Real Time Customer Service in a Live World

Real Time Customer Service in a Live World
By Jenna Woodul

In today’s environment, with customer problems and questions surfacing in highly public venues such as Twitter and Facebook, where people have vast connections, the stakes are much higher.

The social media efforts of large companies typically start somewhere in the marketing department. However, in short order, it becomes apparent that a large portion of what customers want from a company is customer service.

Customer service responders are no longer dealing in a relatively low risk interaction, but instead, a high stakes public stage where a misstep can blow up into a major crisis for the company. We’ve all seen well publicized cases where inexperienced people lose their cool with the public, and the company has to deal with the consequences for weeks or months.

In the traditional customer service model, departments are generally in reactive mode, waiting for customers to contact them, and then providing a template and business language responses to the typical questions people ask. The customer service reps may reside deep in the organization in a large group, and their responses don’t get beyond the individual with the question or issue and the company representative responding to them. Customer satisfaction may or may not be the result, but the effect of the interaction rarely moves into the public eye.

Today, it’s an informal, conversational, and highly connected world out there. Customers are changing — no longer intimidated or even necessarily impressed with corporations. What’s needed is a perception that real people populate the corporation in real time, responding to customers in an ongoing give and take. Customer service is at the center, regardless of which employees are providing it, and companies need to change, too, in order to meet the challenge.

Consumer expectations are very different these days. People expect responses in a much shorter period of time, they feel empowered to punish a company for unsatisfactory attention to their problems, and they react with suspicion to any communication delivered in an impersonal corporate tone.

These new expectations brought forward by social media are causing customer service departments to perceive new requirements and make some changes like these:

  • -Take a look at your brand’s style of writing and remove the “business tone” you’re using. Move toward a much more personal and conversational style. This may require a re-write of all templates currently in use, and a re-training of all personnel using them.
  • -Re-evaluate the skills required for customer service. Instead of a sympathetic ear who can correctly respond to customers via mail or phone, customer service departments may look for more social or gregarious individuals who can think on their feet in a real time environment — still responding judiciously, but conveying real personality and human consideration, with a comfort level and keen awareness that they’re acting on a highly visible stage.
  • -Change the daily processes to include proactive searching for people’s comments about the company, rather than a more passive demeanor of waiting for inquiries. This involves employees who read between the lines, interpret tone and pattern, and quickly surface brewing issues that customer service can address before they become problems.
  • -Along those same lines, constantly monitor brand related conversations, with the purpose of creating relationships and good vibes in advance of problems arising. This means paying close attention to people’s experiences, acknowledging their positive comments, and thanking them for helping other customers with product questions, as well as responding to negative comments or problems.

Let’s face it: new requirements and skills are needed in today’s social-centric world; both for marketing teams, social media response teams—really for everyone, as each person’s influence can extend to the overall view of the brand across social.

Jenna Woodul is Executive Vice President and Chief Community Officer at LiveWorld, a social content marketing company that is a trusted partner to the world’s largest brands, including the number-one companies in retail, CPG, pharmaceutical, and financial/travel services. Jenna Woodul heads up the company’s client services including moderation, social strategy, and content programming.