Using Online Communities to Improve Customer ServiceTim Ross and Joe RobinsonPenton Business Media
During discussions of how brands use social media, the unsexy but crucial component of customer service is often overshadowed by more savory concepts like ideation and driving sales. The harsh reality is that not only are consumers more likely to use social media to voice a customer service complaint than to opine about a product, but that negative feedback carries more influence on social networks than other types of comments, according to a recent study from Carnegie Mellon Universitys Heinz School of Business.
Add to that, research has also shown that consumers favor third-party sitesfrom Facebook and Twitter to lesser-known sites like ComplaintCommunity, Cofacio, GetSatisfaction, Amplicate, Vark, and Plebbleto lodge product and service complaints rather than contacting the company directly. And yet, the majority of companies still tend to overlook the social media dimensions of customer service.
Lets take a look at three ways brands can use online communities to improve customer service:Embrace brand experts
Most brands have one or two loyalists who are not only capable of, but also excited about, fielding other customers questions. Let them! In the tech industry, Microsoft has excelled with Mr. Excel whose Excel help page empowers visitors and routinely gets more hits than Microsofts own Excel help page. Rather than ignoring or trying to silence Mr. Excel, a man named Bill Jelen, who in 1998, launched the MrExcel.com website to provide solutions about Microsoft Excel, the company has embraced him, asking his opinion about support documents and beta testing software updates.
In another example, Nestls VeryBestBaking.com community provides message boards that feature discussions on a wide range of baking topics. People who are uncertain about how to prepare a particular on-pack cookie recipe can tap into the wisdom of other visitors to the message board. Active board members love to share their expertise, and newbies appreciate the quick response, which they associate with the company even though the person responding is another consumer.Create digital tools
Digital tools like live chat can be useful in improving the customer service experience and dont require a huge investment of resources to implement. Live chat enables companies to respond to customer questions directlybefore, during and after purchase. By placing live-chat links on every page, companies make it as easy for consumers to reach them, limiting the need to go outside the branded website for help or to complain.
CoverGirl.comvisitors, for example, can access CoverGirls Live Chat Beauty Consultants from every page of the site to get advice about how to apply the products they have purchased. These sessions present an opportunity to promote additional products as well.Encourage questions and feedback
While every company needs a Twelpforce to field Twitter questions and respond to complaints, the more effective way for companies to use social media to improve customer service is to encourage feedback through their own social communities.
Top UK baby site Kiddicare integrated customer service into its online community and almost immediately saw a 30% reduction in customer calls and a 98% jump in the number of issues that were resolved during a customers first contact with the company.
Kiddicare doesnt just provide a message board for questions and complaints, it enablesand encouragescustomer feedback of all sorts, and its community is set up so that members can easily interact with each other, promote comments and share answers.
When planning social media strategy, customer service should be among the top priorities as indicated by findings in the latest RightNow Customer Experience Impact report. The study found that the vast majority of consumers (89%) turned to a competitor to do business after a poor customer experience. Fifty percent give a brand just one week to respond to a question before they halt business with them.
Despite the risks posed by ignoring complaints and customer service requests, the survey showed thatfour-out-of-five consumer complaints about a poor customer experience are still ignored. Moreover, the survey found that a whopping 86% of consumers were willing to pay more for a product or service if it included a better customer service experience.
Tim Ross is president of SolutionSet. Joe Robinson is president of CatapultRPM.