Why CMOs Should Care More About Social Customer Service

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Dan Gingiss, the senior director of global social media at McDonald's.
Dan Gingiss, the senior director of global social media at McDonald's. Credit: McDonald's

When the pilot announced that we were number 19 in the queue for taking off from LaGuardia, I figured my odds for making my connecting flight in Dallas were about the same as my winning Powerball. Sure enough, an hour later the pilot confirmed a late arrival, spurring "WTF" groans from fellow passengers, who then went back to their inflight entertainment. But not me. I jumped on Twitter, shared the delay with @AmericanAir, and asked for their help. Less than 10 minutes later, I could depart from my uptight and locked position knowing I was safely booked on a later connecting flight.

Unfortunately, this level of social customer service is still the exception rather than the rule. But rather than dwell on the problem myself, I reached out to Dan Gingiss, the senior director of global social media at McDonald's. I wanted his thoughts on how to get CMOs to not just recognize the importance of social customer service but to increase their investment in this area. Here are some of Gingiss' insights into why CMOs should care more about social customer service, and how it can make their overall marketing more effective.

The bloom is not off the social rose
Because the promise of organic "free" exposure via social media has come and gone, many marketers now look at social as just another paid channel. Given that many consumers still turn to social media to express their displeasure with a brand, however, holding this narrow view of social's role is a huge mistake. "Without our customers, we don't have a business," Gingiss told me. And not responding to complaints is a surefire way to lose them.

Response time matters
In his previous role as head of social customer care at Humana, Gingiss witnessed first hand what happens when you reduce response time on social media from approximately 25 hours to 20 minutes: customers are blown away, and share their surprise. Accomplishing this feat took six months of "hiring more people and making sure we had the right technology in place," Gingiss says, adding that he also made sure "the other executives we were working with understood the importance of why we were doing this."

Emotional sensitivity is required
"When people need help and it pertains to their health, it's a very sensitive and personal situation that is emotionally charged," Gingiss says. Acknowledging this, he makes a strong case for training customer care agents to recognize the emotional nature of their work. The benefit of taking this sensitive approach, particularly in an industry that "people love to hate," is the "[customer's] pleasant surprise and their changed perceptions," he says.

Customer service is everyone's business
Gingiss takes inspiration from a wide variety of sources. One of his favorites is Scott Wise, the founder of popular Midwestern restaurant chain Scotty's Brewhouse. "When I asked Scott what business he was in, he told me, 'the customer service business,'" Gingiss remembers. Elsewhere, Wise has said: "If you have a restaurant that has amazing food and crappy service, you have no customers." (Wise himself has been known to listen to a complaint on Twitter and direct a restaurant manager, "Get over to table 48 and solve this problem!")

The future isn't just AI and bots
Despite his fears that "bots could come in and ruin all of the progress" made thus far in delivering a personalized brand interaction, Gingiss does see a number of opportunities for applying artificial intelligence to social customer care. For example, he can imagine an agent sitting next to IBM's Watson and getting instant information on all of a customer's interactions, allowing the agent to "focus only on the human-to-human contact."

When it comes to AI, Gingiss offers this idea. "Frequently asked questions are a great place for bots because you generally don't need a human," he says. "If somebody asks how many calories are in a certain sandwich, we don't need a human to answer that question." But Gingiss cautions marketers to not go the way of the dreaded customer service phone trees, which often leave customers frustrated. "We need to make it extremely easy to get to a human being," he told me.

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