Customer feedback: how to hear the voice of the customer

Customer feedback
Imagine you spend weeks researching and drafting and double-checking facts for a presentation, and when you finally think it’s ready and ask a colleague to “just take a look” she makes suggestions and asks questions that never even occurred to you.

Sound familiar? We’ve all been through this, either at work, school, or with a personal project. The same happens with the products and services our companies offer. Because we help build them, we know how we use them, how to combine their most complex features, and how we want to improve them. But, there are many ideas we haven’t thought of, that never occurred to us.

It’s not unusual for those on Customer Success teams or UX designers to receive customer requests and think, “How did it never occur to us to use our product for this?” Even if you work on a big team and each team member has a different use for your product, it’s impossible to cover all your customers’ use cases.

Because we immerse ourselves in our work, it’s hard to take a step back and see it with fresh eyes. That’s why customer feedback is so crucial. Listening to the difficulties they have with the products can help you to better understand how to improve your products and make customers happier.

About this guide

At Zendesk and Typeform, collecting and using customer feedback is an important part of how we do business and how we build great relationships with our customers. In this guest article from Typeform, we explain the processes used to collect, analyze, and use customer feedback to build better products. We'll cover:

  • 3 types of feedback: given, requested, and observed
  • How to make sense of it all
  • Sharing your customer feedback with your entire organization

Customer service: turning transactions into relationships


Customer service has never been easy. Over the years it has only become more complex and demanding. Every person has different needs and wants you to meet them all. Some want access to information so they can help themselves. Others need a little hand-holding as you work with them to navigate a new product or service. Some customers even have different customer service channel preferences depending on their inquiry or mindset.

The people who support your customers—agents—are human too. They have their own ways of learning and communicating, and their own unique career aspirations to be developed and cultivated.

All of the above present myriad challenges, none of which have quick and easy solutions, and all of which must be solved if you want to provide great customer service.

And you do want to provide great customer service, because doing so leads to loyal, satisfied customer who tell their friends, family, and coworkers to do business with you. The result: Your company will move away from only caring about transactions—a nearsighted approach to business that focuses on the immediate—and towards caring about relationships, which focus on the full lifetime value of a customer.

But how can you achieve this?
Software is necessary for providing great customer service, but it’s merely a tool that enables your customer engagement strategy. The best tool in the world won’t help you provide great support if you aren’t committed to doing so. That’s because the best support is human support, and learning to provide that will be the biggest differentiator between you and the competition.

Zendesk believes that excellent customer service must focus on the customer experience, the agent experience, and the agent lifecycle. Each of these three pillars are the foundation of strong and long-lasting customer service. That's why we worked with customer service experts to create three guides, one for each pillar, to help customer service leaders like you help your agents provide great support.

The 3 pillars of customer service
First, we want to share with you the basic tenets of each pillar:

Customer experience
Customers are the reason we’re all here, so we must first and foremost try to look at everything through their perspective. Different departments frequently disagree on the right approach for important decisions such as how to best provide customers access to important information. Your sales department might have thoughts about how to do this, the product team has another idea, and marketing might want it done a completely different way.

But what’s best for the customer? What will provide the customer with the best possible experience?

Customer experience focuses on improving the way customers interact with your business. It’s one thing to talk about being customer centric, but doing so means putting the needs of the customer front and center, even when it’s at the expense of people within the company. Taking this approach might lead to some hard-fought internal decisions, but customer service isn’t easy, remember?

The thing for everyone to keep in mind is this: If you provide a negative experience to a customer, not only will they likely tell their friends and colleagues, they will abandon you for a competitor. This is bad for everyone, including departments who might wish you’d do things their way. The good news is that the opposite is also true: provide positive experiences and customers will tell others about and choose you over the competition, time after time. When this happens, anyone who advocated against the customer-centric approach will quickly forget they weren’t always in favor of it.

Overview: The Customer Experience guide will show you how to build processes and infrastructures that enable you to always put the customer first, building and constantly improving experiences for them.

Agent life cycle
No matter the type of business, customer service agents are very often the first people to interact with customers and prospects. Not only that, they’re usually the people who interact with customers more than anyone else. In that regard, they are the face and ambassadors of the brand. Every single interaction with a customer represents an opportunity to either create a brand loyalist or someone who will never do business with you again.

All of which is to say this: Customer service agents are very, very important for the success of your company. Time, energy, and resources must be dedicated to hiring, training, developing, and retaining the best possible talent to fill all the various roles in this department.

The way your business treats its agents can have a direct impact on how they interact with your customers, which in turn impacts the bottom line. Happy agents will not only provide a better customer experience, but also stay with your organization longer.

Overview: The Agent Life Cycle guide takes the long view of your customer service agents, showing you how to do everything from finding and training them, to developing their skills and value as they grow into more advanced positions within your organization.

