Companies using social media to become customer service champions seem to be flavour of the month right now.
Econsultancy has carried its fair share of insightful pieces on the topic, and businesses are really beginning to wake up to its benefits.
And not before time. Last December, I wrote about a personal customer service trial I was going through with a mobile phone company, whose name was spared in the hope the sorry mess would be resolved without resorting to name calling.
Needless to say, it wasn’t and – in desperation – I turned to Twitter to try to penetrate what felt like the huge, uncaring behemoth of Carphone Warehouse. And I found Guy Stephens, the company’s Knowledge and Online Help Manager, who appeared to be tackling customer rage in a passionately empathetic way on Twitter. I tweeted him at 8pm; by 8.07pm, I had a reply, rendering me unconditionally blown away. Three months of periodic call centre torture had got me nowhere, but via social media I felt listened to within minutes and my problem solved within a few days.
True, I was a departing customer, but not before being turned from a “hater” to a fan of what Carphone Warehouse is doing to improve its customer experience via social media. You can read the specifics about the company’s approach in Guy’s own words here, and he agreed to field a few questions from PR Media Blog on why embracing social media is important for the company. In customer service? Read and learn…
What prompted CPW to get involved with customer care via social media?
I think it’s more a recognition that our customers are taking part in that space. They’re conversing about us on Twitter, Facebook and the various feedback-type sites such as GetSatisfaction, ComplaintCommunity and Plebble. Regardless of whether we choose to ignore the conversations or take part in them, people are going to continue talking about us.
How good/bad would you rate CPW’s customer service reputation previously?
Like many companies we’ve got both advocates and detractors. You tend to be more aware of the negative comments, and a company like CPW has no shortage of them on sites such as Twitter and Facebook. But, I see negative comments in a positive way, as it’s the customer telling us directly what we need to change. They’re the ones experiencing or living the process, not us.
How did CPW management deal with accusations of poor customer service online?
I think businesses have shied away from getting involved in this space. However, the landscape has changed so much now, that everything is happening out in the open. Businesses have the choice to take part or ignore it. Either way, customers will do what they want, write what they want, and we’re probably heading to a time when actually customer service may well be co-created or engineered by customers themselves between customers on sites such as Plebble or ComplaintCommunity.
Is the social media customer approach part of an agreed management strategy or a dipping-toe-in experiment?
We weren’t sure what the response would be. We’ve learnt quickly on the job and I would say there’s a definite appetite for it. We recognise that Twitter has a part to play and we’re still defining what that is. New skills are required, or should I say a new mix of skills is required – part customer service, part PR, part maverick. Not a happy combination for any company.
How well has the social media activity/customer service activity been received so far?
There is an increasing awareness of the opportunities presented by social media and certainly a momentum for it within CPW. The key is to understand what each channel does well, and then see if it fits together. Social media won’t be for every company and that’s okay; companies shouldn’t feel the pressure of having to integrate it. But they should at the very least do their due diligence to see whether it’s something their customers want and, if so, how to use it.
Have you been able to measure the results of your social media activity to date?
We’re still at the early stages of using it and understanding it. However, Twitter is great for a customer to initiate a complaint and a subsequent dialogue with a company, though it’s not a resolution channel. Because of the nature of twitter and Data Protection Act requirements, it does take slightly longer to get to the complaint to deal with it. But that’s simply a process issue to overcome and we’ve simply got to find the best way to deal with it. And what you’ve got to remember with Twitter is that there are entry requirements – knowledge, propensity to tweet, requisite technology, etc. It’s not for everyone; it just gives those who use it another option.
How does it compare to what your competitors are doing?
We’re all doing different things but our angle is very much centred on customer service, whereas mydeco, asos or geek squad will be doing their thing. There’s plenty of room for everyone.
What does the future hold for CPW’s social media engagement?
Onwards and upwards, more learning, but always being honest, transparent, open and feeling empathy for the person complaining. Stephen Covey calls it ‘empathetic listening’. It’s also understanding what this new world looks like: customers are setting the agenda almost, and with Twitter we have the possibility for real time customer engagement in both a positive and negative way, and we have the break up of centralised information held by companies. Companies are having to go out to where customers are; in other words, as I read somewhere, fishing where the fish are.
Jon Clements is a Chartered PR consultant specialising in B2B PR, corporate and marketing communications and is the founder of Metamorphic PR.