Brian Solis is the author of the new book, The End of Business as Usual. He is also a principal analyst at Altimeter Group. AT&T has sponsored the following blog post.
Every day, an increasing number of connected consumers are taking to social networks to ask for help or express sentiment related to business or product-related experiences. Some do so to seek resolution from their peers; others broadcast questions or comments as a form of catharsis. A smaller group of consumers actually hopes to receive a response directly from the company.
The reality is that social media is the new normal. A myriad of social networks, whether you use them or not, are now part of the day-to-day digital lifestyle with Facebook, Twitter, Yelp, and YouTube among others becoming the places where your customers connect, communicate, and engage around experiences. They take to these social networks and more because they can. The question is, what are you going to do about it?
Social Media as a term and as a movement garnered significant momentum going back as far as 2005 and 2006. Here we are more than six years later wondering whether or not social networks are a fad. Skeptics point to the deterioration of Myspace or the botched Facebook IPO as evidence that social networks are just the latest craze that will go out of fashion like cassettes, floppy disks, and CD-ROMs. Yet, they won’t; they’ll evolve. Nonetheless, businesses will have to adapt to new forms of engaging with customers to ensure positive sentiment and more importantly, invest in long-term loyalty and advocacy.
I believe that businesses will learn how to engage in new networks one of two ways. Either businesses will recognize the opportunity to earn relevance through an “a-ha” moment. Or, they’ll say “uh oh” upon witnessing the impact of a crisis on business, branding, and customer influence when a negative experience goes viral.
Recently, Sitel and TNS released a study of social media customer service to explore the growing trend. The report features the responses of more than 1,000 consumers in the U.K. and while still nascent, we see a landscape that is shifting beneath our feet. What’s clear is that consumers are becoming more connected. Traditional call centers and knowledge bases work as designed, read…as best as they can considering the circumstances. Traditional customers are no longer alone in their role in defining markets.
Behavior of Connected Consumers
Connected consumers think and behave differently. One key difference that I learned when writing my book, The End of Business as Usual, was as provocative as it was revealing. When faced with a problem or question concerning a product, traditional customers will first seek out resolution through traditional service means. Connected customers, on the other hand, will either first express dissatisfaction to their friends in a social channel and/or proceed to search for or ask peers and companies for help in online communities or social networks. In other words, traditional customers will seek out information and connected customers expect resolution to find them.
Seven-percent of individuals age 16-24 will first complain in social media and 71 percent will search for a solution online before they relent and contact the company directly. Revolutionary? Hardly. Profound? Yes. There’s an old saying among trendcasters that reminds us to look at the behavior of younger generations if you want to plan for future engagement. The idea that connected consumers will first share negative sentiment to a group of hundreds or thousands of people will eventually play a role in the overall perception of the business. More importantly, to engage with connected customers requires an omnipresent service team tracking activity and engaging customers when and where necessary.
When asked how companies could improve customer service, 17 percent of 16-24 and 25-34 year-old asked for faster response times on Twitter. Across all age groups, an average of 25 percent of respondents indicated they want companies to post video demonstrations, tutorials, and instructions. This is another huge difference between traditional and connected consumers. Consumers want to see how things work not just read or hear about it from company representatives. This is one of the reasons why YouTube is the second largest search engine behind Google. Visual references are a way of communication and discovery for connected consumers.
Customer Service of the Future — Now
As you rethink the future of service, you cannot lose sight of your traditional customers. At the same time, you must bring connected customers into view. No need to reinvent the service center yet. However, listening, learning and adapting starts with research. To better understand the extent of your connected customer behavior, start with these tips:
1. Use a social media listening service to see what people are saying today. If you don’t have access to budget or existing tools, try SocialMention. It’s free.
2. Observe the frequency and reach of service-related mentions. Prepare reports based on your findings and share them with key stakeholders. Here’s a free template to help get you started.
3. Are there any trends related to the mentions? Do they require direct engagement, or do they offer insight to improve experiences.
4. Develop an ongoing listening and alerting system. It will only get louder as time progresses.
5. Implement a triage and information process to get information in, to the right people, and back out to customers.
6. Establish roles and responsibilities.
7. Learn and adapt. Improve products and services based on insights.
8. Stay integrated. Make sure that social and call center teams communicate knowledge and best practices.
9. Be proactive. Don’t just address negative commenters or those with questions; engage those who are positive as well.
10. Host forums or town halls to get ongoing input and direction to improve…everything.