28 Experts Predict the Future of Social Customer Care in 2017

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28 Experts Predict the Future of Social Customer Care in 2017

December 21, 2016

Social media is the first marketing channel where customers can actually talk back. This is a new concept for traditional brand marketers, who are used to being able to completely control the brand message with TV and print advertising that is akin to shouting with a megaphone.

 

Consumers now have a choice – and a voice – on social media; they don’t have to listen to brands, and they're free to “talk back”, making it a two-way conversation. This shifts the power from the brand to the consumer, and consumers today expect to be able to engage with brands wherever and whenever they want. A brand’s response (or lack thereof) plays a big role in customer satisfaction and loyalty.

 

No one can predict the future, but we all enjoy trying. 2016 was a huge year for customer service on social media, with Facebook and Twitter in particular adding tons of new functionality to make it easier for consumers and brands to engage in service interactions. Will that trend continue? And will consumers continue to be willing to go along for the ride?

 

I asked 27 social media and customer service experts three questions about what happened in social care in 2016 and what might be coming in 2017.

 

Their responses – along with my own – are shared below.

 

Question #1: Why do social media marketers need to care about customer service?

 

 

(Experts are listed in alphabetical order.)

 

Roy Atkinson, Senior Writer/Analyst, UBM Americas (@RoyAtkinson): “Every marketer, social or otherwise, should care about their brand’s customer service. What you are doing when you market your brand is making a promise. Whether or not your brand fulfills that promise is up to everyone associated with the brand. Companies that have a customer focus will perform better over time, and success markets itself.”

 

Jay Baer, Author/Speaker/President of Convince & Convert (@jaybaer): “When it plays out in social media – in full view of the public – customer service becomes a spectator sport. And in that environment, social care drives reputation, intent, and purchase. All of these are historically the purview of marketing and communications, thus marketers MUST care about social customer service. Further, customer service is one of the most correlated drivers of customer experience, loyalty, and advocacy. To put it simply: without strong customer service, great marketing is wasted.”

 

Alan Berkson, Director of Community Outreach / Analyst & Influencer Relations, Freshdesk (@berkson0): “Marketers need to take the words ‘social media’ out of the equation. The playing field has changed. Digital media is pervasive and multi-channel.  What this means for marketers is there are conversations going on across multiple digital channels, some of which are directed at you, the brand, but more often they are directed at friends and colleagues. For marketers, customer service conversations are a wealth of information. Customers are talking about what is most important to them about their brand experience. So listen. Listen some more. Learn. Then, when you’re ready, join the conversation.”

 

Nate Brown, Manager of Client Services, UL (@CustomerIsFirst): “The customer views the organization as one brand; it’s time for the company to do the same. By siloing social media and customer service, they are almost guaranteed to ‘speak’ with two different voices. In order to achieve a clear consistent brand, marketing and customer service must be closely aligned on everything from the knowledge base to phone personality.”

 

James Degnan, Xbox Community Support Manager: “Community is the new marketing – If a customer has a positive interaction with a brand, it will increase their loyalty, and likelihood of recommendations to friends. If a brand on social media is a one-way marketing mechanism, they are missing an opportunity to build rapport.”

 

Stephan Delbos, Editor & Content Manager, Brand Embassy (@StellarCX): “Social media marketers need to care about customer service because digital customer service, that is, customer service on social media and other digital channels, actually blurs the border between marketing and customer service. With most companies competing on the basis of customer experience rather than cost these days, great customer service and great CX (which often stems from positive interactions with brands on social media) is the best way for a brand to differentiate itself. Look at Zappos: a company that sells a boring product (that they do not manufacture) but has nevertheless created a huge reputation on the basis of their customer service. Social customer service is the new marketing.”

 

John DiJulius, President of The DiJulius Group & Customer Service Consultant (@JohnDiJulius): “Because it isn’t about marketing campaigns any more, it is about conversations. Let’s not forget the ‘social’ part of social media. We are so inundated with advertising mania on every channel. We used to ignore it, but now I see a new evolution happening: We are getting annoyed by it. You do not want your brand to be annoying.

