Roundtable Series: Online Customer Service

Our ongoing Social Media Marketing Use Case blog series is based on recent roundtable discussions with social media marketing professionals. The series explores social media marketing topics with the goal of sparking open discussion and informing social strategy. Previous posts in the series talked through lead generation and building brand awareness. The third use case in our series, online customer service, focuses on how businesses can utilize social networks to improve the online customer service experience for consumers.

Using their @comcastcares Twitter handle, Comcast has successfully used social media to provide online customer service. Frank Eliason (@FrankEliason) led a team of 17 people to provide customer care for Comcast customers over Twitter. While some companies have followed suit, others are reluctant to provide social media-focused online customer service. What’s clear from our roundtable discussion is that regardless of whether companies address brand issues and sentiment publicly, people will talk across social media channels. So what should companies do—and expect—from online customer service as a use case for social media marketing? Here are the ideas and points from our discussion.

Three Core Online Customer Service Opportunities

  • Reactive: Response to a direct customer complaint, comment, or inquiry. For instance, a customer tweets to @comcastcares stating, “I can’t figure out how to use the new interactive guide on my television.” @ComcastCares responds with a link to their online user guide.
  • Proactive: Engaging a customer who has posted a complaint, question or comment about the company, brand or product on a social media channel, but that is not directed at a company. For instance, if a consumer tweets, “I can’t figure out how to use the new Comcast interactive guide on my television.” While the remark wasn’t directed at the Comcast online customer service group, they respond with an @ message to the consumer with the same link. This proactive approach shows the consumer that they are keenly interested in ensuring a positive user experience.
  • Progressive: Engaging a consumer who has trouble finding a solution to a problem or even a consumer who has a problem with a competitor’s product. For instance, a consumer tweets “My internet speed never goes faster than 10 MB/s.” @ComcastCares could respond with, “We’d love to help you solve your issue. What’s your zip code? Perhaps we have a better solution.” This could be a sales or a customer service function.

Barriers to Online Customer Service

  • Fear: Fear of acknowledging mistakes in public could be a significant barrier for a company or brand to enact real-time, online customer service. However, remember that consumers are going to talk about your brand regardless of whether you are listening and responding to those comments. Wouldn’t you rather have the opportunity to turn a negative experience into a positive one?
  • Resources and Planning: Taking a reasoned approach to providing online customer service via social networks takes some planning and coordination. How many hours a day will be covered? Who is responsible for coverage? Do those people cover social networks exclusively? Does this effort require additional resources, or can the business start with existing personnel? How does this overlap with sales and marketing functions? There are answers to these kind of questions for other customer service channels and the same should be true for online customer service. Current escalation procedures, plus procedures for escalating critical public issues, should be known and in place.

Online Customer Service Is Marketing

  • How does thinking of customer service as a marketing function change the scope of the role of customer service for your brand?
  • There is a huge opportunity for brands to enhance their relationships with their customers and develop advocacy through online customer service. Comcast was able to change public perception of their brand through the positive public online customer service experience. Not all problems can be solved to a customer’s satisfaction; but the willingness of a brand to show they care about the customer’s experience is half the battle.

How can brands offer online customer service on social media?

  • Test the waters: It’s more than likely that brands that are socially active are already fielding online customer service questions and issues through their social accounts. Brands can begin by actively listening for customer needs, questions, issues, etc. and involving the customer service organization as part of the social media marketing process. Those key individuals can be tasked with responding (in a timely manner) to the real-time customer inquiry and problem resolution. There needs to be a mechanism in place for coordination and assignment of social conversations and responses to make this a viable first step.
  • Measure value: How does this shift in activity improve customer satisfaction? How has call/email volume decreased since enacting real-time online customer service? Has the sentiment about the brand improved? Make sure that you have key performance indicators (KPIs) to measure the effectiveness of the effort. But also make sure that you give the effort enough time to have an effect.
  • Pick the right people: Make sure that you select the right people to provide this type of support. The people chosen should be well-versed in social media as well as your brand/product. The make-up of your work force can drive or kill the opportunity. Choose wisely!
  • Dedicate: Brands that have successfully tested the waters can take the next step—dedicating resources (personnel, procedures, social accounts) to online customer service. But don’t forget that it’s just one avenue for customers to connect with the brand and have issues resolved. Don’t lose sight of the overall value of online customer service and satisfaction.
  • Be first: Brands that take this step to provide real-time service set the bar for their competitors. They are seen as forward-thinking leaders rather than players trying to catch-up. Being first in a brand category provides significant competitive advantage (press coverage, brand buzz, etc).
  • Crowdsource: Part of the advantage of “public” customer service over social networks is the ability to crowdsource. Publishing useful information and great content to support the customer experience is a great way to have your customers spread the word through their own personal social networks. It’s a mind shift away from traditional customer service towards the development of an online customer service community. Your customers can help others, and you can point your customers to the community as a resource.

