Over the past few years I’ve become increasingly disillusioned with the customer service I’ve been given by my various service providers – gas, electricity, bank, telco, they’re all the same. It’s been a one-way street with everything stacked in favour of the service provider and very little the individual customer can do if the service doesn’t meet with expectations. Like it or lump it as they say.
My frustration reached its peak when I last moved house and had to spend considerable time on the phone to call centres arranging for services to be transferred to my new address – hardly an uncommon process that service centres have to deal with. Over the course of about 3 months I must’ve re-explained my situation countless times to different people with each Customer Services Representative (CSR) seemingly unable to access any prior history of my contact or problem.
The worst case of all was my triple play (home phone, broadband, TV) provider. I had been using their ebilling service at my old address for several months but the house move had required my old triple play account to be closed and a new one opened at the new address. And when I re-registered on their portal for the ebilling service on my new account, my email address was rejected with the reason that it was already in use on another account.
Now you don’t need to work for a billing company to see where the problem might be, but as it happens I do, and this only added to my frustration. After umpteen calls trying to resolve this with the call centre, and paying an extra £0.50 per month because I was having to receive a paper bill, I finally gave up fighting and registered for ebilling with a different email account. Not what you’d call a great customer experience.
It was at this time that I started thinking that consumers needed some kind of ‘SRM’ system – Supplier Relationship Management. A simple desktop application where you could track all interactions with your service providers, record telephone calls, store the name and role of the CSRs you spoke with, and so on; something that could become an official contact history for the supplier relationship and then be used to prove when the consumer is in the right.
Wishful thinking? Perhaps. But the idea was that something was needed to redress the balance in the customer / service provider relationship.
The emergence of social media
In the last 18 months, the rapid rise of social media has started to fulfil this role by giving a greater voice to the consumer and creating a platform for a public dialogue between service providers and their customers. In the ‘old world’ of customer services, if a customer was on the receiving end of poor customer service or even insulted over the phone by a CSR, it might occasionally make it into the newspapers if the customer managed to sell their story. But this would be a rare occurrence and in most cases the worst thing that would happen is that the customer may churn and then tell a handful of their friends.
However, in the era of social media there is now an online record of complaints and conversations, with the impact amplified by the speed of viral distribution it facilitates – examples of poor service can be reposted to millions of people within a matter of minutes and cause huge embarrassment to the company concerned.
Customer demand for social media as a service channel is on the up for a number of reasons:
• Familiarity – Many people are now communicating with their friends and contact networks using social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, so why not use the same for communicating with their service providers?
• Ubiquity – Social media is not just accessible on your PC, but also widely available through smartphone applications and SMS.
• Convenience – The asynchronous style of communications means there is no need to wait in a call centre queue to speak to a CSR; simply post a message and be notified automatically when a response comes in.
• Traceability – A full contact history is no longer the preserve of the service provider, but can be viewed by the customer at any time.
There is an understandable nervousness from CSPs and other service organisations about embracing social media as a service channel. On first appearances it seems to be something of a Pandora’s Box, and most companies are only beginning to dip their toe in the water in an effort to try and protect their brand in the online world.
The big worry is that by opening up social media as a service channel, CSPs will be inundated with requests and be ill-prepared to cope with the demand or the different nature of the communication. But the fact of the matter is that customers are talking about the services they experience anyway, and it is a question of whether the CSP wants to take an active part in that dialogue or not.
CSPs need not be scared of this shift in the relationship, it just requires a more mature and fair approach to managing customer relationships. A more transparent interaction means there is nowhere to hide and CSPs need to address the root cause of issues to prevent them happening again, rather than applying a sticking plaster approach or fobbing off the customer and denying a problem ever existed.
Similarly, customers who rant at the first sign of a problem are unlikely to endear themselves much to their service provider; and regular troublemakers may in the future find themselves cast off into the wilderness with no service provider prepared to have them as a customer. This may seem a bit extreme, but social media places a responsibility on both parties to behave and communicate in an appropriate manner.
An integrated service channel
The increasing use of social media as a service and interaction channel is now inevitable. The key challenge for CSPs is how quickly they can make the transition from the experimental ‘dipping the toe in the water’ phase, to making social media a scalable and fully integrated service channel alongside the more traditional call centres, self-care portals, apps and shops.
By doing this, CSPs can enhance their overall customer experience and gain other significant benefits, including:
• Customer insight – Social media analytics and sentiment analysis provides the opportunity to measure customer satisfaction and the perception of the services they receive.
• Service advocacy – Social media provides the opportunity to create added value through communities of like-minded people who can become advocates for the CSP.
• Increased revenues – By integrating social media with back office order management systems, CSPs have the opportunity to use social communities and service advocates to drive increased sales through product recommendations and clickthrough ordering.
Using social media, CSPs really can level the CRM landscape and create a two-way relationship from which both CSP and customer can benefit. It’s a brave new world for CSPs to step into, but our research indicates that as many as 70% of CSPs are either already experimenting with social media as a service channel or are planning to rollout social media as a service channel in the near future. And for the remaining 30%, they urgently need to set out their strategy or risk being left behind very quickly.
Interested in finding out more? Watch our on-demand webinar now: Going social and other new strategies for optimizing customer experience