2014 Predictions for Social Customer Support

Crystal Ball

Crystal Ball (Photo credit: justin_a_glass)

Wow, is it time for predictions already? Things move fast in social, and to me it seems the whole year has flown by.

Marketers are predicting that more money will be spent on social media next year because of its attractive price tag and its ability to reach consumers where they are. There is also chatter about whether Google+ will gain traction this year, and questions around how Snapchat will factor in.

Regardless of the platform, it seems that the concepts of social listening and customer support are here to stay. The changing venues of this listening may create some challenges in the customer support department as we scramble to get the feed from the latest new location. Thankfully,  monitoring tools have made tremendous advances and many are able to add sites very quickly to get the data needed. 

5 Social Customer Support Predictions for 2014

  • Measurement – Listening and engagement tools are not only developing rapidly, but specializing as well. This should enable us to move away from soft metrics on social care and get insight to some really neat things, like cost per transaction, handle time, and the like.
  • First Stop: Social Media – Historically, many customers reached out on social media out of frustration with traditional channels, and as a last resort. As social care proves to be a handy option, I think we might see some customers head straight for social media.
  • Push for Faster Response Times – Customers want responses right now. Engagement tools are increasingly able to help us respond more quickly. Seems we may see a trend toward decreasing response times.
  • More Volume, Staffing Increase – As our friends in marketing spend more ad dollars on social (as their 2014 predictions say), and customers come to us first expecting faster response times (boy I’m starting to feel like that song, “On the first day of Christmas” where the list gets longer and longer), we’ll probably need more staff to support that. Take those good operational metrics with you when you ask for that headcount; you’ll probably need them!
  • Integration – Now that social care is established and collecting customer feedback, expect that feedback to be integrated into other departments.

So, what about this concept that if everyone is complaining, it should start to matter less as our senses dull? I do agree that with so many customers sharing their brand experiences it may be more challenging for stories to go viral; however I don’t think that provides any safety to companies. It seems that the general impression your brand makes on consumers as a whole may rise above the din of countless individual stories to leave a lasting impression. We saw this with the cancelled Chase Bank #AskJPM Twitter Q&A. Though you may not have read every comment, the overall sentiment was pretty clear.

I’m excited to see what 2014 holds for social customer support. We have the opportunity to be personal at scale, and then understand what our customers are telling us to better serve their needs.

KISSmetrics Infograph Illustrating Successful Customer Service

KISSmetrics recently published this insightful infograph with useful data gathered from consumers nationwide. Click the image to enlarge.

Why do Companies with Great Customer Service Succeed?
Source: Why do Companies with Great Customer Service Succeed?

Spelling Counts In Social Media Customer Support

Cover of "The Elements of Style, Fourth E...

Cover of The Elements of Style, Fourth Edition

Not so long ago, the majority of us got our news mainly through television, newspapers and trade magazines. These formal establishments did (and mostly still do) have teams of editors and multiple revisions before articles go to print. Facts are verified with sources, grammar and punctuation is confirmed through style guides, and spelling is double-checked with a dictionary. Boring process, right?

Fast forward to today. Real news is distributed by ordinary citizens without the aide of an editing staff. This allows quick access to so many varying viewpoints. Unfortunately, the lack of extra eyes on work can allow those spelling and grammatical errors to creep in. And though social media has adopted a more relaxed style than traditional business writing, clear spelling and grammar errors can still detract from the point of your communication.

Scenario: You own a vacuum cleaner business, and provide customer support on social media. A customer comes to you with a complaint; your company failed to properly pack a unit and one of the required attachments is missing. In your apology, there is a misspelling. This distracts the customer from your response, and the customer replies “Well, how could I expect your company to remember all the parts if your employees can’t even spell!” This is a severe example, of course; however customers expect professionalism and accurate data from companies.

Much is forgiven in our modern take on grammar; ending sentences in prepositional phrases may not raise an eyebrow. And that’s fine. Overly formal writing is not the point. You can be sure that this blog post on grammar would definitely fail in William Strunk Jr.’s eyes (if you’re not a word nerd like me, that guy wrote The Elements of Style, in 1918).  Today’s point is to write in a way that makes your audience comfortable and creates a sense of trust.