 

[Starbucks Founder & CEO] Howard Schultz said it best: ‘The rules of engagement of traditional marketing, advertising, and public relations is no longer an effective tool because of the way in which people are interacting in the new channels of communications. Now, the mistake that most companies are making is they are using these channels as an opportunity to sell stuff. It is really not designed for that. In fact I would submit that you should really resist that temptation and use social media as reservoir of trust with your customers.’”

 

Whitney Drake, OpEx Leadership Excellence Acceleration Program (formerly Social Strategy & Care), General Motors (@qoswhit): “Social media marketers need to care about customer service because the expectation of social is a two-way dialogue.  Social provides the ability for customers to speak directly to companies and as a result customers expect you to answer their questions and concerns in that space. If a company is not in the social space answering them, they will find another company that is/can.”

 

Adam Fraser, Founder of EchoJunction (@adamf2014): “Marketers need to be across social customer service for a number of reasons. It's such an important part of the overall product or service and customer experience, and can be a key driver of retention, brand loyalty and willingness to recommend to others. Millennials in particular want brands to be easily accessible, but across all demographics the easier you make it for your customers to engage with you on a channel of their choice, the better. To me, social customer service dovetailed with social listening is a critical element in any enterprise social business strategy.”

 

Dan Gingiss, Marketing & Customer Experience Executive (@dgingiss): “Every time companies put content in people’s streams, they invite customers to engage. Sometimes, the company is lucky enough that they want to engage with the content. Other times, the marketing simply serves as a reminder that the company exists and that the customer has an unresolved issue. So social marketers need to care about customer service because marketing begets customer service in social media. And the more companies spend on amplification, the more feedback they receive.”

 

Lisa Goode, Senior Director of Social Business, Southwest Airlines (@TheGoodePlace): “Across the airline industry, airlines are placing more and more focus on their customers, making the Customer Service ‘arm’ of the business look more like a marketing tool. A few years ago it was rare to find an airline providing social customer service 24/7, 365 days a year. Now, providing online Customer Service 24/7 is the standard, and airlines are using this feature to show their dedication to their customers while investing in other efforts to better the overall travel experience. Our Marketing counterparts are fully engaged in our Customer Service social media efforts which work in tandem with their social marketing efforts.”

 

Shep Hyken, Customer Service & Experience Expert (@Hyken): “Social media has become a very popular channel that customers use to reach out to the companies they do business with. It used to be that it was a follow up to not getting a response to an email or long wait times on hold. For some customers, it has become the first way they communicate. It is imperative that marketers pay attention to what their customers are saying (tweeting, posting, etc.) and respond in a timely fashion.”

 

Andrew Hutchinson, Head of Content & Social Media, Social Media Today (@adhutchinson): “Quite simply, social is where your customers are, and increasingly, it’s where they’re finding answers – whether those responses are from you or somebody else. Facebook, for example, now has more than 1.79 billion users, equivalent to around a quarter of the world’s population. Now that might not sound like much, but consider this – of the 7.5 billion people in the world, only around 3.8 billion of them have access to the internet, and when you take into account other factors, like regions where Facebook is blocked, the actual reach of the platform is more like 47% - or more simply, one in two people who can access Facebook, do, and most of them do so every day. That’s a pretty compelling stat.

 

And as time spent on social platforms rises, so too does the amount and variance of interactions continue to increase. People have come to rely on social the same way the previous generation relied on the telephone – and I don’t need to explain the value of the phone as a customer service tool. If you’re not thinking of social in this way, you’re massively underestimating the medium. This is how people communicate, where people ask questions, where people find answers. Increasingly, it’s the brands that are hearing those voices that will win out.”

 

Kriti Kapoor, Global Director of Social Customer Care, HP Inc. (@Kriti_Kapoor): “Customer experience gets shaped by every single interaction a customer has with a brand, at every single touch point. Social media and customer service is no exception. In fact, with rapidly growing expectations, it is our customers who are forcing us to raise the bar and show up as ONE brand, ONE team regardless of channel. This year at HP, this held more true than any other year in our brand's social journey. Our two teams partnered on numerous fronts, as we: 1) Extended our reach by covering more branded handles in more languages and replying to customer feedback on paid dark posts; 2) Broadened our coverage by replying to online reviews that drive purchase decisions; and 3) Deepened our engagement by taking on a new crisis management approach for a quicker and better coordinated response. In fact, (Product) Marketing channeled dollars in support of social care and the need for better customer service.”

