Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Using social media in customer service

I am moderating the European innovation agencies taskforce analyzing the use of e-portals in the agencies. (Innovation agencies are for example Tekes-Finland, Enterprise Estonia, Vinnova-Sweden, Research Council of Norway)

One thing we analyzed in our work was the use of social media as a tool to interact with customers. The issues and results we encountered are general and relevant to all organizations so I hope you find this short summary useful.

The first thing to decide is what the organization wants to do with social media. There are four levels:
- Not to use social media
- "One way" communication
- Gathering feedback
- Two way communication and customer service.
I would argue based on the Estonian market that government institutions and innovation agencies are leading the way here. If for example the Estonian Police has a Facebook page to discuss general traffic and security issues then most businesses use social media primarily for marketing purposes only. There are only some companies who publish relevant information on social media, discuss, gather feedback and serve customers on Facebook for example. (My employer Elion among them. :-)) This situation is probably due to change, but as getting to level 4 means costs in the customer service department it will take some time. After all this would mean that someone must justify a budget for a specialist "spending time on Facebook". A challenge indeed!
By the way there are tools that can monitor socialmedia and internet and alert you if someone mentions your organization somewhere. This makes it possible to react and manage the discussions.

The second thing we analyzed was the tools and networks in use. In Western-Europe it seems that the global social tools - Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, LinkedIN - dominate. There is little room for local social networks.

The third thing an organization must decide is how much effort to put into social media: is it a hobby for some specialists or managers, whether to hire an editor or make interacting in social media someones role. Should an organization try to set up its own social network? I am sure that in the next five years there will be social media departments in all mid-size and big organizations.

An interesting challenge in using social media is how to get your employees actively involved. "How you make a programmer write a blog post?" The problem is that if you hire an editor or a social media specialist then they are not specialists in the services the organization offers and therefore cannot discuss about it.
But there are possibilities to solve this issue. The first thing to do is to communicate that "promoting the company on Google+ or Facebook is work and it is OK to do it on work time." The second thing to do is to find interesting topics for the employees to write about and if you have people who are excited about Java technology then they could discuss in the Java web-communities.
Many innovation organizations that we interviewed did not have this problem at all and surely this depends on the people working in the organization. Being humble is not a virtue anymore?! :-)

Related to the previous is the issue on whether the organization should have rules on what and how people can write publicly. There have been some cases where customer service personnel call the customers names on Facebook and get fired due to that. This kind of behavious should be prohibited of course. On the other hand if you create policies on what and how people can write about then you turn "exciting discussing" into "hard and boring work" and lose the initiative of people.
The practice in innovation agencies is that people are trusted and there are only some minor guidelines on what and how to write. I think this is a good idea in all organizations.

What would you want your service providers to do on social media?

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