Ways to check spelling and grammar before posting:

  • Use any built-in spell check feature available in your software
  • If spell check is absent, copy your text into Word or other word-processing software, then paste back into Twitter, Facebook, etc.
  • Use spelling websites to look up words in question (for spelling and meaning!)
  • Re-read your own copy to catch anything the spell check does not
  • Pretend you are your reader. Does your copy make sense? Did you clearly convey your message and answer all questions?
  • When in doubt, ask a friend to read your copy

I hope these tips help you. I know I’ll be re-reading this post before I publish. You might lose faith in me if you found a spelling error in here!

Practice Makes Perfect for Customer Care on Social Media

Undercover Boss (U.S. TV series)

Undercover Boss (U.S. TV series) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Getting really good at something requires practice. So does maintaining that skill level.  I remember my first customer service job, I was so nervous. I had no idea what to do or say. Taking that first phone call was terrifying. What if they ask me… you know, a question or something? What would I do? But then, you do it more, you learn things, and before you know it, you’re pretty good. And you stay good because your skills are constantly used.

Before I knew it, a couple decades passed (can you believe it!) and I’m running a social media customer support operation. Maybe you are too, since you’re reading this blog about a very small-niche specialty. Creating a framework to support operations can be all-consuming. It can seem impossible to find the time to go exercise those customer service skills again. I recommend, however, that you do just that. Taking some time on a regular basis to answer customer posts and complete the tasks your team members perform daily can provide valuable insight into process improvement opportunities. It can also ensure that your expectations of your team and your customer are reasonable. There is just no substitute for walking in the shoes of your team to shed light on their reality. The television series “Undercover Boss” shows us how illuminating it can be to provide the customer service you prescribe (well, it’s a bit formulaic and over the top, but still provides a good lesson.) We see there that occasionally the processes we develop do not perform in the field as we imagined. Below I’ve outlined a few steps that can help ensure you have an accurate view of the team and customer experience.

3 Steps for Hands-on Leadership:

  • Schedule regular meetings with your team. Request feedback and implement necessary changes.
  • Observe team performance. Discuss findings and ask for opinions.
  • Block out regular times to personally complete tasks your team would complete. Correct any pain points after discussion with the team.

So, give it a try. Tweet a response to your customer; post a reply on Facebook. For call centers, go ahead and personally call a customer. If you’re in retail, go chat with your customer. You might find everything running very smoothly, or you may find some opportunities for growth.

Update: Chase Ambushes My Twitter IPO Trade with Poor Customer Service

Cold blue light

Cold blue light (Photo credit: Daremoshiranai)

As an update, I think I lost. Or we both did. It certainly feels that way, because we’re breaking up. The goal here was really to have Chase correct a process that appeared broken. You heard the first part of the story in my last blog post, Chase Ambushes My Twitter IPO Trade with Poor Customer Service. Here’s what happened next.

That same night I complied with the bank’s instructions and, after the kids went to bed, I got online and requested the wire transfer again. I received another lovely confirmation number. I then wrote an email to Jamie Dimon, CEO of JP Morgan Chase and it read:

Jaime, 

Today I had a poor experience with a risk policy Chase has in place. While the branch staff was understanding and the Twitter support staff responded quickly, I thought I’d let you know this experience is prompting me to take my business elsewhere after more than 10 years as a customer. I’m attaching the blog post I wrote to document the event. wp.me/p3jcDY-92 
 
Take care 
Yesterday morning I checked online and the transfer had not yet completed. I called the security department and was interrogated for a few minutes before being told that my trade, placed at 8:05pm, was in queue to be approved. Later I received a call from Kati in Jamie’s executive escalations office. She seemed fully informed and ready to help. I provided her the update that more than a dozen hours later, the second wire transfer was not yet approved. She said she would call me back after her investigation.
When Twitter was ready to trade, I, sadly, was not.
Around 3pm I received a call from a cheery gentleman at E*Trade, just wanting to let me know my wire transfer had been received and was ready for trading. Boy, E*Trade has some great customer service, don’t they? That was pretty neat. To be fair, my nice branch manager called me around 1pm and I was unable to take her call. Maybe she would have told me the transfer was complete. So, we’ll say 17 hours for the wire transfer to be approved.
Right after 5pm, I received a call back from Kati. She said she would waive all the wire transfer fees for me, but indicated that the Chase process was followed and working as designed. I almost fell out of my seat. Kati said that all trades had to be rejected by 4pm, and that her team did try to call to confirm. I asked if she had checked the time of those calls, and she said she’d have to look. I shared with her that the calls came at 3:47pm and 3:49pm while I was on a conference call. So 13 minutes before they blocked web access and rejected my trade. Kati seemed unmoved and indicated the department may get backed up at times. I also explained to her that making me place the trade again myself after they ambushed it was really a poor customer experience, and the entire process could use revisiting. I explained if procedure didn’t change, that meant this could happen to me again. And by continuing to bank with Chase, I would essentially be consenting to that. I would be saying it’s more important the security process be convenient for Chase, and that it’s ok to treat me as guilty until proven innocent by “stepping” into a branch.
Well, I can’t consent to that. So, based on my conversation with Kati (which to me is the same as speaking with Jamie Dimon because if you email him, you get Kati), I have come to the conclusion that I am an acceptable loss to Chase bank. So, with a bit of sadness, after more than 10 years, we’re breaking up.