Customer service is never an easy function, and selling social media as a channel for online customer service may be difficult in your organization. Whereas saving money may be one goal, make sure you also think about customer satisfaction and extending customer lifetime value when pitching a plan to your company.  Done well, your efforts can also improve retention, develop advocacy, reduce the cost of customer acquisition, and inspire crowdsourcing. Don’t forget that all your employees are your brand ambassadors. Even though they may be home and surfing Facebook, it’s likely that they are still “on the clock” when it comes to advocating your brand or company. Customer service is every employee’s responsibility, whatever their job.

Has your company or brand engaged in real-time, online customer service? How has the experience changed your company?

Roundtable Series: Building Brand Awareness

Our ongoing Social Media Marketing Use Case blog series is based on recent roundtable discussions with social media marketing professionals. The series explores social media marketing topics with the goal of sparking open discussion and informing social strategy. Our last post discussed how lead generation is a very B2B concept (or high-ticket B2C) and how companies can utilize social marketing to accomplish this goal.

This week’s discussion centers on building brand awareness. Many companies jumping on the social media marketing bandwagon are doing so with the goal of building brand awareness. From local businesses to multi-national brands, social media marketing can provide new ways for the brand to get closer to its current customers. It can also help reach new consumers otherwise unaware of or disengaged from their business. The roundtable focused on how businesses go about developing brand awareness with social media marketing.

The Initial Brand Awareness Use Case: Get out there!

  • Many brands jump in with a Twitter account and a Facebook page. But without some sort of ongoing commitment, policies, and goals the accounts become dormant and whatever effort was put into them turns into negative impressions. It’s estimated that only 25% of brands with Twitter accounts are active!
  • Some brands that haven’t started on social media may be suffering from “analysis paralysis”—the need to get every policy and procedure in place before embarking on social media marketing. Policies need to be in place (you don’t want employees representing your company or brand’s voice in an unfavorable way), but you also can’t let fear keep you from getting engaged in social media marketing.

Core Marketing Metrics: Brand Awareness, Impressions, and Mentions

  • Brand awareness, a metric that has grown out of traditional media, has now been applied to digital media. Brand impressions are also a key metric and are often used to predict sales based upon prior campaign performance. For example, X media will provide Y impressions and will generate (on average) Z sales.
  • Companies use brand mentions on social networks as a core metric not only for measuring social media but general brand awareness. Counting brand mentions over time shows how much buzz there is about a brand and how that buzz changes over time, correlates with other media buys, etc.
  • Brand mentions are often used to see how new messaging has spread through social media. For instance, brands may track how many people have been using their old messaging to discuss or describe their product, how many are using the new messaging, and how the conversation shifts over time.
  • In some cases, agencies are driving these metrics as part of their overall branding strategy for a company. But are agencies prohibiting companies from doing more? Traditional agencies and their brand customers know and rely upon standard metrics; but how can they move towards using new media metrics to show value? And should they manage their clients’ “social voice”? Does it matter to consumers that an agency is the “man behind the curtain” for a brand’s social account? Food for thought.

Use Case for Building Brand Awareness: Consumer Engagement

  • Social marketing should be about engaging people; the awareness starts with that initial light touch; for instance, following someone on Twitter who mentions an interest that pertains to your market, a competitive brand, the use of a product in your category, etc.
  • Brands can take that initial awareness further and engage consumers more deeply. Social networks provide so much more opportunity than just brand awareness and impressions. Brand awareness is a good start as a use case, but social media marketing affords so much more. (We’ll talk about other use cases in driving consumer engagement in a later discussion).

Brand Awareness: Solid Proof Points, Elusive ROI

  • Bank example: An agency’s bank customer saw the average age of their customer drop by four years after they launched their Facebook page. Since there was no way to track click-throughs to account sign-ups, there was little direct ROI data. However, the demographic data were very telling.
  • How do you measure goodwill? Social media marketing helps to build goodwill between the brand and current and potential customers. Sentiment analysis and brand mentions can help showcase more positive attitudes among consumers. But can a business measure the ROI for goodwill?
  • Engagement can be viral. Traditionally, if a consumer had a positive experience with a brand, he or she would tell people on a one-to-one basis. With social media, that positive experience can turn into a viral brand bonanza. If brands are not engaged in social media marketing to build and monitor brand awareness, this situation has the potential to turn into a brand nightmare (consider “United Breaks Guitars,” for example).

