Over the past 50 years, customer service has played an increasingly important role in the success of both B2B and B2C businesses. This development has driven the growth of call centres and has resulted in the creation of the multi-billion dollar BPO (Business Process Outsourcing) industry.
According to a recent onepoll survey conducted with 1 000 UK shoppers, over half the shoppers in the survey said that they expected companies to monitor social networking sites and forums as part of their customer service processes.
Forty three percent of the participants went on to say that a company that responded to complaints made using these channels would impress them. This trend was particularly prevalent among people under the age of 34.
Due to the lack of any real alternatives, until recently the telephone was the sole means of customer service interaction. However as the communication tools available to people have become more advanced so to have the ways in which people interact, creating a number of potential PR nightmares for companies who fail to cater for their customers’ needs.
Spending 40 minutes on the phone or getting an email response two weeks later around a complaint is no longer acceptable. Today’s customer is far less trusting and brand loyal; if they have a bad experience they will simply go elsewhere and worse, tell their friends.
The telephone no longer drives business communication; rather it plays a complementary role alongside email and social media.
In future, businesses with a focus on customer service cannot solely rely on call centres and email. Successful companies need to be where their customers are, and if customers are spending 70% of their time on Facebook, then that is where they need to be.
This trend has already started to show in the BPO industry with international players like Stream and Teleperformance integrating social media into their core offerings.
One of the world’s leading brands, Dell, has also realised the need to move beyond traditional forms of customer service adapting their communication strategy to align with their customer’s exact needs.
As a global brand with a target audience spanning all age groups and cultures, Dell understands that not all their customers are willing to communicate via telephone or email. To cater for this, they have embraced the benefits of social media providing support via their Twitter account <http://twitter.com/DUOMarketing> , Dell customer forums and instant messaging services.
In the local market, social media as a customer service tool is still very much in its infancy, but with major brands like FNB, Vodacom, MTN and Cell C integrating Twitter into their customer service offering, it is surely only a matter of time before this becomes the norm in South Africa.
Understandably businesses are concerned by this shift, but they should not view it as a threat, but rather an opportunity to improve communication with their customers through a simple easy to understand medium.
In response to a growing demand more and more call centres have started integrating social media into their day-to-day offerings. This trend has been especially prevalent in the US, where call centre agents are being trained to deal specifically with customer queries via social media.
The good news is that more communication channels does not necessarily mean more staff. It is rather a shift in responsibilities that is required, with staff being trained in both traditional communication tools, such as telephone and email as well as social media.
By allowing customers to interact with a site like Twitter they can post their feedback, without having to speak to four different operators only to find out that the first operator should have dealt with the query. By training a broad based pool of call centre staff on social media, when a query does come through, the most relevant person can respond immediately.
As Judith Middleton, CEO of DUO Marketing and Communications, says, business success in the future will be driven by effective customer service. Gone are the days where companies dictate how the customer should interact, in today’s world it is the customer who will drive communication.