The Accidental Customer Care Team

The more active your company is on social the more likely your customers will use social networks to ask your for help, register complaints (to put it nicely) and generally seek advice. Sounds great. That is what you want from social - engaged customers. Right? 

Except when you are not ready for it. That is when your social team (typically staffed by Marketing) becomes what we call "The Accidental Customer Care Team". And daily fire drills ensue.

A perfect example of this phenomenon was discussed recently at the WOMMA Summit in Las Vegas. Time Warner Cable created a blog to give people better insight into the challenges of running a global network. It is, unabashedly, a corporate blog. And it tells interesting stories about employees, customers, technology and sometimes provides a platform for responding to crises. And it is really successful. So successful that customers started to ask Jeff Simmermon and his small team of collaborators in Digital Communications for help with service interruptions, cable box problems and other classic customer support/care questions. Because of that, Jeff and his team started to spend an increasing amount of their time helping triage and route support requests. Pretty quickly the Communications team in Manhattan reached out to the Care Team in Buffalo managed by Phil Blum to figure out how to route these issues. Over time, this worked into a really productive relationship with the growth of a care group focused on social channels (@twcablehelp). These two teams worked out their processes for routing issues, getting customers answers and tracking effectiveness. A happy story to be sure. And one that took 2 years to work out. 

One major learning to this story, is that if you find yourself on an Accidental Care Team, one way of accelerating your company's learning curve and getting the proper help is to manage your inbound help requests efficiently while tracking the metrics that will help you make the case for help. Here are 5 basic tips for better management/tracking: 

1. Establish your response SLA. You need to set customer and internal expectations. When will you respond? Weekdays during business hours? 24x7 to service the “always on” customer? And how quickly will you respond? Some of our customers have established a 1-hour response time SLA. We have heard of companies managing to a 5 minute response time. Of course, you are trying to balance what is acceptable to customers with what you can deliver.

2. Map your response plan. What issues do you address on social? Which need to get routed to other care channels because of privacy or other considerations? When do you respond to inflammatory statements and how? You can't just ignore trolls in the customer care world – you often need to turn them around. When you have 4-5 pages of workflow diagrams for a given product or brand, you probably have a good start. 

3. Get the help of a pro. Specifically, a customer care professional. There are many best practices from the traditional channels of the care world (email, phone, forums) that can be leveraged in social. Even if you cannot get dedicated help from the care team, getting insight from a care pro while you are defining your response SLA and response plan will save you from a lot of trial and error.

4. Recruit part-time expert help. If you find yourself on an Accidental Care Team, reach out to your company's care group and see if you can get at least some part time assistance. Often, questions about specific products, geographic nuances or other detailed topics are where your Accidental team will spend a LOT of time trying to find answers. As part of your response plan above, it is a good idea to identify specific people at your company that can give you answers on your top brands/products/geographies. 

5. Commit to tracking your success in solving customer issues. There are a few basic metrics your Accidental Team must start tracking. These include Issue Open Rate, Close Rate, Backlog of Open Issues, Open Issues by Team Member, and Issue Categories. Any seasoned care team would track another 15 metrics, but this will be a good start. If there is any hope in getting help for your Accidental Care Team, it lies in showing how many issues are coming in on social week over week and what types of questions are being asked. Note that many social media management tools do not help you track most (any?) of these key metrics. Spredfast does (, but we will go into that in detail another time. 

Though using social for care initiatives may seem like one more "to-do" item for your team, it is becoming clear that not only are customers enjoying using it for help, but it is also an incredibly cost effective way for companies to deliver customer care. One of our customers conducted a study showing that it is 6x cheaper to solve customer issues through social and public forums than through call centers. Some companies, like Nokia, already take a very proactive approach to managing customer care on social, and it's becoming more evident that this is a growing trend that presents new opportunities for Care teams everywhere. 

If you are at a company planning a big investment in social communication, be sure customer care is involved up front. Otherwise, you're signing up your Communications or Marketing team to become an Accidental (and often inefficient) Customer Care Team. And no one wants that.

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Jim is responsible for worldwide brand, product and revenue marketing at Spredfast. For more than 20 years, Jim has helped market, build and deliver software that helps people and companies work smarter.