Brand Awareness: Using Social Media Marketing with Other Channels and Messaging

  • Social marketing should be used in a coordinated way to drive brand awareness. It is not the only available method to drive awareness, nor is it the right channel for every situation. For example, email remains the primary channel for receiving deals, offers, or promotions, especially among B2B brands. Both have their value – and their place – in a brand strategy.
  • One last thought: make sure you understand individual consumer preferences for communication with your brand and adhere to them strictly!

How is your brand using social marketing to drive awareness? Let us know!

Stay tuned for our next post in the Social Media Marketing Use Case series on customer service.

The Social CXO | An Executive’s Guide to Social Business

I think a lot of executives struggle with social business, because it doesn’t follow simple, regular business patterns. There’s no obvious strategy, process or ROI. A tweet or a blog post just can’t compete with a lead or an order in the CXO mind. Social business is uncertain and ephemeral. Outside the firm, customers make choices based on conversations. Inside the firm, CXO’s drive profit through policies and procedures. It’s a fundamentally different dynamic. For many CXO’s, it’s much more comfortable to sit snugly behind the corporate firewall surrounded by obedient hierarchies, simple processes and sanitized information, than it is to venture out into the chaotic world of social business.

The Social CXO Challenge

While clean, systematic internal processes provide the control CXO’s need to manage efficiently, they are not the real world. The real world outside the corporate firewall where customers, partners and investors live is a messy, personal one. Harnessing the chaotic power of the organic conversations and processes that criss-cross the company social network and directing it toward a relevant business goal is the fundamental Social CXO challenge. Social CXO’s uncover insights in social conversations to inform business strategy. They demonstrate industry leadership through social media and build business relationships through social networking. Social CXO’s cultivate social communities that connect employees, customers, partners and investors to reengineer business processes across the corporate firewall for dramatic service and productivity improvements.

The Social CXO Has A High Online IQ

CXO’s love data. Most CXO’s are surrounded by more data than they can possibly digest. However, the vast majority of that data consists of internal metrics: revenue and costs, leads and conversions, cycle times and defects. A few valuable internal metrics monitor key touch points where internal processes intersect with external ones, such as revenue, leads and support issues. However, all these metrics suffer from internal biases, because they are defined internally. Moreover, the external processes they sample are not nearly as structured as their internal counterparts. For example, every CMO knows that lead conversions and sales funnels are extremely loose approximations of a customer’s true random walk to purchase.

social cxo random walk

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Online data may not have the cleanliness or certainty of internal data, but it does have objectivity. Unlike internal measures that shadow reality, online intelligence provides direct access to real customer opinions, real industry commentary, and real competitor news.

Social CXO’s validate important strategic assumptions with objective, external information that they can’t get from their direct reports or ERP systems. They listen to what their customers are saying online to improve products and services. They tap into the creativity of millions to discover unmet market needs and new product ideas. Social CXO’s leverage the expanding ocean of online intelligence to make more informed decisions. Social CXO’s have high online IQs.

The Social CXO Thinks outside the Firewall

Escaping the isolation of internal information is only a means to an end for the Social CXO. The Social CXO thinks outside the box to reengineer core business processes that connect employees, customers, partners and investors across organizational boundaries. Over the last thirty years, CXO’s have spent billions of dollars on ERP, CRM, BI and countless other software acronyms to automate every last internal business process. Inside the firewall, there is very little left to do. Social CXO’s think outside the firewall to find order-of-magnitude improvements in products, services and productivity. They turn likes into leads, recommendations into revenue, and flames into fans

social cxo outside the firewall

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For example, Social Chief Sales Officers improve the quality of sales calls by arming sales reps with online intelligence and upgrading their CRM systems with Twitter handles, LinkedIn profiles, blog URLs and Facebook pages. Understanding the social footprint of a prospect prior to a sales call leads to a more consultative sales approach. Connecting with prospects through social networks creates opportunities to share information and referrals, fostering constructive business relationships long before prospects enter an active buy cycle and ahead of the competition.

Social CXO’s gain influence over external business processes
through a combination of online intelligence and social network integration
that enables repeat-ability and continuous improvement.

Gaining influence over external business processes requires a combination of online intelligence and integration of enterprise systems to social networks. Online intelligence provides insight required for strategy and planning, while integration to social networks creates a seamless engagement platform that links people and processes across the firewall. Together, they enable the familiar feedback loop that all CXO’s recognize as essential to operational control and continuous improvement. Social CXO’s invest in the online intelligence and engagement systems that enable this feedback cycle to harness the power of social chaos and steer it toward their business goals.

