You've been socially served

  • Opinion
  • June 29, 2016
  • Katie Byrne
You've been socially served

When was the last time you used social media to force an outcome? And yes, I say force an outcome because, let’s face it, we all know that as soon as you begin posting in a public forum you’re probably going to get a resolution. There is also undoubtedly a reason you’re posting publicly with a gripe, complaint or request. In fact, when you think about it, just consider the last time you might have called or emailed to lodge a complaint or, indeed, a compliment. 

Global statistics tell us that 78 percent of people who complain on Twitter expect a response within an hour and with more and more brands ripping up the rule book and finding creative ways to respond to their customers (music-streaming service Spotify often responds to a query with the answer spelled out via songs or a playlist listing numerous song titles in order to provide a resolution), how are Kiwi brands embracing the inevitable change eroding tradition? 

If you follow the trajectory of social media, it has long been used as a marketing tool; a colourful extension of your brand, offering a real-time alternative to TV and print. The historic role of customer service has been played out behind the scenes or in the shadows – a quiet word with the sales assistant or waitperson; a phonecall to express dismay. When was the last time you called a company to tell them how much you love them? It’s just so much easier and more gratifying to share the warmth via Twitter.

Customer service via social media is the rising star within every channel. It’s the Jennifer Lawrence function of Facebook and Twitter: it can be playful, yet with purpose and if handled with respect it can bring that Midas touch to what could be ordinary conversations, turning normally dull corporate organisations into viral goodness and driving up that beloved metric, the NPS (net promoter score). 

Customer service is one of the reasons Facebook is improving Messenger and why Live Chat is being aimed at brands as a low-cost alternative and simple solution to their contact centre needs. It’s why cloud-based management platforms like Conversocial are becoming indispensable to global organisations looking to navigate the rapidly mounting volume of traffic smashing into their established structure. 

And it’s not like this is new. One swipe at Google will serve you up a feast of delicious amazing customer-service examples, but when you’re dining on a smaller budget, can you deliver the same experiences global brands are embedding? 

One familiar face aiming to sail the sea of change is Spark. Troy Rawhiti-Forbes is whipping up social goodness and says that social media is the foundation layer of decision making at Spark. 

“It’s where we meet the needs of customers who aren’t getting what they need from our products and services, and it’s where we look for intuitive feedback and advance warning on events that may affect our service or reputation,” he says. 

So, as brands identify and acknowledge that social media is no longer, or not simply an outbound tool aimed at distributing content, but gathering data and informing strategy, particularly via the voice of their customer, how are they harnessing it? Rawhiti-Forbes believes brands should appreciate that customer service is now an extension of content: “If we look at social customer service, every response a business gives becomes a piece of content. It’s branded; it’s there to engage, inform or reward a customer; and it’s probably attached to a bigger story, whether it’s a product in the market, discussion about the brand, or something else. There’s very little going on between a customer and a business that isn’t in some way related to the overall picture.” 

Leigh MacDonald is the general manager of direct channels at Kiwibank and believes that although some stereotypes still remain (and are reinforced), attitudes and mind-sets about customer service have changed. 

“Previously, the customer service proposition within businesses was devalued and traditionally the lowest paid in any organisation. It was the hygiene of the business and not the beating heart.”

However, as digital expanded, Macdonald argues, the business started to see strategic value in the channel’s ability to contribute to cost-out solutions, provide proactive brand experience and gather insights.  

“We’re empowered to bring our brand experience to life on channels that reflect our evolving and digitally dependent society,” she says.  

The sheer volume of what we consume and emit on a daily basis has been steadily increasing on social media, mirroring the growth of various networking channels. What does the future hold when we devour so ravenously on such a regular basis? With recent figures from Facebook illustrating that on average, people are spending more than 50 minutes a day on the channel, albeit probably browsing [insert random item here] videos, how can brands smash through that content ceiling? 

Brands that traditionally struggle with sexy marketing (hey, we can’t all make dancing ads) are using alternative ways of reaching that sweet spot with the customer and it starts with service. 

Katie Brown is digital content manager at ACC and believes its proactive approach to utilising social media, in addition to content and service, has resulted in success. 

“Over the past year we have increased our social team from one to three and we’ve also run more campaigns for the business which generate some customer inquiries,” she says. “We used social media as the main platform to deliver our levy consultation messages last year – the result was a record number of submissions, and a much higher level of interest and engagement in what is a pretty fundamental part of the ACC scheme.” 

But it’s not just about service. It’s about embedding your values and your brand DNA. It’s about your tone of voice and the ability to spot an opportunity when you see one – and not just an upsell, but a truly unique chance to share the love. Long gone are the days of ‘Dear Sir’ and ‘Yours sincerely’; it’s more like: Hey, ‘sup and cheers and responding to customers with GIFs. Ah, the humble GIF – the popular, stylish and playful cousin of the emoji. Here at Kiwibank we’ve embraced the GIF; we’ve tackled the hand-sketched response (not quite as talented as the folks at Waikato Civil Defence, but we’re trying).

Building capability in this space and within service agents is becoming the norm for many organisations, with on-boarding processes illustrating that they have the power (and autonomy) to be authentic and bring it. The training manual is changing – the influence is in the hands of the agents and brands need to accept that that’s the safest and sweetest tool at their disposal. 

Again, I defer to our good friend Rawhiti-Forbes, who had this to say: “The thing I say to our agents is ‘keep the message, burn the script’. Customers value responses that are meant for them, delivered by people with their own personalities. We’ve worked pretty hard to unleash that little, but vital, bit of potential. Granted, it’s a little trickier to pull off on Twitter, but thankfully emojis exist.” 

So as we burn templates and scripts and turn to emojis and GIFs, will we begin to see a change in the interactions within the customer service space on social media? As conversations around privacy heighten and airing your laundry loses its appeal, will we see a shift in more private conversations – leaning into the already fervent consumption of Messenger and the enhancements Facebook continue to steam ahead with? That’s another story. 

  • Katie Byrne is social media manager at Kiwibank, this article first appeared in the media edition of NZ Marketing magazine. 

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