how the outcomes are measured.” One of the interesting things I have done with the first part of this research is to first isolate the announcement of the survey view email to specific folks and ask my executive peers and account teams to send the request directly. This second wave is view social channels, and I have a theory that the results will be a bit different (we will be able to segment the data).
The survey will be open for participation through November 23, 2011. If you are not interested in the survey itself, but would like to participate in the research, please reach out and we can arrange a call. Or, if you know of someone else, please take a moment and forward the link above, along. The results will be shared openly in January 2012. Again, the survey link is here we are hoping you are willing to take the time.
(For those who have read my thoughts over the past couple years, you probably know my thoughts on this topic. Even so, it is a valuable exercise to take a hard, objective look to make sure we are headed down the right path!)
- 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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