Agent experience
In contrast to the big picture challenges of hiring and training agents, agent experience focuses on the day-to-day challenges of their typical workload. This includes everything from resolving support queries to writing knowledge-base articles to improving operational efficiencies. These tasks might not seem as inspiring as the work of building meaningful relationships with customers, but the agent experience is foundational to that work.

Customers want support to be human and personal, but they also want it to be fast and efficient. Agent experience focuses on improving the way agents interact with customers.

To effectively meet customers’ needs, support agents must be set up for success. That means making an up-front investment in tools and processes that enable support agents to not only provide the kind of support customers love, but avoid providing the kind of frustrating experiences customer hate.

Overview: The Agent Experience guide shows you how to setup your agents for success, and help them avoid the typical pitfalls of customer service, like taking to long to respond to a request of support or making customer repeat their issue to multiple agents.

One size does not fit all
No two companies are the same.

Within each of the three pillars lives an entire spectrum of strengths and weaknesses that will be specific to each organization. Maybe you’ve made a heavy investment in the customer experience but haven’t had the time to focus on your agents. Or maybe you’ve finally figured out how to onboard agents and have build satisfying career roadmaps for them, but still aren’t doing everything you can to keep your customers satisfied.

We’ve broken everything down into three segments:

High growth
As a high-growth support organization, something is clearly working. The support you provide resonates with your customers. But the demands are increasing. Time and time again you’re asked to do more, straining your support team and threatening your ability to not just maintain the same level of quality, but improve it.

Achieving scale
As a support organization looking to achieve scale, you have matured to the point that you are able to deliver quality support to an ever-increasing number of customers. You know that you are able to meet those needs, but as the company moves to another level of success, the deluge of customer interactions is just around the corner. As your support structure and strategies currently stand, you know there is no way to meet future demand without finding a way to scale and maintain a high level of quality.

Driving efficiency
As a support organization looking to drive efficiency, you have effectively overcome the challenges that typically plague less mature support organizations. You have a robust team with specialized roles that provides high-quality support. Even though you're experiencing great success, you can’t shake the nagging feeling that things could be much better. Maybe the support provided from a newly opened international office isn’t performing as well as you’d like, or change management still feels like it did during the startup days. As your support structure and strategies currently stand, you know you can’t rest on past successes, but instead must find a way to improve even further.

Conclusion
As stated at the beginning, customer service is hard. While Zendesk can’t make it easy (any software company that claims it can should be met with serious skepticism), we can make it easier. But we know from experience that software is a tool, and tools are only half the answer. The other answer lies in the people using them. That includes everyone from the agents who interact with customers to the designers who create experiences for them.

And Zendesk is here to help with that side of the equation too.

It won’t be easy, but it will be worth it.

Why CX, Why Now?

Transforming customer experience (CX) is more important than ever. But despite growing interest in the discipline, most companies have a long way to go to accelerate their CX efforts.

Join Maxie Schmidt, principal analyst at Forrester and Roshni Sondhi, director of customer success at Zendesk, and learn:

  • What drives the urgency to invest in CX.
  • How great CX drives business results.
  • How to get buy-in and share the business benefits of CX.

 
Watch this on-demand webinar now and get access to Forrester’s full report, “Why CX, Why Now”.


Maxie Schmidt is principal analyst in Forrester’s CX research team and lead Forrester’s research on CX measurement and customer feedback programs.


Roshni Sondhi is director of customer success at Zendesk and has spent over the last 10 years partnering with various companies on how to effectively plan and execute against a customer experience strategy.

How to Deliver Better Customer Service This Year

Watch our recent webinar, featuring Forrester analyst Kate Leggett, that will offer concrete ways to assess your current customer service team and capabilities to find opportunities to improve. Learn how to gain executive buy-in, build stakeholder consensus, manage agents more effectively, and select the right technology to create loyal customer experiences.

Watch Now!


VP, Principal Analyst Serving Application Development & Delivery Professional. Kate is a leading expert on customer relationship management (CRM) and customer service strategies, maturity, benchmarking, governance, and ROI. She is an accomplished public speaker and frequently presents at industry events such as CRM Evolution. She has been published in The Wall Street Journal, Forbes magazine, and industry publications such as CRM Magazine, KM World, and Destination CRM.

Zendesk research: analytics

analyticsHigh usage of analytics in customer service pays off: companies that depend more on analytics reports are shown to perform better than those who don’t. These metrics, which gauge important indicators like customer satisfaction and related efficiency factors, can help companies identify their successes as well as areas of improvement. How else can companies take a data-driven approach to customer service? This Zendesk research report explores:

  • Benchmark metrics for customer satisfaction
  • Results of high usage of analytics versus low usage
  • Rankings of the most data-driven industries

Download the full report for full details and insights

If you're a fan of metrics, analytics, and other things with numbers in them, visit the Zendesk Benchmark page to see how your customer support stacks up against the competition.