Chase Ambushes my Twitter IPO Trade with Poor Customer Service

Chase Bank Logo

Chase Bank Logo (Photo credit: Neubie)

Chase has some processes in place that could apparently use an overhaul. While Karen and T.J. at their Dunwoody branch displayed admirable customer service skills, I’m sorry to say it won’t be enough to save this 10-year Chase customer. I’m really disappointed.

This morning, excited for the Twitter IPO coming tomorrow, I logged on to www.chase.com to start my wire transfer to my new E*Trade account. It’s a fairly small transfer; I’m no Wall Street guru; I’m a social media nerd that wants to participate in this monumental happening. Yesterday, I had successfully set up my E*Trade account and done the initial wire transfer necessary to get the account going. So today, I expected no problems. I know that E*Trade requires a few hours to process the transfer to fund my stock purchase. And, tomorrow’s the big day.

Chase’s website gives every indication that my transfer has been completed. I get a lovely confirmation number and all. So, I figure that all should be ok. How exciting. Late this afternoon, while on a conference call, I get a phone call from a toll-free number on my cell phone that I send to voice mail. After my call, I get another call, this time it’s from the nice man at E*Trade, asking if I have any questions. I said “yes, as a matter of fact, I’d like to know how long it takes a wire transfer to post to the account.” He assures me if I completed the transfer early this morning, which I did, it should already be there. I went to log on to my chase account online, and it was… well, it was locked down. I got a message instructing me to call a telephone number. I thought, “Oh no, what is going on? This has never happened in 10 years.” And then the fun really started.

I called the telephone number, and the man said that no information could be given to me over the phone, that I would need to go to a branch in person before access could be restored to my online account. That sounds ominous, right? And, I’m at work, trying to, well, you know… work. But this sounds serious. I mean the wire transfer was really not quite so much, not 5 figures even, so…what could this be? So I gathered my things and raced for the car and on the way, it dawned on me. Chase was concerned the wire transfer was fraudulent. Chase was worried about its money. Then I thought about the voicemail I received earlier and called it. It was Chase. They had activity on the account they wanted to verify. So I called the number and asked if this was linked to my account being locked. The lady said she couldn’t confirm anything and that I’d have to visit the branch and produce 2 forms of ID before any information could be shared. Well, that did it. Now I was angry.

Here I am, excited for my IPO purchase, scheduling my wire transfer online. There is no posted dollar limit to wire transfers. No warning that typing in the wrong number will cause my account to be locked down or blown up. No indication the transfer has not been made. Just a lovely confirmation number. Then more than eight hours later my online account  is locked, I’m being summoned to the bank to produce ID like a criminal. Because Chase was worried about losing its money, calling it protecting me.

So, I leave early and go across town to the closest branch. I have to call my husband and ask him to leave work to get the kids, because there’s no way I’ll be home anywhere near time in this new traffic scenario. When I get to the branch I’m furious, and do my best not to take it out on T.J., the banker that had the misfortune of being available when I walked in the door after 4pm. What did I say? I’ll tell you what I said: “Here are my two forms of ID. It’s really me. Now close all of my accounts, because this is ridiculous. You don’t complete my trade, you don’t bother to tell me for 8 hours, you won’t tell me why and treat me like a criminal and make me come here in person. Well, careful what you wish for, because I’m here in person, and I want my money back. All of it.” Now, is that what you want your customers to say, Chase? Is that worth it? doesn’t it cost much more money to get another me?

