Social customer care: shiny object or silver bullet?

Having a service capability in a channel customers value does not mean you have a service capability customers value — Propel

The commercial argument for social customer care.

I’m a big advocate for social customer care. While the lion’s share of interest and investment continues to be directed towards marketing and communication, I believe there is more business value to be gained from leveraging ‘social’ in a service capacity. If customer behaviour trends indicate the need for a more responsive, personalised service experience, the social ecosystem is well placed to meet that need.

And when industry data shows organisations with effective social customer care capabilities improved YOY revenue per contact by 6.7% through up-selling, cross-selling and customer churn reduction versus a 12.1% decline for those without that capability, it’s worth paying attention.

Add to this the up-to-15% increase in churn rate among existing customers due to organisations failing to respond to their queries in social channels, and you have quite a compelling business case for investment in social customer care.

So the message is quite clear — we should all go and set up social customer care teams, right?

Wrong.

Why?

Because there is no more sense diving into service focused on social channels than there is marketing or any other function. A service or customer-first mindset is by far more important than any channel or technology through which it’s delivered.

Why social customer care isn’t a solution to poor customer experience.

Many organisations view ‘social’ as a ends in itself rather than a means to an ends, and social customer care is no different. There is a perception that building a social customer care team will result in a better customer experience, higher customer satisfaction, deeper loyalty and stronger commercial returns.

But simply having a service capability in place does not mean it will be effective or tailored to the customer (and thus serving its intended purpose). You only need to look at the number of ‘9–5, Monday-Friday’ social care teams, or those that direct customers back to email or phone for issues resolution to recognise this.

Having a service capability in a channel customers value does not mean you have a service capability customers value.

Yet with statistics like the above examples thrown around, it’s clear where the problem stems from: organisations are confusing causation with correlation.

Simply having a Facebook page does not lead to marketing success. Nor does the presence of a social customer care team lead to happier customers or more efficient operations. This is like saying ice cream sales cause drownings (25 minutes in, but do check out the whole TED Radio Hour podcast if you have time — fascinating perspectives on big data).

Rather than asking whether to build a social customer care capability or not, organisations should first ask whether they are ready to put the customers’ needs first. In making this commitment, adopting practices and processes that align with customer needs and expectations, not internal ones. If this then — and only then — leads to development of a social customer care capability: fantastic news. Both the customer and organisation win.

Unfortunately, social continues to distract us with shiny objects.

In 2016, Gartner predicted Australian tech spending would grow 2.8% to almost $80 billion, with the software category — in which most social technologies reside — growing fastest at 9.6% to over $10 billion.

But as Altimeter Group analyst Susan Etlinger states in the aforementioned podcast: “While we need to rely on machines to make decisions as data volumes increase, we also need to ensure we are thinking critically and understand humanity, context, emotion and nuance. Technology alone will not provide the solutions we need.”

It’s easy to invest in technology. It may not always be affordable, but it’s easy. It’s tangible, defined, predictable, and rarely argues back. So most organisations continue to prioritise the object over the need, and pursue things which can be purchased and implemented.

Changing mindset, on the other hand — not so simple.

How do you shift individuals’ motivations away from corporate gain or personal interests towards those of the customer? How do you ensure your organisation assesses social customer care first to benefit the customer before considering restrictions caused by the way they currently work?

Adopting this attitude places technology closer towards the end of the decision-making process as a way to execute against an already-agreed customer mandate — the real opportunity.

Social customer care can represent a genuine commitment to customers.

Like many customer initiatives organisations are currently toying with, social customer care investments should originate from a place of empathy. Yes — there are opportunities for cost efficiencies across people, process and technology expenditure, and yes — there is the potential social offers to convert service into sales with real-time and contextually-relevant customer data. But organisations would gain more — as would customers — if investments in this space were driven by empathy towards customer needs and backed up with technological investment.

We’re currently working on a major government initiative to do just this, and there are a range of commercial examples supporting this mindset of customer commitment before corporate interests. In the aviation world, for example, you only need to look at the stream of customer initiatives delivered by KLM — one, two and three for a start — or stack that up against broader industry research detailing the business value of a customer-first approach for airlines.

You can invest billions in customer experience, and some do. You can create an operational centre that raises the eyebrows of internal leaders and partners. You can make all the right noises. But without empathy, and a genuine customer commitment driving these initiatives, you’re simply investing in a new shell for the same processes.

Let your commitment to social customer care be a result of a commitment, first, to the customer.

Roger Christie is Founder and Managing Director of Propel Group (Australia) — a consultancy that helps organisation get better business outcomes with social. While many other consultancies and agencies in the market focus on social media channel and campaign activities, he has demonstrated the value behind improving business performance through social capabilities aligned with organisation and customer needs. Contact him via email here.