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Keeping social customer care from becoming a nightmare

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Ever since Comcast's former director of digital care, Frank Eliason, came up with the idea in 2008 of using Twitter to respond to customer-service problems, businesses of all stripes have been following the cable company's lead. Many do so without considering the consequences. Social customer care is a great idea in principle but a tricky one in practice. Consider these four issues, below, before you start proactively listening for and responding to customer-service issues in social media. • Know what you're getting into. Dell Inc. tracks an average 25,000 mentions of its products online every day. The computer maker has a sophisticated governance structure to categorize issues and route them to the right people. It also knows which mentions don't merit a response. Once you start engaging with anyone who contacts your company via Facebook or Twitter, you must engage with everyone. If you don't, you risk creating confusion and negativity. Your good intentions may actually backfire. • Customer service costs may actually increase. There are lots of good reasons to listen in on public conversations about your company, but saving money on support isn't one of them. For one thing, not everyone who complains needs a service call. People sometimes vent their frustrations and then go on to solve the problem themselves. Consider whether your generous outreach inadvertently creates unnecessary support engagements. Your cost-per-resolution may also increase. Social media is a layer on top of your existing support structure. Few issues can be resolved in 140 characters, so most engagements will probably end up being directed to your existing support lines. Your Twitter time actually can add cost to the interaction. • Don't encourage bad behavior. An online poll of 2,000 adults in the U.K. in April found that 36% had used social media to contact a big company, and 65% said social channels are a better way than call centers to communicate. One reason could be that businesses are so eager to resolve public complaints socially that they actually provider superior service to customers who air gripes there. If you teach customers that complaining on Twitter gets a better response, then more customers will complain on Twitter. Is that what you want? Train before you tweet. A best practice is usually to steer people toward established channels for service. Hopefully they'll start their next support experience there. • Don't let precedents become problems. Some companies focus proactive care initiatives on their most visible customers in hopes that these influencers will share their experiences with others. That means others will then expect the same treatment. Are you ready to deliver? It's a good thing to delight customers, but be aware that their experiences may set the bar higher for you in the future. Don't lose sight of the need to treat everyone fairly, regardless of their Klout score. Having an effective social media-based support operation pays off in early problem detection, improved customer satisfaction and increased revenue per customer. Just be aware that this is an all-or-nothing proposition. Once you start, you can't go back. Paul Gillin is an Internet marketing consultant and the author of three books about social media. He also writes the New Channels column in BtoB.
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