But then I realized, if I close my accounts, I still can’t complete my wire transfer. Chase is a HUGE bank. They trade stocks. They can do this trade for me directly, on the house. Save me some trouble. Wait, what’s that? No they can’t? Oh, I have an account, just not the “Right Kind” of account to make that happen. Can they push through the original wire transfer? No, no they can’t do that either. They can just unlock everything they locked and ask me to do it again, myself. Do I have my E*Trade wire information with me? Oh yeah, I carry that around on a piece of paper in my purse. So, after all of this, what I got was a bunch of “we don’t know what happened,” and “we’re really sorry for the inconvenience, but we’re protecting [ourselves while inconveniencing you].” Wow. Great customer service.

Let’s bullet out the customer touch points that went poorly:

  • No indication on the website of any limits on wire transfers (dollar amount, time between transfers, potential blow-up of online access if you guess wrong)
  • Clear confirmation number given that the transaction was complete
  • 8 hour delay in notification of suspected fraud
  • No indication that the wire transfer was cancelled
  • No request for security question and answer when I called for details to be able to provide me some information about what was happening to me
  • No information provided
  • Requirement that I “step in” a branch to produce 2 forms of ID before any information was provided
  • No ability to explain the reason for my inconvenience at the branch
  • No ability to transfer funds for me on site
  • No ability to push the wire transfer through on site
  • No ability to really help me at all

Let’s see how this impacted me:

  • Uncertainty as to whether I can get in on the Twitter IPO before the bell rings tomorrow
  • Fear that someone fraudulently accessed my account
  • Had to leave work early
  • Anger about the inconvenience
  • Was an hour later getting home with traffic
  • Missed bath time with my kids
  • Had to re-do the original wire transfer from the morning
  • Spent time writing a lengthy blog post
  • Will have to talk to the branch manager tomorrow
  • Have to find a new bank that treats me better
  • Have to transfer all my money to some new institution and learn new codes. They probably will be just as bad.
  • Have to tell all my friends that I’ve referred to Chase about my experience
  • Have to be mad at Chase for some period of time

So, as you can see, nobody really wins here. I’ve spent all of my personal time today on this ridiculous evolution. I will say that Chase either hires well or trains well, because Karen, the branch manager, and T.J., my banker, had patience like you wouldn’t believe. I kept apologizing and telling them I know it wasn’t their fault and I was sorry to be so frustrated, and that it wasn’t them. Even the @chasesupport team reached out to me within an hour of me tweeting them, which is great. They said they were sorry and asked if they could help somehow. So clearly there are some good things happening at Chase. But, whatever this was that happened to me today, was not what I’m looking for in a bank.

Chase, let me ask you. This policy, this whatever it is. At this price point, was it worth it? Did your process work? Do many people hack accounts to do wire transfers to E*Trade? Is that what did it? I know you say you’re doing it to help me, but you’re really not. If I dispute this, you’ll fix it for me. You’re doing this for you. And we’re probably going to have to break up because if it.

Customer Expectation Infograph

Leora Grace posted this great infograph on customer expectations I thought I would share with you. I really like the case study that illustrates how a customer can still feel he was made whole though the problem cannot be fully solved.

Infograph by CallCentre.co.uk 

Top 50 social customer service research

Tip Sheets for Social Customer Support Reps

EXCLUSIVE - Waffle House grill cook cheat sheet

EXCLUSIVE – Waffle House grill cook cheat sheet (Photo credit: nickgraywfu)

Have you ever lost your cell phone, and realized that you don’t know anyone’s telephone number by heart anymore? Thank goodness for cloud storage, so your new phone can magically have all the data you need at your fingertips. It’s just much easier to get done what you need to do when the data you need is right there.

The same is true for your customer support staff, social or otherwise. Providing a tip sheet, or quick reference guide, is the easiest way to ensure that your team has the most important information right at their fingertips. This helps them project a confident, well-informed image to your customers and helps them feel more self-assured and knowledgeable. The smarter they feel about the product or service they’re discussing, the more they’ll feel comfortable talking to customers about it.

Here are just a few ideas of things that could be helpful on a tip sheet:

Cheat Sheet Items

  • Mission Statement – It doesn’t have to be fancy, It’s just a good idea to make sure the team sees the big picture.
  • Quality Standards – Which tasks can I complete that look like good service to our customers?
  • Priorities – If many things start to happen all at the same time, which should I do first? Which should be put off?
  • Contact Information – Let the team know who can get what done, and how to reach those people.
  • Emergency Information – List instructions for emergencies.