The Social CXO is the Genuine Article

Social CXO’s aren’t content to let everyone else have all the fun. They personally engage in social business. Social CXO’s provide industry thought leadership through personal blogs. They reach out to unhappy customers on social networks to defuse public crises that threaten their brands. They actively seek new business opportunities on social networks and strengthen company relationships by giving online referrals. Social CXO’s lead their organizations and their industries by example.

social cxo opportunity

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Blogging is one of the most powerful Social CXO tools. The larger the company, the more it means to get a personal note from the top. As a techie, one of my favorite examples of a social CXO blog is Werner Vogels’s All Things Distributed. Here’s the CTO of a Fortune 100 company with a 100B market cap who still makes time to blog. In fact, his blog has helped shape the cloud computing industry and is an integral part of the Amazon Web Services brand. President Obama has been praised for his use of social media. He also has a blog, but posts to the President’s blog are largely done by staffers. A Werner blog post is the genuine article.

Whether you are a CXO at a large public company or at a bootstrapped startup, you have a responsibility to realize the potential of social business for your company. Social CXO’s use online intelligence to develop better business strategies. They energize their company social networks and reach out across the corporate firewall to drive revenue, lower costs and improve service. The complex, chaotic nature of social business does not intimidate the Social CXO into isolation; quite the reverse. Social CXO’s rise to the social business challenge and see opportunity where traditional CXO’s see only uncertainty.

This Social CXO article is cross-posted courtesy of Rules of Engagement at Forbes.com.

Roundtable Series: Lead Generation


Our ongoing Social Media Marketing Use Case blog series is based on recent roundtable discussions with social media marketing professionals. The series explores social media marketing topics with the goal of sparking open discussion and informing social strategy.

This is the first post of the series and focuses on the use case of lead generation. Lead generation started as a B2B concept describing the process of inspiring potential customers to volunteer their contact information that they might be contacted by a company’s sales team. Leads are collected through a variety of means including website forms, direct inquiries, trade shows and events, outbound marketing campaigns, and more. A few questions that sparked the below discussion: What is the use case for social media marketing for lead generation? Though traditionally B2B focused, how does lead generation apply to B2C?

B2B Use Case for Lead Generation: Social Media Marketing for Accelerated Engagement and Direct Lead Nurturing

  • Few B2B companies are using social media/social marketing as a primary initiative for lead generation
  • Those companies that are using social media marketing tactics have the ability to engage directly with those who are making purchase recommendations or decisions. They are listening for business customers who are making statements in real time about a need for a solution to a problem, who ask for product recommendations, etc. B2B companies that are listening for these conversations have a clear advantage over their competitors since they capture the person making inquiries or evaluating products at the instant their attention is focused on that need. Converting that lead—or at very least, getting a shot at the sale—is much more likely than through (often stale) leads from other sources. The process from identifying a need to becoming a lead to closing the sale can happen very quickly. Social marketing puts the B2B organization in the right place at the right time.

B2C Use Case for Lead Generation: Focusing on High-Ticket Items

  • The majority of leads for these high-ticket items (e.g cars, appliances) come from people walking through the door of a retail outlet. Price point drives this use case.
  • Consumers are much better informed than ever before and have very different expectations of the sales process and of online information. Salespeople need to be cognizant of the information available and add value to the customer’s buying experience beyond what is available on the web. It’s vital for salespeople to be seen as knowledgeable resources to develop a level of trust with the customer.

Direct Sales B2C Use Case for Lead Generation

  • In the instance of direct sales, the sales organization, retailer, and dealer can become knowledge centers and spread that knowledge through social marketing, sharing information with the consumer on their blog as well as via Twitter, Facebook and their website. This establishes a brand image before the first customer interaction and can lead to inbound inquiries.
  • The B2C sales organization can also use social media marketing to monitor discussions in the buying community and engage those who are talking. For instance, a local kitchen cabinet dealer can listen for those talking about kitchen remodeling and renovation, home renovation, painting kitchen cabinets, etc. and focus on engaging individuals on a conversational basis (imparting their knowledge of the five key criteria when evaluating a contractor, etc.).

Social Media Marketing Use Case for Lead Generation

  • The use cases for social media marketing are focused on driving the 3 “A”s – Awareness, Advocacy and Action — moving consumers from intent to action.
  • Social marketing goals for large brands often include generating revenue, increasing brand impressions, and cultivating customer referrals and brand advocacy.

Be on the lookout for the next post on building brand awareness with social media marketing.