Social Customer Service – Should We Crowdsource?

Should We Crowdsource Social Customer Service Response?

Social Customer ServiceEarlier this year, HP asked me to speak at their annual Social Support Summit on a social customer service experiment I recently conducted that demonstrated how 14 of the nation’s top brands lag behind customer’s expectations for support on social media.  After my presentation, an audience member asked me a question that I didn’t quite know how to answer. He said, “Do you know of a customer service software that [the brands] could have used to let community members respond to questions on social media?”

When he said “community members,” he meant customers that answer other customers’ questions in business forums and communities. He basically wanted to know if I knew of any products that enable these same community members to respond to queries on Facebook, Twitter and other social media channels (instead of in the company forum or community).

This was a really interesting idea. I’ve reviewed and compared all sorts of social customer service products that help employees respond to questions on social media, and many of these same vendors provide tools for running customer communities. But no one really puts these two together in the way the audience member suggested.

It was in this moment I realized that social app developers have a real opportunity in customer service.

Brands Are Missing A Piece of the Social Customer Service Pie

Every time someone mentions your brand on Twitter, Facebook, or another social media channel, they create an opportunity to have a conversation. Many social customer service products use keyword identifiers to filter out these messages and route them to employees to respond, but companies don’t have the manpower to lead every conversation (nor should they). Consider, for example, that Starbucks received 115,257 mentions during a four-week experiment I conducted.

That’s a lot of potential conversations. I hosted an online event last year called “Is Customer Service the New Marketing?” that underlined the potential for capitalizing on these mentions, and why many of these interactions should be led by customers, rather than the company itself:

“Customers are interested in marketing, but they don’t believe what your company says about itself unless it matches what they and their friends say about you,” best-selling author and customer service thought leader Micah Solomon said.

So how can companies take advantage on all of these opportunities for conversations without hiring an army of social responders or enablers? They can crowdsource their response to their most engaged and enthusiastic brand advocates – customer community users. But companies need new technology for crowdsourced social customer service to make it happen.

How Can Customer Community Members Help?

Community members are customers that are so enthusiastic about the brand that they voluntarily spend (unpaid) hours every day answering other customers’ questions in discussion forums. (This HP community member, for example, spends 30-40 hours a week responding to queries in the community.) This makes them perfect candidates for responding to others on social media.

If companies had tools for leveraging the community to respond on social, they’d essentially have a self-sustaining engine of authentic conversations about their brand. Sure, they lose a little message control. But in situations where a customer is really negative and dissatisfied, an employee could still dive in and intervene.

The bones of this kind of crowdsourcing technology already exist. Companies such as Lithium make technology for running customer communities, and they make products for social listening. They just need to put them together. This hypothetical software could still leverage all of tools that make communities so effective — things like gamification and automated alerts. These discussions would just move from the community forum to social media.

So what do you say social app developers? Can you help us?

[simple]Ashley VerrillAshley Verrill is the Managing Editor for the Customer Service Investigator blog, as well as an analyst for Software Advice. She has spent the last six years reporting and writing business news and strategy features. Her work has been featured or cited in Inc., Forbes, Business Insider, GigaOM, CIO.com, Yahoo News, the Upstart Business Journal, the Austin Business Journal and the North Bay Business Journal, among others. She also produces original research-based reports and video content with industry experts and thought leaders.

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