Social Customer Support Cheat Sheet Items

In addition to those above, add these for your social team:

  • Hours of Operation – When are posts expected to be answered?
  • List of Monitored Channels – Facebook? Twitter? Pinterest? YouTube? A comprehensive list helps ensure nothing is missed.
  • SLA – Desired time to response for each channel. This is particularly helpful with multiple channels
  • Thresholds for escalation – Let your team know how they can tell it’s time to escalate.  (X number of posts on the same topic in X hours need to be escalated)

Each business is different, but generally these categories of information can get even new or temporary employees through challenging situations.

Using Social Media for a Retention Aid

A life preserver, or toroidal throwable person...

A life preserver, or toroidal throwable personal flotation device. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What I’m about to write is not a new concept, but I’m hopeful it will help us regain enthusiasm. When the idea of providing customer care through social media came about, the air was filled with the excitement of possible uses. One of those uses is as a retention vehicle.

Keeping customers, as we’ve discussed before, is much less expensive than attracting new ones. If you have a marketing department, I bet they have lots of research to share with you on the subject. So how do you keep customers from leaving? What if you could get early warning that they’re thinking of leaving, and save them right before that happens? Well, in days past, companies weren’t necessarily privy to those conversations. But fast forward to this wonderful “sharing” age of social media, and you can listen in on plenty of public conversations happening about your brand. What do people like? What makes them mad? Who’s thinking of leaving?

Wow, we can hear when people are thinking of leaving? Yes, we can. And what should we do with that information? Well, I think we ought to dive right in and understand what’s not working for our customer, and get to a place where it’s working. Really, really quickly. That makes sense, right? So the last post I wrote, “Connections Into Social Customer Support,” would apply here as well. That quick connection into your retention department (whether your retention department is thousands of people strong, or just Suzie, from down the hall, towing the line on her own) matters not. What matters is making sure that when your customer says he’s had one or more experience that makes them want to leave, someone with the authority to make that customer better reaches out to provide assistance.

This may seem like we’re training customers to come to social media and complain. And maybe more will. But those may be the people that were just going to leave without saying goodbye. Demonstrating your willingness to assist customers in a public environment sends a strong message to all watching that when customers express frustration, your company reaches out to acknowledge the customer concern and attempts to make things right.

Connections Into Social Customer Support

Plug

Plug (Photo credit: Samuel M. Livingston)

Here’s the thing. I do believe in treating social customer support as an escalation path. I know, there are many people that gasp and say we’re training customers to do the wrong thing. People say we are teaching customers to contact us through public social channels first because they will be satisfied more quickly there. And they say that this is bad, because people will flock to the channel for special attention. But I disagree. Under one condition.

I think the social customer support department has to have a direct line into all departments that can make things happen. Yep. That’s what I said. That’s tricky, and it requires a certain corporate culture.

If you can take a social inquiry and get it to the front of the line where it can be immediately solved, that looks great. But the power behind that, the part that’s real, is being able to reach deep down into that issue and solve for root cause. I mean, while you’re in there, fix it for the 1000+ people who felt the same but didn’t complain, right? And then the actual benefit to the organization is the fact that you saved calls into your call centers and improved customer experience by eliminating the problem entirely. Social bubbles up so quickly that you can be made aware of a problem, size it, troubleshoot it and solve it in a fraction of the time it takes the traditional call center path to ignite.

But I’m not sure you can do that without direct links into each business area. And creating those relationships takes a lot of outreach, charisma, and daring. Other business units may not appreciate the value of social customer care, and may feel threatened by the exposure social customer care brings. Let’s face it, social care is scary at first. So, I’d say there’s work to be done there. But to be truly impactful to customers, and by extension, your shareholders, I’m thinking it requires taking the plunge to forge relationships, start discussions, provide education and information on the benefits that customer support on social media can provide.

The standard point of view is that people are already out there complaining about you in social. We’re still trying to get used to the idea of publicly admitting fault or error, and so the whole concept is daunting. But if you’re not a part of the conversation, you can’t add your point of view. And if your part of the conversation doesn’t add real value, it’s just fluff. Solving a single customer problem, then learning from it and removing it from your entire customer base is, well… that’s kind of impressive, right? As a customer, I’m impressed by that.