Social media networks are a fact of life. Customers are going to use Facebook, Twitter and other networks to talk about your company. That's why social media monitoring and listening tools, which allow you to find out what customers are saying, are becoming an important part of the broader CRM space.
Customers increasingly look to social channels to ask questions or make complaints in public. According to research from Sprout Social, customer service messages sent via Twitter or Facebook increased 175 percent over the past year. And nothing looks quite as bad as a company that ignores its customers' questions or fails to address its complaints that are made in this public fashion.
That means that listening is no longer enough; what's needed is social customer service. Sometimes also referred to as social customer experience, this involves not only monitoring and listening to your customers (or anyone talking about your products and brands) but also having a process for evaluating when a response is required -- and when it is, ensuring that the right people are available to respond in a timely manner.
Social customer service obviously benefits customers, but what about companies? A Forrester Research study found that the main benefits reported by companies that had implemented social customer experience programs were: increased customer satisfaction, cited by 24 percent of companies; and improved customer loyalty, mentioned by 26 percent of respondents.
There's also an important cost implication. According to Gartner, a social CRM agent (one using social channels such as Twitter) can manage four to eight times more high-value interactions than a traditional, voice-based contact center agent.
When it comes to buying a social customer service tool, many core capabilities are related to integration with Facebook and Twitter. But social networks can come and go quickly, so any tool you are considering needs to be open enough to accommodate any networks that are important for your customer demographics.
Establishing a Social Customer Service Strategy
Before compiling a list of desired features for a social customer service tool, you'll want to consider what it takes to set up a social customer experience program and answer these five questions about your social strategy:
Discover where your customers are talking about you. Clearly you need to be able to monitor your Facebook page and @mentions on Twitter. But you also need the ability to do keyword searches connected to your company and product names and brands on Facebook, Twitter and other social networks like LinkedIn.
Decide which messages will get a response. This may seem trivial, but you need some sort of strategy to guide you. Do you want to respond only to direct questions, or do you plan to address complaints and negative messages too?
Triage the chatter. There may be a great deal of talk about your company and its products, but the key is to identify which posts need your attention and some sort of response, depending to the strategy you have adopted.
Decide who will respond. This is an important decision. Because social media is so public, you need people who can be guaranteed to provide a response which will not come back to haunt you. Do you want dedicated social customer experience staff, or do you want social customer experience to be treated like other customer service channels and to be dealt with by contact center staff?
Find the right metrics. To manage social customer care efficiently, you need to be able to measure what your service agents are achieving. This can range from how many issues are dealt with per hour to measuring customers' buying habits correlated with the agent they interacted with and the medium that was used.
Social Customer Service Software Features
By analyzing the points above, it is clear that a good social customer experience offering needs the following features:
Comprehensive social media channel monitoring. This should of course include keyword search capabilities, but some systems also use machine learning - give it a thousand messages which contain the sort of content you are interested in, and the system goes and finds "more like that." You can then refine its results to focus the system on the right things to find.
A multi-channel inbox and response environment. Agents should be able to see customer communications in a single inbox, regardless of the social channel the message was created on. They should also be able to respond via Facebook, Twitter or any other network without leaving the social customer experience application.
Integration with other customer service systems. You may decide that social media customer support messages should be handled no differently than messages from other channels. In that case, ideally any social customer service tools will use the same workflows and business processes as existing channels such as email, phone or chat. This enables messages from social channels to be routed to the most appropriate person in your contact center, not just a social media response agent.
Reporting. This is important when your social customer service is handled by dedicated social media agents, as it can help match up agent availability with the peak times that your customers choose to seek customer service through social channels. Without adequate reporting it is almost impossible to identify when peak demand periods occur, and service levels and response times may slip.
Short List of Social Customer Service Providers
Social customer service functionality is increasingly being included in social media monitoring and listening products, as well as in more mainstream customer service products and CRM suites. These include:
Adobe Social. A comprehensive marketing suite, Adobe Social offers social and customer service teams access to a real-time moderation queue, so they can respond to comments, route and escalate questions, and track incidents through to resolution.
Attensity. Attensity Respond is designed to help agents listen and respond to relevant conversations across Twitter and 150 million social and online sources, including Facebook, communities, review sites and blogs.
Lithium. Lithium Social Web identifies and prioritizes posts, routing them to the appropriate queue where agents respond from a single interface.
Salesforce Radian6. Part of the Salesforce.com Marketing Cloud, Salesforce Radian6 identifies and analyzes conversations about companies, products and competitors and then routes important ones to sales, customer service, PR or community managers for a response.
More specialized social customer experience software providers include:
Conversocial. Conversocial is a cloud solution that enables businesses to manage social media as a large-scale customer service channel.
Sparkcentral. Sparkcentral is an enterprise social media helpdesk platform, specifically built for high-volume and real-time engagement.
Sprout Social. Sprout offers social listening and customer engagement, as well as the ability to turn social messages into support tickets which can be passed to existing customer service teams.
Parature. Parature Social Monitor centralizes social customer service with the same workflows, business processes and analytics tools as existing customer service channels such as email, help desk ticketing and chat. (Note: Parature is being acquired by Microsoft, and Microsoft is integrating its functionality into Dynamics CRM.)
Paul Rubens has been covering enterprise technology for over 20 years. In that time he has written for leading UK and international publications including The Economist, The Times, Financial Times, the BBC, Computing and ServerWatch.