I’m a marketing person by nature, but I do have a manifest geek gene that pops up from time to time, driving me to late night surfing of sites billed as news for nerds. I guess that accounts for me being among the 3 percent of woman (I’m guessing) who listen to podcasts like Leo Laporte and his roundtable of techies waxing on about the latest technology trends. So emboldened, I try to tackle the odd technical problem such as installing a new sound card (I said I was a marketing person), or troubleshooting whether the issue is with the cable modem, wireless router or my computer LAN port connection. (I had almost forgotten about that nightmare and the finger-pointing responses, but I digress.)
I, like many of you, run into problems, not limited to technical support quests, and find myself calling into my vendor’s call center and initiating a chat session, often simultaneously, to see which channel can solve my problem the fastest. Forget email, unless I’m sending it to another customer I’ve found on a discussion board or forum. That brings me to what I see as the yet untapped, unharnessed and still-gelling customer service potential of a relatively new set of applications. The world of Web 2.0 tools like wiki’s, blogs, forums and online support communities, which usually fall under the umbrella term social media, are online applications that can foster sharing and discussing experiences with people in more efficient ways.
Wikis are just one form of collaborative social media – a type of website where visitors can easily share, edit, manage and expand online the knowledge of many. Wiki is the Hawaiian word for quick; the first wiki was created by American computer programmer Ward Cunningham in 1995, according to Wikipedia, the best know wiki to date. Blogs, short for web logs, are postings usually by a single person on a particular topic with folks commenting with posting organized with the most recent entry first.
Cone LLC, a Boston-based strategy and communications agency engaged in building brand trust, recently conducted a study on business in social media based on the findings of an online survey of just over a thousand American respondents completed in September of this yea. Survey participants were over the age of 18 and almost equally split among men and women.
Sixty percent of those surveyed say they use social media, and, of those who do, 93 percent believe a company should have a presence in social media, and 85 percent believe a company should not only be present but interactive with its consumers via social media, according to Cone’s results. Those responsible for customer service channel strategy should zero in on the fact that 43 percent of the social network users surveyed think companies should use social networks to solve their problems, and 56 percent reported they “feel both a stronger connection with and better served by companies when they can interact with them in a social media environment.”
Two core operational pains for call centers, high agent turnover and a shortage of well-trained agents, could start formally using social media applications as another customer service channel by leveraging customers as experts. There are well documented hurdles to establishing more formal, monitored and measured Web 2.0 applications, especially IT department and employee resistance and the lack of formal managing and monitoring or measuring. A recent report by Forrester Research says one in five firms have not measured the value of Web 2.0 deployments. However, as the Cone survey indicates, social media applications are being used today by customers. And to use Clay Shirky’s analysis from Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations, “The invention of tools that facilitate group formation is less like ordinary technological change and more like an event, something that has already happened.”
I wouldn’t turn over customer service entirely to the natives, as some start-ups promoting social media customer service software solutions enthusiastically advocate, but customer knowledge and input can and should be harnessed with social media.
Viewing these Web 2.0 applications as mere consumer technologies is an underestimation by organizations. These forums, blogs and wikis can be great customer self-service assets for both customers and organizations, and they can form important feedback loops into the rest of the organization through product management, marketing and engineering.
Savvy companies will see the value sooner rather than later to both their service organization and customer base in promoting, managing and most importantly mining these social networking tools as yet another interaction channel to get and give useful information. Who knows? Customers may indeed provide better, faster, and more accurate answers that we are getting with live agent support.