 

Davy Kestens, Founder & CEO, Sparkcentral (@davykestens): “Great marketers should be able to collaborate well with the customer care organization to deliver a dependable and consistently great social customer experience. Customer experience has a lot of influence on how decisions are made about which brands to do business with, and the customer experience is no longer just defined by great marketing. Social customer service has become a major touch point and a strong driver of overall brand sentiment and reputation.”

 

Allison Leahy, Director of Community, Fitbit (@zapleahy): “All parts of the org should care about customer service! CS is the cornerstone of brand experience. Talking directly to your customers 1:1 is going to make more of an impression than any lifestyle campaign, no matter how motivational or heartwarming the storyline. When you are making thousands of connections every day, you would do best to make those connections meaningful. Our philosophy on the Community Team is to make sure people leave the conversation feeling happier and more taken care of than when they opened their discussion with us. If your social media marketing team and your customer care team aren’t sharing information, neither are going to be as successful as they would be if they were working together. There are so many useful insights that can be passed between the two to ensure any content being created is useful and entertaining.”

 

Jeff Lesser, Sr. Product Marketing Manager, Twitter (@jefflesser): “Customer service was the one of the earliest behaviors on Twitter – and over the last decade, we’ve seen Twitter become the best place for businesses to provide care to their customers. Twitter is live, public, and conversational – which makes for a great experience for both the consumer and the brand. Being responsive on Twitter not only builds relationships but it impacts the bottom line. Recent research shows that when a customer Tweets at a business and receives a response, they are willing to spend 3–20% more on an average priced item from that business in the future. Marketers can’t ignore that!”

 

Joshua March, Founder & CEO, Conversocial (@joshuamarch): “Customer service achieves many marketing goals and is even more powerful because it creates a frictionless, effortless customer experience. Customer service inquiries enable brands to have direct and meaningful conversations with customers, directly impacting customer loyalty and the bottom line. Today’s messaging platforms have significantly increased capabilities of private, 1:1 messaging (both Messenger and Twitter DM) which lend themselves far more to customer service than anything else, in my opinion. And when customers are engaged one-on-one in these channels for service, it creates a captive audience, making it much more efficient to use the same channels for sales and marketing activities. For example, in Messenger, a brand can place ads that only show up for consumers who have a direct messaging channel open with that brand. This translates into a direct and measurable ROI. Marketing has a tremendous amount to gain from this interaction.”

 

Laurie Meacham, Manager Customer Commitment, JetBlue Airways (@LaurieAMeacham): “Because how you are with your customers lends transparency and a genuine snapshot of who you are, as a brand, and what you market. It’s the one on one relationships that build trust and earn you the right to market to those customers."

 

Dan Moriarty, Director of Digital, Chicago Bulls (@iamdanmoriarty): “The internet has made the world smaller, and customers now have seemingly limitless choices when it comes to where (and on what) they spend their money. We're also all walking around connected (should we choose) 24/7. Long-term relationships will be built (and lost) on customer experience, and the customer's mobile device will continue to play an increasingly important role in the journey here. Brands which aren't prepared to make their customer's lives easier/ better by engaging with them on their device of choice will quickly be left behind, with customers choosing to spend their money with brands who are.”

 

Bill Quiseng, Chief Experience Officer, billquiseng.com (@billquiseng): “Any customer seeking support via social media can just as easily broadcast pleasure or dissatisfaction of that service via the very same channels. If you're not listening, your customer will gladly speak out to your customers who might be. Ultimately, you do not define your brand. Your customers do.”

 

Ben Roberts, Marketing Strategist, Heinnie Haynes (@Roberts_Ben_M): “Because customers are social. People spend their time on social, so if you want to really affect their thoughts and feelings and opinions you have to be in those spaces. If you aren’t on social, you won’t get as much feedback. Feedback drives improvement. Improvement leads to more sales.”

