Social customer service

November 8, 2009
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200911061257.jpg  One of the more promising areas of focus for social business transformation is customer service. This week at e2.0 I attended a panel discussion of social customer service moderated by Clara Shih. It was an interesting discussion and I think there are some good solid practices growing up, enabled by some new tools. Since I’ve managed support organizations for a few software vendors in the past and I’ve done a lot of research on social business, I started thinking about some of the possibilities for changing the way we think about customer service.

200911080639.jpg

You will note in the simple diagram above that there’s still an underlying customer service system, which is the key to enterprise level scalability (although there are a few variations on this idea that could create a different type of backend system, I’ll explain that later). There are essentially two “new” types of channels for the development of the conversation. The first steps outside the enterprise and into the social cloud to use rapidly growing social networks like Facebook and real time conversation vehicles like Twitter to interact with customers “when, where and how” they choose. As more and more customers become

200911061257.jpg  One of the more promising areas of focus for social business transformation is customer service. This week at e2.0 I attended a panel discussion of social customer service moderated by Clara Shih. It was an interesting discussion and I think there are some good solid practices growing up, enabled by some new tools. Since I’ve managed support organizations for a few software vendors in the past and I’ve done a lot of research on social business, I started thinking about some of the possibilities for changing the way we think about customer service.

200911080639.jpg

You will note in the simple diagram above that there’s still an underlying customer service system, which is the key to enterprise level scalability (although there are a few variations on this idea that could create a different type of backend system, I’ll explain that later). There are essentially two “new” types of channels for the development of the conversation. The first steps outside the enterprise and into the social cloud to use rapidly growing social networks like Facebook and real time conversation vehicles like Twitter to interact with customers “when, where and how” they choose. As more and more customers become comfortable with these online public communities they grow in importance in reaching customers effectively.

There’s a secondary use case for real time conversation tools like Twitter that has emerged from Best Buys that uses Twitter, a broad group of employees and a backend system that aggregates the Tweets into a single web page, which helps the process scale and at the same time creates a way to leverage collective intelligence to get the best answers to customer questions. I wrote about it here. The point though is that even in the Best Buys example there is a “system” and a process for scaling the interaction. Some CRM companies are starting to provide a way to integrate the conversations into their customer service systems “out of the box”, for example the salesforce.com Service Cloud offering.

The second channel is growing up around public or private customer communities. The concept is to create a customer community of mutual assistance that provides the first level of “support” for customer questions. The idea is actually similar to the social cloud concept but provides a concentrated group of brand / product focused customers in a network rather than a broad public social network. The concentration yields the opportunity for knowledgeable customers to share their expertise. A lot has been written on creating and managing effective online communities so I won’t spend time on that now but you might check out this post from Dion Hinchcliffe for some best practices.

So the process is pretty simple, customers ask and answer questions, when a question remains unanswered or not satisfactorily answered for some period of time it is escalated to the company’s customer service reps for resolution. One additional concept can be used to enhance the community experience, creating a way to collect, vet and publish customer generated content adds to the available knowledge base. There are several companies that facilitate the creation and management of online customer communities and integrate to (or offer their own) customer service systems, for example Lithium, HelpStream and Get Satisfaction.

This is a rapidly evolving area of the new social business and one that can provide very high ROI. Are there other new social customer service practices that I’ve missed?