What’s New in your Zendesk: Scalable support

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In this 30-minute webinar, we’ll get you up-to-date on the latest Zendesk feature releases and walk you through best practice configurations so that you can take these features for a spin right away.

This session also includes a special segment on how to refine your Zendesk account with scalable support best practices. We'll show you how to use business rules to quickly serve tickets to your agents, create macros for faster responses, and a few keyboard shortcuts that let you navigate Zendesk like a pro. We also share some best practices our customers have used to increase the efficiency of their support teams, and introduce a few apps that help with productivity.

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

Customer Support Tool Scorecard

Evaluating a new customer support tool can be a daunting task, and finding the right customer service tool for your organization means finding one that fits the needs of your team and your customers. We've created a handy scorecard that outlines some of the must-haves your customer support tool should provide, including:

  • Great customer experience
  • Easy-to-use agent interface
  • Useful support features built-in
  • Ability to seamlessly collaborate
  • Flexibility in admin customizations and management
  • Robust reporting and analytics
  • Integrations with your existing business apps
  • Stellar product performance
  • Strategic partnership and support

Please complete the form below to download the Excel file to help guide your evaluation process as you test and compare different customer service tools.

Get a preview of the Scorecard here.

Five trends impacting the enterprise IT help desk

Introduction

Todays enterprise IT support organizations and help desks are experiencing a dramatic shift in the way technologies are developed, deployed and consumed. Applications are evolving faster than ever, with new cloud-based solutions emerging almost weekly to replace the stodgy on-premise solutions of generations past. User expectations aren't far behind; a new generation of tech-savvy users increasingly expects the latest and greatest, including mobile compatibility. The result is a constantly evolving portfolio of applications and technologies that IT organizations must support, while being more responsive and empathetic than ever beforeall without increasing costs.

As always, progress is a double-edged sword for IT support. Because IT is responsible for enabling company-wide productivity, it sits squarely under the collective corporate microscope. User satisfaction is now at the forefront as new technologies enable more efficient communication, which is both boon and bane to IT support. Seeking comments and anticipating issues are the keys to effective support, and new technologies are also simplifying the feedback process.

This paper presents five interrelated trends impacting the way IT support organizations operate:

  • Productivity pressures
  • Cloud computing
  • Consumerization of IT
  • Corporate social media
  • Raising the bar on service

The intended audience for this paper includes executives, IT management, software development/QA leadership, and anyone else interested in delivering unsurpassed support.

1. Productivity Pressures

Perhaps no single organization is as vital to company-wide productivity as IT. While most organizations are responsible for their own efficiency, IT ultimately owns that of the entire enterprise. Driving efficiency across an entire organization comes down to two key areas: tools and procedures. IT must effectively select and employ both to keep everyone happy and productive.

Choosing the right software

Ideal applications combine usability and consistency with brisk implementation and low maintenance. The former, usability and consistency, are vital to managing the IT help desk's workload. Ensuring that users are quickly able to understand the interface and that it works consistently will minimize the number of end-user issues. By keeping implementation times short and maintenance low, IT technicians have more time to focus on resolving existing issues and implementing new productivity-enhancing systems.

Stringent vs. fluid procedures

Many IT support organizations looking to increase efficiency are turning to best practice frameworks, such as ITIL, that provide guidance on how IT should deploy and support software. However, there's a significant risk of getting bogged down in endless processes, paperwork, and heavyweight technology deployments aimed at optimizing the support experience. The IT help desk must balance the desire to comply with rigid standards and best practices with the reality of needing to provide excellent service to their customers (end users) right now. Ultimately, successful organizations will use ITIL and related methodologies as a blueprint and let procedures evolve as feedback dictates.

The right support platform

The last piece of the IT help desk puzzle is using a support platform that makes life easier for agents and end users alike. For end users, this means a simple interface for submitting issues and knowledge bases where users can quickly locate answers or discuss issues with the community. For agents, this means a system that increases end-user visibility into ticket status, is able to automate repetitive tasks and helps process feedback. Finding the right blend is vital, since all customer interactions are routed through the customer support platform. (More on this in trend five: Raising the Bar on Customer Service.)

2. Cloud Computing

The C-suite mantra for IT has always been faster, better, cheaper — doing more with less. Software as a service (SaaS or cloud-based software) is now delivering on this promise. Improvements in underlying infrastructure have solved the uptime and scaling issues that plagued SaaS solutions in the early 2000s, turning them into the go-to delivery method for customer relationship management (CRM), marketing automation and customer support. Cloud-based solutions have several benefits over on-premise solutions:

  • Simple and inexpensive deployment
  • Access to data from anywhere, including mobile devices
  • No hardware or maintenance costs
  • Fewer data security issues
  • Seamless product updates
  • Affordable, pay-as-you go pricing

Many large providers are now planning to migrate legacy on-premise solutions to the cloud knowing that IT departments are increasingly willing to outsource data security, upgrades and maintenance to software providers. As cloud becomes the industry standard, help desk staff must be ready to support a diverse set of applications that need less technical day-to-day involvement, but change more often and require them to support these changes.