Zendesk research: retail and the holidays

retail and the holidaysThe holiday season does not bear good tidings for the retail industry’s customer satisfaction scores. As end-of-the-year shopping brings an influx of new customers, many companies struggle to keep up with the accompanying increase of service and support tickets. With retail customer satisfaction falling 6 percentage points this quarter, what are the reasons behind this seasonal dip in satisfaction? This Zendesk research report explores:

  • Year-to-year effects of seasonality
  • Ticket volume and agent workload during the holiday season
  • Benchmark metrics for customer satisfaction
  • How some retailers maintain high customer satisfaction when things get busy

Download the full report for full details and insights

If you're a fan of metrics, analytics, and other things with numbers in them, visit the Zendesk Benchmark page to see how your customer support stacks up against the competition.

Zendesk research: operational benchmarking

operational benchmarking Operational benchmarking has a long history in business: It’s natural for companies to want to compare themselves to other businesses to give context and meaning to their own performance—and to understand where opportunities for growth and improvement exist. But frequently, similarities among companies in the same industry are merely superficial and don’t offer a meaningful point of comparison for benchmarking customer service performance.

In this Zendesk Research report, we address this shortfall through a cluster analysis that reveals four types of customer service operations— and within those, 12 distinct clusters, each characterized by a unique operational pattern. Each cluster is defined by workload, strategy, and resources, as well as a typical level of support performance that the component companies can be expected to achieve.

The four types are:

  1. Relationship Builders: These small teams provide a personal customer experience that customers love.
  2. Masters of Complexity: Driven by detailed support requests, these companies have sophisticated customer service operations.
  3. Late Bloomers: With an unbalanced approach to support, these companies have yet to realize their full potential.
  4. Captains of Scale: These teams set the gold standard of customer support operations.

Read the full report to find out where you fit and what you need to focus on to improve

If you're a fan of metrics, analytics, and other things with numbers in them, visit the Zendesk Benchmark page to see how your customer support stacks up against the competition.

Zendesk research: live chat

Live ChatThe popularity of live chat for customer service is rising fast. Increasingly, consumers turn to live chat when shopping online, and a growing number of consumers say it is their preferred way to engage with support. So how can companies use live chat to transform the way they engage with customers? This Zendesk research report explores:

  • Benchmark metrics for live chat
  • How live chat changes customer engagement
  • The characteristics of a great live chat experience
  • What to consider when staffing for live chat

Download the full report for full details and insights.

If you're a fan of metrics, analytics, and other things with numbers in them, visit the Zendesk Benchmark page to see how your customer support stacks up against the competition.

Zendesk research: behavioral cues

behavioral cuesIn this report, we take a closer look at behavioral cues of customers and agents to better understand how these correlate with increased or decreased customer satisfaction. We attempt to move beyond typical metrics like first reply time and explore the often overlooked components of support interactions, such as what words like “sorry,” “please,” and “thank you” by agents can have on customer satisfaction.

This report also examines:

  • Valediction: Do interactions with the sign off “Best Wishes,” in comparison to “Best Regards,” “Cheers” and “Yours Sincerely,” have a lower customer satisfaction score?
  • Word count: Can a wordier request for help in an online form leads to lower customer satisfaction? How about email?
  • Email address: Are customers with Yahoo email addresses more difficult to please than Gmail users?

Read the full report to learn more insights and how they might be used to improve the service you provide

If you're a fan of metrics, analytics, and other things with numbers in them, visit the Zendesk Benchmark page to see how your customer support stacks up against the competition.

Increase revenue with agile customer care

Some companies look at customer service as a drain on resources. As a result, customer service is a department that is often hobbled by a lack of resources. But it shouldn't be this way. When the proper investment is made in hiring and training great agents, building out top notch operations, and improving collaboration across departments, companies can see support for what it really is: a competitive differentiator that can lead to increased revenue.

Thanks to agile customer care, more and more companies are reaping the benefits of investing in great support.

Learn more about agile customer care, read the report: Happy customers, happy bottom line

Gartner examines customer experience innovation for 2017

Bad decisions are, well, bad. Yet, it can be difficult to make good decisions without the right information. That’s why analytics are important—they enable you to make educated changes to your organization, rather than changes based on opinions.

The use of customer analytics to improve the customer experience has become an area of increasing focus for organizations. According to Gartner, “By 2020, more than 40% of all data analytics projects will relate to an aspect of customer experience.”

To distinguish your organization from others, the use of data to improve how your customers interact with your company is crucial. Gartner’s Survey Analysis: Customer Experience Innovation 2017—AI Now on the CX Map explores the customer experience projects of numerous organizations, as well as what makes them successful.

