Tweets and posts spread the word and can save the day

Two leaders in the field of incorporating social media into customer service tell Jennie Little how establishing a digital presence can benefit a business


REBECCA DYE

From a customer service perspective, what we do is very personal and nothing can replace the one-to-one communication that our contact centre operators provide, says First Direct bank’s social media manager Rebecca Dye.

Social media enhances that contact and social media platforms allow us to push out messages quickly. When something goes wrong – say, problems accessing the website – sending out a tweet or posting a message on Facebook is very helpful.

Previously, an event like that would have seen an enormous number of calls to our contact centres. Now, we can reassure customers straightaway. But detailed conversations about a person’s finances still often take place on the phone.

First Direct made its initial steps into social media in 2009 with Talking Point, our own social media channel, which was superseded by First Direct Lab in August last year. In Lab we test new ideas and assess how customers feel about us. Our Facebook account went live in May 2011 and in January this year we launched our customer service Twitter feed.

We have a very technologically savvy customer base who operate in the social media space

We have a very technologically savvy customer base who operate in the social media space, so we have to be there.

We rely on our 24/7 team to moderate content and ensure it fits within the guidelines we’ve set out. Our social media teams know when to join the conversation and when to observe. Before a business gets into responding it has to listen first. Until you understand the volume of conversations and where they are happening, you can’t provide the right response.

It’s also vital to have the right policies and escalation procedures in place. The nightmare scenario is a complaint getting out of control and going viral. Training customer service staff on social media, so that they are empowered to respond quickly and confidently, is essential.

The biggest challenge is how to tie up all our customer service offerings. There are conversations happening in Lab and on Twitter, as well as through our contact centres. The last thing customers want is to have to repeat a query or complaint, so we are exploring the different software options to provide a seamless service across all customer systems, but it’s not straightforward.

Google + is probably the next big thing, but we’re not rushing into hundreds of new platforms. You have to consider which social media space is right for your business. For us, we want to have a clear purpose through each channel, just as we’ve always had through our contact centres.

Rebecca Dye is social media manager for First Direct, the bank that launched in 1989 with no branch network, operating online and via UK-based contact centres.

JOSHUA MARCH

In the past, customer service was a back-office function, but social media is pushing it into the public domain, says Joshua March, chief executive of Conversocial, providers of social customer service software.

The level of service that customers get via social platforms is far higher than elsewhere precisely because it is public and so visible. The move in online communications away from corporate websites and email towards social media is a long-term trend that has only really just begun. The shift is from one-to-one to one-to-many.

I don’t think there are any industries that wouldn’t benefit from using social media to deal with customers

Many businesses still only turn to social media as a last resort; they’ve had a customer crisis and only then start talking to their customer base through social platforms. There are positive examples of this. The airline KLM started experimenting with social when the ash cloud hit, and its website and phone lines couldn’t cope with customer queries. A small social team started to help through Twitter and now they have 200 people permanently helping customers this way.

In many firms, the social strategy is owned by the marketing department rather than customer service, but it is misguided spreading responsibility across different managers and different budgets.

You need someone senior in an organisation to say that embracing this properly is important for it to succeed. In the case of Tesco, it was Terry Leahy, now former chief executive, who was very pro-social and put the supermarket ahead of the game.

I don’t think there are any industries that wouldn’t benefit from using social media to deal with customers. Some lend themselves to it more than others; retail, for example, can do almost everything over social platforms, while pharmaceutical or financial services firms may have greater legal or regulatory issues to take into account.

Contact centre-based businesses have to embrace these new types of technology to survive. Cloud computing can make services faster and social media speeds up communication. Organisations must integrate social media with the rest of their customer service solutions and not keep social in a silo. We think social media will soon become the most important one-to-one communication channel and those who don’t see that will render themselves obsolete.

Joshua March is co-founder and chief executive of Conversocial, providers of social customer service software to businesses, including Tesco, Marks & Spencer, NET-A-PORTER and Groupon.