When things go wrong, the IT help desk is the first line of support, whether these resources
and applications reside in the cloud, behind the firewall, or a mixture of both. In fact, there's a good chance most users won't know (or care) who owns the resource: all they know is that they need help — right now, and they're unsympathetic to gaps between data that lives in the cloud and data that resides on-premise.

3. Consumerization of IT

Today's users are reaping the rewards of two rapidly evolving fields, mobile device manufacturing and consumer website development, which are increasing IT expectations in today's user base.

As mobile devices continue to expand their power, sophistication and reach, users are acclimating to streamlined native application experiences, intuitive interfaces and constant data availability. Further, phones are becoming the center of many peoples' online lives thanks to robust social apps like Path® and Foursquare®, leaving them unwilling to adopt separate work devices. These high expectations are creating a bring-your-own-device (BYOD) culture where support for multiple platforms is expected.

A recent CIO.com article showed that 60% of respondents are seeing increased support demand for Apple®'s Mac® OS X®10. This is partly due to the rising popularity of iOS through the iPhone and iPad, but also a sign that Macs are gaining market share at home where employees are skewing the traditional work/life balance. At home, consumer websites, such as Facebook® and Twitter®, are gaining mobile-like elegance and interactivity thanks to advancements in front-end languages, and many of these popular consumer sites also have accompanying mobile apps that allow on-the-go access, which many now desire from their work applications. Even the most progressive IT departments are struggling to adapt responsibly.

These expectations are helping fuel cloud popularity thanks to browser-delivered flexibility. Many cloud apps support multiple operating systems and mobile devices, whereas on-premise solutions have limited compatibility. Cloud applications also benefit from the same front-end programming developments as consumer applications, meaning they have better interfaces that are more easily updated than their on-premise counterparts. Further, some cloud solutions have companion mobile apps that provide secure access to the native experience users crave. From a support perspective, native apps help IT cope with today's BYOD climate by offloading compatibility and data security to providers.

4. Corporate Social Media

For many employees, social-networking platforms (e.g. Facebook and Twitter) are at the heart of their personal online experiences. Given their reliance on these tools, companies are turning to analogous corporate social media tools, such as Yammer®, to help fuel collaboration across divisions.

Unsurprisingly, employees are using these channels to seek assistance and/or vent about IT-related issues, making it an important channel for harnessing feedback and even deflecting issues. The help desk should monitor these channels for relevant conversations and interject when necessary by pointing users to relevant knowledge base articles or asking them to submit tickets for further help. By participating in the conversation, support looks proactive and can raise awareness about self-service resources — the latter of which may help deflect issues that would otherwise result in issues.

Further, corporate social media enables faster feedback and collaboration through polls and groups. What once took weeks of coordination can now be accomplished in a matter of hours by polling users or setting up a small task force to discuss an issue. In short, corporate social media can fuel productivity for IT departments the same way it does across the rest of the organization.

5. Raising the Bar on Service

IT is and always will be a service organization that's goal is to create a safe, productive environment for employees. For too long, IT organizations have focused on technology rather than users, but the tide is turning. Today's IT organizations are being encouraged to adopt a customer service view of IT support where customer satisfaction is the new measuring stick.

This is partly driven by IT's desire for continual process improvement, and partly driven by more demanding users. In an effort to align operations with the business and provide better service to this customer base, many IT teams are actively implementing industry standard best practices, including IT service management (ITSM) process-improvement methodologies.

Regardless of the exact name, these IT best practices recommend visualizing the interaction experience from the perspective of the customer (i.e. the user). This treats the delivery of all IT benefits as services, which is very different than traditional technology-centric viewpoints of IT and its offerings.

User requirements for the speed and quality of IT support are now much higher than ever before. IT organizations must adjust their focus towards their primary mission: delivering speedy, high-quality services that will be consumed by people, rather than spending excessive time tending to the underlying support technology that helps deliver these services. To ensure that they're on the right track and delivering the best possible service, it's essential for the IT team to continually seek feedback from their customers using surveys and other quantitative methods.

Self-service

Support organizations are learning that it's no longer possible to dictate how users will receive service. Self-service has become an increasingly common part of daily life, and users expect resources that help them answer their own questions. Providing online communities, FAQs and knowledge bases are simple ways to provide the 24-hour support users crave, and many customer support solutions include this functionality.

Conclusion

Coping with today's rapidly changing IT environment requires an agile team that's willing to adopt new technologies and take measured risks to better serve their internal customers. Cloud-based software is one of the best ways to cope with increased productivity pressures and device compatibility issues, making it a must on every CIO's list for future upgrades. As the cloud lessens maintenance concerns, support organizations must be ready to stay vigilant and improve documentation in order to better serve users at scale, while simultaneously harnessing feedback to adapt and improve processes and foresee issues. Lastly, progressive IT organizations will need to balance adherence to strict procedures with the need to keep internal customers happy.

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