Gartner’s report discusses:

  • New and Continuing CX Improvement Projects in 2016
  • Projects With the Biggest Impact on Customer Experience in 2016
  • CX Projects Planned for 2017
  • Customer Experience Technology Investment Increases for 2017
  • Customer Analytics Priorities for 2017
  • Plans for Emerging Technologies in Customer-Experience-Related Projects
  • Measuring the ROI of CX Improvement Projects

To learn more about the customer analytics technology customers are investing in, access a complimentary copy of Gartner’s report Survey Analysis: Customer Experience Innovation 2017—AI Now on the CX Map for a limited time.

Survey Analysis: Customer Experience Innovation 2017—AI Now on the CX Map, N. Ingelbrecht, O. Huang.

The full report is no longer available for complimentary download. You can read more about the leaders in customer experience innovation in Gartner's Magic Quadrant for the CRM Customer Engagement Center 2017.

Forrester: Pinpoint opportunities for better customer service

In today’s customer-centric world, technology constantly challenges and transforms how businesses interact with customers. The question is, how can you make sure your business engages customers the right way? Are you giving them a reason to stay loyal?

Forrester’s report, Assess Customer Service Capabilities To Pinpoint Opportunities For Better Service, offers insights that will help you establish a strategy, lead your customer service agents more effectively, and select the right technologies for better customer experiences. Included in the report is Forrester’s assessment tool for customer service.

Forrester’s December 2016, Assess Customer Service Capabilities To Pinpoint Opportunities For Better Service, includes Forrester’s assessment tool for customer service to help you understand how your organization stacks up against more than 150 best practices that drive customer retention, customer loyalty, reduced cost, and increased revenue. This framework will help you:

  • Define strategy
  • Gain executive buy-in
  • Build stakeholder consensus
  • Manage customer service agents more effectively
  • Select the right technologies for loyalty-creating customer experiences

How to Keep Your Customers Coming Back

Think about your best relationships. Chances are, there’s a great deal of trust between the two parties, and there’s not a lot of ongoing drama involved. Very few relationships are totally drama-free, but if you’ve built up enough trust, you can usually get through the bumps and even come out stronger on the other end.

The relationship between a business and its customers is no different. To succeed long-term, companies must build trust with their customers and make their experiences as effortless as possible (no drama!).

It’s not quick or easy, but when you achieve both, your business is repaid with long-term customer loyalty. And when something inevitably does go awry, you’re more likely to get through it without losing the customer.

Creating an effortless experience and building loyalty, however, is anything but effortless. It takes work—lots of it. To help set you on the right path, we teamed up with our friends at HubSpot on a new customer loyalty ebook: How to Keep Your Customers Coming Back.

Download this ebook to learn about:

  • Innovation. It all starts with offering innovative products and services and continually improving them over time.
  • Communication. Clear communication that accurately represents your brand builds trust, and that goes for every channel and interaction—from support reps answering the phones to your website writers.
  • Education. Customers increasingly prefer to learn about your products and services—and answer questions and solve problems—themselves.
  • From that foundation, the ebook goes on to outline ways to build an effortless experience that will help you improve customer retention and stickiness, all drama-free.

    By supplying your contact information, you authorize Zendesk and/or HubSpot to contact you with further information. You further authorize Zendesk to pass your information to HubSpot for these purposes.

ICMI report: Uncover the Hidden Profits in Your Contact Center

This whitepaper provides actionable insights on how to effectively deliver value in four key areas and highlights where the opportunities for an organization to profit are hiding.

Our findings uncovered key contributing factors as to why today’s contact center struggles to identify, demonstrate, and defend their strategic value, return on investment and overall benefit to the organization. This whitepaper reveals the key components to becoming a profit center and provides concise instruction and actionable ideas for overcoming the barriers in their way. You’ll discover the dangers of neglecting valuable data points including forecast accuracy, customer retention, and voice of the customer feedback.

Lastly, receive best practices for measuring, managing, and reporting the most important insights leveraged by leading profit centers.

More of a visual person? Check out this infographic for a condensed version of some of the findings and recommendations from the report.





Predicting customer satisfaction helps prioritize interactions and prevent churn

This report by Ovum, an independent research and advisory firm, features Zendesk's new Satisfaction Prediction tool. The report is available for complimentary download for a limited time.

Some might say the ability to see into the future belongs to psychics and fortune tellers, but predicting customer satisfaction isn't only for the clairvoyant (or someone doing manual ticket triage and making their best guess). It's now something we can all do when armed with the right tools and data.

Many companies today measure customer satisfaction. It's an important metric, but one that typically isn't being used to improve operations or help reduce customer churn. By applying machine learning and predictive analytics, you can now improve your customer relationships over the long-term, and can predict in the moment how likely a ticket is to receive a good or bad rating, allowing you to take action to ensure a positive outcome.

