Social customer service - are you ready? - Business Works
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Social customer service - are you ready?

Pete McGarr, MD, Tempero F ollowing yesterday's editorial, 'Social media rejected for customer service', in which research showed that customers prefer 'tradional customer service', today Pete McGarr, MD of Tempero looks at how Social Media will be the thing of the future.

Gartner’s latest social media report stated that using social media to promote products and communicate with consumers will be the new basic level of response expected by 2014.

It is clear that businesses ignoring customers on social media will continue to become increasingly rare. A customer service strategy on social media needs to be formed and implemented urgently if businesses do not want to be left in the wake of their competitors. It is simple: any business that ignores its customers can’t hold out much hope for a prosperous future.

If a customer called you on the phone, you would pick up the handset and speak with them. Businesses that leave the phone ringing (with loops of irritating hold music playing) will leave customers slamming down phones and cursing. So why do so many businesses switch off to communications from their customers via social media? It is common courtesy to pick up a ringing telephone, and over the next few years the same expectations will apply to contact made in the social media sphere.

Tools such as Facebook and Twitter are empowering, giving a more audible voice to the man on the street than ever before. Customer complaints are quickly flagged up and negative comments can spread infinitely more quickly than in the days of word-of-mouth moans. More than ever, complaints can quickly spread and reverberate through the web, causing real damage to brands.

Social media can appear daunting to many because of its inherently unruly nature, with all communications laid bare for the world to see. While respect can be earned through problem-solving responses, it is also important to understand that any kind of considered response can have a positive impact. O2, for example, shot up in the estimations of many by using humour to field abusive Twitter messages sent its way following a recent system failure.

That is the joy of engaging with a medium still very much in its infancy: to a certain extent we all have the freedom to find our own way. Over the last decade, one might say the customer engagement rule book has been torn up. There have certainly been several new chapters written.

Social media is all about taking part in conversations with people and connecting. Leaving customer concerns unaddressed will prompt anger and risks severing ties with people who might have a long-standing relationship with your brand. All businesses risk losing customers over an isolated bad experience and they need to be aware that ‘blanking’ customers online could have dire consequences.

It is simply not good enough to set up an online presence and think that it can be used as a one-way medium, plating up 'special offer' messages to be lapped up by legions of loyal customers. A digital silence will grate as much as and probably even more than, the looped telephone hold music; as they say, silence speaks volumes.

At boardroom level, it is true that mystery surrounds social media correspondence. Many businesses struggle to understand how to effectively create a social media strategy that can prove return on investment (ROI). It is certainly an ever-evolving beast, which makes predicting the future of social media extremely difficult. How can C-level executives predict, for example, the amount of resources they need to allocate to social media management and how do they measure its tangible benefits?

As we have seen with the one-time market leader Myspace fading into obscurity, things can dramatically change in a very short space of time. With privacy concerns and share prices plummeting, will it be right for businesses to commit resources to Facebook over the next few years? Only time will tell.

All too many firms overlook the importance of engaging properly and all too often you see interns managing social media accounts. In this day and age, these are the most prominent forward-facing part of an organisation to a sizeable proportion of the general public. The Swedish national Twitter account was recently handed over to citizens for weeks at a time, which was a great idea to give an insight into the everyday lives of Swedish people. However the vetting process for Tweeters left a little to be desired and a deluge of inappropriate, damaging content was published. This reflects the naivety many organisations appear to have when it comes to social media. Control of Twitter handles and Facebook pages should not be given over willy-nilly, such important publishing tools need to be heavily guarded.

Unfortunately, customers could not care less about these headaches facing businesses. They will continue to adopt and use social media sites to contact businesses in ever-increasing numbers and will be expecting a response to their messages.

Boardrooms need to lose their fear of social media and create policies, guidelines and strategies for using these channels to communicate effectively with customers, engaging with, rather than ignoring them.

Not many CEOs would question the ROI of the telephone for customer service and that is exactly how they now need to think about social media.

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