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Social technologies have arguably had more impact on customer service than any other business function. And we think 2016 will be the year when those working on the front-line aren’t just seen as “valuable employees” but absolute business rock stars…rock stars

Delivering customer care via the likes of Facebook and particularly Twitter has  become a standard, “hygiene factor” for most businesses. In fact the percentage of people using Twitter for customer service queries grew by almost 70% between 2013 and 2014, the Harvard Business Review reports.

Fortunately for customer service teams, they’ve been helped by the rate at which social media management technologies have developed in the last couple of years. While these tools have been around for many years, they’re now much more stable, intuitive and most importantly designed with contact centres in mind, not just marketing-focused community managers. This has enabled businesses to confidently scale up their provision of social media care with robust processes, governance and analytics.

So, the technology and the processes are looking pretty good… but what of the people.

In large organisations a key challenge is to both understand the “voice of the customer” and then be able to act on what’s revealed. Dedicated customer insights teams are often charged directly by CMOs and CEOs to cut through the noise and get a real handle on what’s being said “on the shop-floor”. Ah… if only there was a team in the organisation with their finger on the pulse of what customers were feeling – not gathering a weekly view, but understanding how things were changing in realtime. A team who knew how customers typically responded to different types of advertising, promotions, product launches and the like.

Oh hang on… what about a team of social media customer service agents?!  Of course using social media to help with delivering insights is nothing new. Back in 2012, Ronan Dunne, CEO of O2, was famously cited for regularly using social media to “walk the floors” and get a real sense of what was being said. But how many brands consult the customer service team when developing their next advertising campaign, I wonder?

The ability to provide insights isn’t the only change that social media has brought about for customer service teams. As agents start to engage in a public dialogue with consumers, everything they say has a potential marketing impact, and in some cases a real opportunity to drive sales. (I personally find this fascinating – it’s what got me excited about whole area of social media in the first place).

Ultimately what this has led to, over a very short period of time, is the humble “customer service agent” being expected to wear a number of hats and demonstrate a huge range of skills, notably:

  • Creativity: understand and reflect popular culture, be aware of what’s happening across the business and think outside of the box;
  • Empathy: really understand the customer’s issue in order to confidently have a non-scripted conversation with them in public;
  • Funny: disperse an awkward situation, or help generate brand warmth, with a well structured, appropriate and amusing reply;
  • Prioritise: quickly identify when a social media mention has the potential to go nuclear (maybe the customer is highly influential online or the subject matter is particularly sensitive);
  • Attention to detail: every hashtag, URL and character is in the public domain for anyone to throw stones at;
  • Getting things done around here: who in the business can supply the right answer to a customer query in a timely manner.

That’s a lot of skills, and requires agents to combine formal (explicit) training on using management tools and internal policies but also, crucially, on the job experience. Every day there are tough judgement calls to make, which draw on tacit knowledge that just can’t be neatly packaged up into a manual or playbook.  Agents will also, hopefully, build up something of a rapport with customers. In fact for many businesses (particularly those who are online-only) they may be the only employees whose name the customer knows.

The nature of social media, and the myriad queries that consumers submit, also means that service agents develop a deep understanding of both the business and the wider sector in which they work. As the role of differentiation through customer service grows in many industries, so the importance of these agents will continue to rise.

They’re not the kind of people you want walking out of the door. Especially to a competitor.

Which means organisations must absolutely recognise the amazing role social customer care agents play and take action accordingly. They should be an absolute priority in terms of training, remuneration, career progression and recognition. The last point is particularly important, especially when things are (apparently) ticking along nicely. How many times has a customer service agent headed off a social media firestorm, but it was never really acknowledged?rock stars

In 2016 the social customer service agent’s value will be greater than ever before and their unique position in the business should make them absolute rock stars. As more organisations recognise this, the ones that don’t may find their bass guitarists looking to sign to a different label.

If you liked this, why not take a look at the other articles in the series. And if you didn’t… well take a look as well!

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