In the report, "Predicting customer satisfaction helps prioritize interactions and prevent churn," you'll learn from Aphrodite Brinsmead, Ovum's Principle Analyst, Customer Engagement:

  • Why customer satisfaction scores are so important
  • How Zendesk is using machine learning to predict and assign customer satisfaction scores to interactions
  • How Zendesk's Satisfaction Prediction tool marks a change in the way analytics will be packaged and sold

Zendesk Deep Dive: Dynamic Content and Localization

When it comes to scaling support in global organizations, having localized content should be at the forefront of your strategy. Just imagine asking a company a question in your native language (say, English) and receiving an answer in another language (Japanese, for example). A roadblock to great global support, right?

Zendesk’s dynamic content feature can help ensure a seamless experience for agent and end-user alike, regardless of their primary language. In this 40-minute on-demand webinar, Zendesk teams up with Evernote to show how Zendesk’s dynamic content tools can be used with our automated features to meet your global customer service needs.

Listen to Brian Tobin, Director of Sales and Support Operations at Evernote, as he shares the story and impact of Evernote’s localization process. You'll also hear from Sam Michaels, a Tier 2 customer advocate at Zendesk, who demonstrates best practices for setting up dynamic content and Help Center translations.
 
This webinar is intended for everyone, no matter the size of your team or the level of technical expertise.

3 Insider Perspectives on Removing the Roadblocks to an Effortless Customer Experience

Consider the impact of every contact center agent having the knowledge, tools and ability to provide a flawless experience; think about the results that are possible when an organization perfectly aligns their mission, vision, and values with the needs and expectations of both their customers and their employees. Envision all of this being the case for your organization.

This is not an easy task for even the most sophisticated of organizations: The complexity of today’s contact center is at an all-time high with a future indicating more channels to manage, increased customer expectations to fulfill, and a need for a frontline workforce that is, by no means, “entry level”. This doesn’t mean providing an effortless customer experience is impossible, it just means that you need to be ready to handle whatever comes your way.

Want to know more? Check out this white paper from ICMI, sponsored by Zendesk and Genesys to learn how to remove roadblocks and create an effortless customer experience.

Getting Schooled with Zendesk: EDU Customer Stories

Getting Schooled with Zendesk

Zendesk has more than 1,000 customers in the education space and just recently created a new industry vertical to help identify and work with successful customers in this field.

During this 1-hour recorded webinar, we officially introduce the new EDU vertical and highlight three customers:

    • Brandon Dennis, Enterprise Knowledge Manager, Apollo Education Group
    • Don Burrhus, IT Support Supervisor, Stetson University
    • Tzvi Eleff, Manager of Touro NONSTOP, Touro College

During the first half of this webinar, they each tell their Zendesk story and share benefits they've experienced using the customer service platform. Then, panelists answer questions during a live Q&A session.

Customer Service in the Retail Revolution

Customer Service in the Retail Revolution

Retailers deeply understand the direct impact customer service experiences have on business outcomes. Modern technology has created drastic changes for both shoppers and stores. Online stores, social media, mobile shopping, and shopping apps have all impacted the way retail companies interact with their clientele, markedly increasing the focus on customer service within an industry that has always excelled in this area.

This paper, based on 15 interviews with customer service leaders around the world, examines practical implications for retailers operating with heightened customer expectations in an environment that is more global, and public, than ever before. We examine both the opportunities presented and the challenges faced by modern retail technologies and trends, with a specific focus on social media, holiday shopping, and customer advocacy.

Download the report to learn:

  • Why social media is the most important trend impacting customer service organizations today
  • How to avoid the annual "holiday dip" in customer satisfaction
  • How customer advocacy teams can present the voice of the customer to the larger organization
  • How to deliver a great customer experience in direct-to-consumer businesses
  • How to provide consistent customer service despite multiple purchase channels
  • How to scale without spending

Creating Moments of Magic for Your Customers - Today and Every Day

Shep Hyken photo

Customer service is more than just a department or a job description - it’s a philosophy and an attitude, and it’s the way we do business. And when you embrace this philosophy, you know that getting to know your customers is the first step in building strong, lasting relationships with them.

Watch this 30-minute webinar, where customer service expert Shep Hyken will share steps for creating moments of magic for your customers - not just today, but every day. You’ll learn about managing the first impression, demonstrating knowledge to create credibility, techniques for dealing with confrontation, and more. This webinar is a must-see for companies who are customer-centric, as well as those who aim to be.

Providing great customer service through social media

Social media
Social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter have evolved to become more than emergent platforms for marketing and advertising. Increasingly, they are also valid and important channels through which consumers solicit and receive customer service. According to the Q2 2016 Sprout Social Index, 90 percent of surveyed consumers have used social media in some way to communicate with a brand. What’s more, over a third (34.5 percent) said they preferred social media to traditional channels like phone and email.

