Sramana Mitra: This is not an easy problem to solve. It’s not easy to do social customer support, right?
Alex Bard: Well, it depends. The way we think about it is – and this is if I was giving advice to an entrepreneur or business – you have to start by listening and understanding that your customers are interacting with you and about you. You need to participate in that conversation. If we zoom out to a macro level, more companies are starting to recognize that customer support is a philosophy and not a department. It’s not a call center. It’s not a few employees whom you put at the front line. It has to make its way through the entire organization. Once you start to understand that and understand that customers are the lifeblood of any business, then you start to open yourself up to engaging with them in a way they want to engage.
Businesses no longer control the method. Customers do. Once you understand that, you can start to think about how to bring that into your organization in a scaleable and effective way. One is to put tools and processes in place that help manage social as a core part of the entire customer engagement workflow. I would not recommend having social in a corner as a standalone. I would recommend having social and social interactions just like you do phone calls, emails, just like you engage with customers in traditional ways. Once it becomes a core part of that workflow, it becomes easier to manage.
The second important thing is knowledge and taking that knowledge and distributing it through your organization so that anybody who engages with a customer is as smart as the smartest person in your company on a particular topic. Then you push that knowledge out to your users both on your website through social communities and through social networks where users may be engaging. Making [customer support a core part of your work flow means] democratizing knowledge, publishing it and sharing it through the various channels your customers use to engage with you.
This is the flip side of what is happening in the industry. You’ve got this explosion in social and more people connected with a mobile device, a smartphone, so customer expectations of response times are much greater than they’ve ever been. You connect social and mobile, and there’s a lot more pressure than ever before on businesses to engage with customers the way they want to be engaged with and to do it in as close to real time as possible. That’s why a system that makes such engagement a core part of your workflow and knowledge is important to helping you manage that in a scalable way.
SM: I have two thoughts that come to mind as I listen to you. When you look at a B2B scenario, you as the brand or the vendor have a reasonable understanding of your customer base. You have them in your database. Today, with some effort, if you have that process in place, you know what their Twitter handles are, what their other social media touch points are. You could track that customer and potentially figure out what’s going on and, conceivably, serve that customer.
But if you go to a B2C scenario, what is your impression of what’s happening in the B2C domain when you have a continual problem with customer service and all parts of the organization, how do you deal with that?
AB: I think it’s just as important in a B2C world as it is in a B2B world, and we’ve all seen the social impact stories, such as the one where Bank of America had to reverse its fees because of Molly Katchpole. There’s the FedEx delivery truck story where the guy threw the TV over the fence and other challenges that bigger companies with many resources have had. But in that world, it’s just as critical to engage with your customers because that conversation’s going to happen, whether you choose to participate in it or not. We’re seeing large B2C companies excelling at turning conversations that customers are having with one another about these brands and with these brands, into marketing. They’ve made customer service a part of their core philosophy.
Let’s look at a company like Zappos, a large B2C company. Zappos’ tagline, when the company first started, used to be “the world’s largest shoe store.” The tagline today is “powered by service.” Zappos is famous for the level of service that it provides for focusing on customer delight, and the company has been able to do an outstanding job of it at scale. Let’s take a look at Virgin Airlines, which understands that customers are its lifeblood and that the company’s creating unique, interesting experiences for its customers. Virgin engages with its customers through social media, through Twitter and Facebook. We just had Richard Branson at Dream Force talking about some of the interesting things that Virgin does.
I don’t think that a company can’t do it because it has millions and millions of customers. A company has to choose to do it and make customer service a philosophy. Compare United to Virgin Airlines, which are probably at different ends of that scale.