Providing a good customer experience has become a number one priority for many businesses. The benefits of doing so are clear for all to see - increased loyalty, stickier online customers, improved word-of-mouth recommendations, a better reputation and a likely impact on the bottom line.

An important aspect of the modern customer experience is how brands use social media to engage with customers. At times this has meant that many brands focus on social at the expense of other channels. Because consumers are so savvy and switched-on to the immediacy of social media, they know a few tweets can save them weeks of frustrating calls and waits for engineers. Twitter and other social channels are plugged into marketing, PR and sometimes even the CEO, so issues will often get addressed as a priority.

But while this is laudable in some ways, it is also a huge mistake. Organisations that provide omnichannel service and a Single Digital Channel (SDC) will prosper far more than those who concentrate on social media channels at the expense of others.

Private vs public

Social media has changed the way many of us communicate and engage with each other and it has also drastically altered the nature of the customer experience consumers get. Previously, any issues that needed to be addressed, or questions that a consumer may have had about a brand, were conducted in private. That could be in person, over the phone or via a live chat service. But the point is, only the brand and the customer were privy to that conversation.

Nowadays, whether a consumer is expressing dissatisfaction at service they have received or just want a question responded to, they have the option of using a variety of different social media. Most major brands have a social media presence now (and those that don’t should be asking why on earth that is the case), and many brands will even have bespoke customer service social media accounts.

So a consumer’s query will be resolved as promptly as possible, partly because of the very public nature of social media. Brands are keen to avoid being the latest customer service social media sensation, where the agent who operates a brands’ social account gets it wrong and the tweet / status update gets circulated around the world.

Sustainable levels of service

But is this sustainable? Research from social software firm Lithium showed how consumers will punish unresponsive brands on Twitter. More than half of those who expect a brand to respond to their Tweet, demand that response comes in less than an hour, rising to 72 per cent when they have complaints.

When companies don’t meet these expectations, 38 percent feel more negative about the brand. 74 percent of customers who take to social media to shame brands believe it leads to better service. Consumers are more empowered than ever before, thanks to social media and that is not going to change.

But the nature of social media means that grievances can be shared, whether they are legitimate or not. Anyone with a significant following on social media could potentially cause damage to a brand, should they choose, just by tweeting or mentioning a supposed incident. A brand does have the right to reply and refute any allegations of course, but the point remains that consumers are more empowered than ever before. Brands cannot hope to realistically sustain these levels of customer service on social media.

Omnichannel and SDC

That’s why the future of customer service must be omnichannel, giving consumers a unified, consistent and contextual customer experience, across ALL channels, not just social. In addition to omnichannel providing that seamless experience that consumers now expect, the right tools can also give brands unparalleled information and data relating to that customer and their likely intent.

This data includes an awareness of what the customer has done previously, allowing frontline customer service staff to offer a better service to that customer, resolving issues quicker and offering help at the right time and via the right channel. SDC gives an agent access to all media types from their desktop, with all contact interaction taken by customers - voice, email, chat, social media – waiting in one queue to be addressed by the right agent. The ‘right’ agent can mean the next available agent, one with a particular skill-set or area of expertise, or even one with a prior history with that customer.

Social media is a great tool in many different ways (engagement, brand awareness and much more) and can certainly play a major role in delivering the right customer experience. But it shouldn’t be the sole focus. There is a danger that brands will focus too much on this and let other channels suffer, when they would be far better advised to include social media as part of an overall omnichannel strategy.


By Mike Hughes, Managing Director at PeopleTECH.

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