Want tips on how to provide excellent customer service on Facebook? Read our guide, Tips for Providing Great Customer Service on Facebook.

"Social care" is not a new concept, yet providing multi-channel support that includes social media can present real challenges for B2B and B2C companies both large and small—as well as opportunities to positively impact sales and customer loyalty. The reality is that customer service expectations are rising year over year and consumers are looking to brands to create a seamless experience that spans the showroom floor to the Facebook timeline. Simply having a social media presence is no longer enough; your job is to be a social media rock star.

But how? In this guide we'll explore some best practices for an employee to deliver great customer service through social media, whether you're just getting started on the job or taking your social care to the next level.

BE WHERE YOUR CUSTOMERS ARE

One of the first challenges to providing great customer service over social media is determining where to focus time and resources. While marketing efforts may drive traffic to targeted social sites, customer service teams must meet their customers where they're already socializing. For most companies, Facebook and Twitter will be the primary focus for social care, but some brands may find that their customers also frequent Google+, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Instagram, or other social sites.

To feel out where your audience is, search for mentions of your brand within popular social sites. Whether this is a first step toward creating a social media presence, or something your marketing department has already done, it is a mistake to leave dialogue about your brand solely to online commenters and the Google search algorithm.

If you find that your audience aren't yet talking about your brand online, look for ways to include yourself in conversations relevant to your industry. The way, for an employee to be welcomed into social conversations is to add something of value.

Because the consumer—not the brand—wields the most power over a brand's image on social media, the bottom line is that neglecting conversations that occur on sites like Facebook and Twitter can have staggering consequences. Conversocial reported that 88 percent of consumers are less likely to purchase from a company that leaves questions on social media unanswered.

Craving more social media tips? Read our guide, How to Provide Great Twitter Customer Service.

LISTEN TO WHAT YOUR CUSTOMERS HAVE TO SAY

Many marketers are already familiar with social media monitoring tools that automate the process of searching for mentions of a brand name, or combing social media pages for specific keywords, but listening is equally important from a customer service perspective. What's more, many customers already believe that you are. In fact, research from the Institute of Customer Service reveals 1 in every 3 customers turns to social media to seek advice or communicate with a business.

Depending on how much volume your brand's social media pages generate, it's an important part of the job to collect and analyze activity so that you understand the kind of issues being raised over social media. Smaller companies may need to collect a week or month's worth of activity while larger companies can probably take a pulse over a shorter period of time.

Look at the information you've collected to determine:

  • How many comments appear to be written in moments of frustration, perhaps after having a poor customer experience in person or online?
  • How many are technical or account-specific questions?
  • How many comments provide feedback, positive or negative?
  • How many questions can be answered using links to existing help content?
  • How many brand mentions require, or would benefit from, a response?
  • What time of day are your customers most active on social media?

The answers to these questions will help you plan staffing and resources, define priority criteria, make decisions about self-service options, and determine whether you'll be able to handle the majority of issues directly through the social channel or require a process for directing social media users to another line of support.

There are tools that automate the process of calculating volume and time, and an employee can generate reports to provide you with a complete picture of customer demand. You may learn, for example, that the hours your audience is the most active on social media do not align with your actual work hours.

TRACK AND MANAGE VOLUME

The size of your company and industry vertical will affect your social metrics. Some companies will see a lot of what amounts to "noise" via social media, and their challenge will be to sift through the noise to find the top priority contacts that require a response from an employee. Other companies will find that the majority of their contacts are direct requests for customer service. Depending on the volume of social interactions your brand generates, and the size of your staff, your ability to keep track of social inquiries (and your responses) may be made easier by a customer service platform that can integrate with social media and turn posts, tweets, and direct or private messages into tickets. In this way, you can easily triage, track, and escalate issues behind the scenes, yet still respond to the customer in the space where they have contacted you.

As a best practice, it's not necessarily wise to simply turn every social media mention into a ticket, either because your company's social media pages are so heavily trafficked that the volume becomes unwieldy, or because every interaction does not require a response (even if it feels like it should). Still, what an integrated, multi-channel customer service platform can provide is context. The more you can see about a customer's history, the better. Are there open or prior conversations with this customer? Who did they interact with, and what was the outcome? Have they had this same issue before? Have they already tried reaching customer support through traditional channels or was Facebook their first line of defense? If you already have user data stored, agents can eliminate back-and-forth questioning for basic (or private) contact data.

In the fast-paced world of social media, speed of response is critical. Treating social media tickets like any standard ticket isn't going to be enough because a faster response is expected. So, how can you define priority criteria? There's no single way to do it, of course, but here are a few suggestions:

Highest priority:

  • Direct technical or account-related questions
  • Complaints from dissatisfied users
  • Service or product requests that are urgent
  • Issues (or outages) that affect many users or raise a potential PR crisis

Items that are second-tier in priority are often opportunities to be proactive. You might consider:

  • Responding to general references to your products or services
  • Thanking those who provided positive feedback
  • Touching base with those who have made comments about your brand or industry that weren't necessarily targeted at you or requiring a response

Smaller businesses without a need for a customer service platform might try one built specifically for social media ticket creation and management (rather than phone, email, and chat support) or, at the very least, utilize the private or direct messaging features of Facebook and Twitter to help create an archive of interactions.

REPEAT THIS MANTRA: TIME IS OF THE ESSENCE!

It's worth restating: speed of response is critical.

"Live help" typically refers to phone or chat support, yet in the customer's mind, social media is a gray area that more closely straddles the line between chat and email support. There is the potential for help to be instantaneous if social media is constantly monitored, but more likely, help will arrive hours later.

Several studies have found that most people feel they deserve a response over social media within the same day. That’s pretty reasonable considering the Northridge Group reported that 42 percent of consumers expect a response to their customer service inquiry within the hour. Of this group, 17 percent expect a response in minutes. These can be difficult service levels to meet, though some companies are beginning to.

One of the challenges to providing social care when you're not using the follow-the-sun model of support, is that tweets and timeline posts can languish overnight, driving your response time from just a few hours to 10-20 hours later.

As a best practice, always respond with immediacy—or with the promise of. This can be tricky without being able to send an email autoresponder, but one workaround that problem is to prepare a boilerplate message catered to each social channel that lets users know you've seen their comment and that you're working on a resolution.

Speed isn't everything if you're not able to resolve the customer's issue. As a general guideline, if you can easily answer a question posed over social media in the space of a comment or tweet, and the answer can be public, then by all means, do it. But more important than providing an answer through the same channel it was asked, is providing a timely and correct answer. This might involve providing a first response over social media that moves the conversation to another channel of support.

SOCIAL CARE IS CARE. PERIOD.

The success of your social care efforts will depend, as ever, on the quality of care you provide, but you might want to pull out the kid gloves because providing great customer service over social media can require extra special handling. Agent responses must be timely, accurate, sensitive, brief, and friendly—a tall order.

Agents must respond quickly but not so fast that the problem isn't properly resolved. Agents must employ their customer service skills to read into a customer's emotional state and properly determine when the informal nature of social media, such as the use of smiley faces or emojis, are appropriate for conveying friendliness and willingness to help, or when a more formal statement of empathy or apology might be required before addressing an issue.

Then there is the issue of length. Can or should the issue be resolved publicly, within the limited real estate of a comment or tweet? Is the agent trained in, or capable of, drafting custom replies without errors? Popular myth suggests that the young and tech-savvy are best equipped to handle social media, but some large companies have reported success using seasoned customer service agents, trained specifically for social media.

In general, all tenets of excellent customer service apply to social media. A great response will:

  • Correctly identify the issue or problem
  • Provide links to additional information
  • Close the loop (even to a "thank you" comment or tweet)
  • Include a personal touch, such as signing off with the agent's first name or initials
  • Be consistent across the organization, with regard to tone and response time

Active use of a site like Twitter can be an acquired taste—and a learned skill. Consider hosting a "Lunch and Learn" or equivalent to cross-train your staff on social media usage and etiquette. Often at smaller or newer companies, there is overlap between marketing and customer service, but as companies grow, shared skill sets, best practices, and communication guidelines tend to break down and become siloed. Cross-training will ensure that your teams learn from one another, and that your brand message and integrity are upheld at every point of the interaction.

Once agents are trained at responding over social media, they have the potential to be more efficient, handling four to eight times the number of contacts received through social media as they can by phone, according to a report by Gartner. In addition to improved efficiency, it was also reported that providing excellent social care helps to foster a deeper emotional commitment to your brand, directly impacting your Net Promoter Score.

DETERMINE WHEN TO TAKE AN ISSUE "OFFLINE"

Providing a public response to a question or complaint can go a long way. According to Conversocial, 95.6 percent of consumers are affected by other comments on a brand's social pages, and so it follows that consumers will also be affected by your responses to questions they see raised over social media.

When you gain or lose customers based on customer service, it adds up in dollars. The good news is that customers can spend up to 20 percent more when a business engages their customer service-related tweets, as reported by Applied Marketing Science.

But the reality is that not every contact over social media can be easily resolved in a single exchange (or in less than 140 characters), particularly if the issue is very technical or when the customer has many grievances to air. It can also be hard to know at the outset whether the customer will keep a thread going, cluttering your Twitter feed with @replies, so customer service reps must become adept at determining when to take a conversation from a public page to a private message, or perhaps off social media altogether—as well as when to bring the exchange back into the public sphere.

Generally, agents should move a conversation "offline"—in this case, off a timeline or feed/stream/profile—when:

  • there are many back and forth replies, perhaps because the customer needs to answer a series of questions, or
  • sensitive personal data is required, such as email addresses, phone numbers, passwords, account or credit card numbers.

But how to do it? Sensitive information that can be quickly conveyed in writing may easily be sent in a private or direct message through the social media site. The following are based on a few real world examples of how one company used Twitter to request information, suggest another channel, and move a conversation into a private message:

@Customer My sincerest apologies! I would be happy to look into this for you. Can you please follow us and DM me with your order #? ^SB

@Customer So sorry for those emails! If you need help w/ your email settings, don't hesitate to LiveChat us [bit.ly/link] ^SB

@Customer Apologies for the inconvenience! I just reached out to you via Facebook Message. Be sure to check your "Other" folder. ^SB

One benefit to using a customer service platform that integrates both social and traditional channels is that you can use social media to let the customer know you'll send them the information they need by email, without having to request an email address.

After an issue is resolved offline, it's important to return to the social channel and thank the customer for reaching out. Public interactions can be a double-edged sword, but the positive ones, when a customer has the chance to express gratitude for a great customer experience, is not the interaction to miss out on.

While building a social media support strategy, it's worth considering what might happen if you moved every social interaction "offline" or to another channel of support. Companies with limited staffing and resources might find that they must, and when done well, the customer will feel like they received a response over social media and had their issue resolved.

LOOK FOR OPPORTUNITIES TO MAKE LEMONADE

We're all familiar with that old adage, "When life gives you lemons..." The well-known implication is that it's possible to turn around a less-than-hoped-for situation with a change in attitude. This is particularly useful advice when providing customer service over social media, given consumers' proclivity to use social media to grab a brand's attention. A survey by Dialog Direct and Customer Care Measurement & Consulting found that in 2011, 20 percent of customers were using social media to communicate their complaints to a brand. By 2015, that number had increased to 33 percent.

When this happens, everything depends on your response. Receiving negative feedback is an open invitation to rectify your brand's image and, more important, your relationship with the customer. The customer must feel like they've been heard and that you're willing to do what it takes to make them happy.

The following are some other things customer service reps might do to proactively to engage customers:

  • Respond even when the user hasn't directly tweeted at you or asked for help. Answering brand mentions or comments that don't require a response, but might benefit from one, shows you're paying attention.
  • Promote your customers by retweeting a happily resolved support interaction, or by "liking" helpful interactions that occur between customers. It's kind of like giving your customers a hug.
  • Give your customer service team a public face by introducing who's on duty and how long they'll be answering questions. Consider posting a team photo or an agent spotlight. It's nice to connect the face of the brand with the names behind it.
  • If feasible, follow up a resolved interaction with, "How is everything?"
  • Promote self-service. Think about introducing a support tip of the week and assigning it a clever, unique, and easy-to-remember hashtag, or designating someone to update your company's social media accounts when a new article has been added to your knowledge base or help center.

MIND YOUR P'S AND Q'S

Whatever the social channel, there are a few ways to (publicly!) stick your foot in your mouth. The following are a few social media don'ts:

  • Don't neglect your customers. If you're going to provide customer service over social media, at minimum every direct support question should be answered.
  • Don't delete (or hide) comments or posts. The only exception is when comments are clearly spam or in violation of posted community guidelines. Deleting a customer's negative comment in order to preserve your virtual image will only further enrage the customer and damage the relationship.
  • Don't be defensive. It's important to remember that the customer, even when angry, has reached out to you. Thank them for bringing their issue to your attention, acknowledge their concern, and apologize for the trouble they are experiencing (even if you know it's self-wrought).
  • Don't engage with a customer whose intent is to simply argue and publicly defame your brand. Sometimes your best defense is silence and, after a certain point, they'll damage their own credibility more than your brand's reputation.
  • Don't overwhelm your customers with too much information, whether you're posting articles from a knowledge base or providing a too-lengthy response in a comment.

There are, of course, always a few exceptions to the rule, and here's one of them:

  • Don't reply or respond to every customer in the event of mass issues or outages. When many customers are affected by a single issue, it's best to provide only public status updates that will reach everyone.

Regular monitoring of your company's social media pages combined with savvy use of the sites can elevate your customer service efforts from acceptable to exceptional. The better your social care, the more social traffic you can expect, and this is a good thing!

If you’re looking for more information about using social media for customer service, we’ve got you covered with downloadable platform-specific tip sheets:

Tips for Providing Great Customer Service on Facebook
Tips for Providing Great Customer Service on Twitter

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