 

Neal Schaffer, CEO & Principal Social Media Strategy Consultant, Maximize Your Social (@NealSchaffer): “Customer Experience is King. As social media marketers we expose social media users to our brand, but the customer experience will determine if they both convert as well as remain loyal and hopefully become our advocates. That's why social media marketers need to care about – and collaborate more intensely with – their customer service team.”

 

Peter Shankman, author and entrepreneur (@petershankman): “No one believes how great you are if you're the one who has to tell them. Social marketers need to understand that all the marketing in the world is worthless if the friends of the people you're trying to reach are telling them how horrible you are.”

 

Ravi Shukle, Social Media & Relationship Marketing Expert (@ravishukle): “Social customer service has become vital for businesses today as there is no longer a choice. Whether you chose to embrace social customer care or not, your customers will still be talking about you online. Without taking the extra time to listen and engage with these customers, you are losing the opportunity to spotlight your biggest fans as well as turn around negative opinions before they have a chance to escalate.”

 

Adam Toporek, Founder, CTS Service Solutions (@adamtoporek): “Social media is a customer care channel, whether brands want it to be or not. Social media marketers should understand that they are now deeply connected to the ‘customer service’ portion of the customer's experience, and that they do not own their organization’s social media — the customer does.”

 

Jeremy Watkin, Head of Quality, First Call Resolution (@jwatkin): “I’ve heard so many people say, ‘Customer service is the new marketing,’ that it’s hard to know who to credit with the quote— but it’s true. In an age where customers have a stronger voice than ever, a poor customer service experience can quickly undermine any positive momentum created by marketing. For social media marketers to be successful, they must be fanatical about listening to the voice of the customer and partnering with customer service to create a consistently great customer experience.”

 

Scott Wise, Founder/President/CEO, Scotty’s Brewhouse (@brewhouse): “Because social media has nothing to do with marketing and EVERYTHING to do with relationships, 2-way conversations and authenticity.  The marketing EVOLVES out of these 3 things and customer service blossoms, when done effectively.  And, that creates… trust and a desire to WANT to do business with a company that owns their message and medium.  Not one that just pumps out marketing messages en masse.  The consumer can see right through that strategy and it just does not resonate or create loyalty and a desire to WANT to do business with a company like that.  2017 Marketing is talking with a guest, not AT them.”

 

Question #2: "What’s one thing you’ve learned in 2016 about social customer service that will help guide your strategy for next year?"

 

Roy Atkinson, Senior Writer/Analyst, UBM Americas (@RoyAtkinson): “Several episodes from 2016 (the woman stuck in the Amtrak elevator, for example) show that it is not enough to have a Twitter account (or a Facebook page) and monitor your Mentions; you must have some technology that is constantly searching for mentions of you online. Even if your social team is really good at responding, you may wind up looking less-than-stellar if you miss a communication. Search everywhere, all the time.”

 

Jay Baer, Author/Speaker/President of Convince & Convert (@jaybaer): “2016 will go down as the year the apps and bots started taking over. It’s a fascinating dichotomy we’ve witnessed where customer service has two poles: a high-touch, rapid-response component, and then a self-service, tech-enabled, no-touch component. Both are good for customers, but in totally different ways.”

 

Alan Berkson, Director of Community Outreach / Analyst & Influencer Relations, Freshdesk (@berkson0): “When a customer takes to social channels for customer service, I’ve noticed they generally fall into two categories. Either they don’t feel traditional channels like email or phone are accessible, whether it’s where they are at the time or the real-time nature of an issue. Or they have exhausted other channels and social is the channel of last resort. In the latter case it becomes as much about embarrassing the brand as getting an issue resolved. The responsibility of – and the opportunity for – brands is to better understand how and where customers use their products and how they are likely to need to communicate in the event they need help. This also means providing a native experience on that channel. Particularly on mobile I see brands trying to ‘shrink and squeeze’ a web experience rather than creating a native experience.”

 

Nate Brown, Manager of Client Services, UL (@CustomerIsFirst): “Social customer service is much less about having ‘the new cool service channel’ and instead having a quality and consistent customer experience across all your channels.  For us, 2017 will be a year of clear branding and collaboration.”

 

James Degnan, Xbox Community Support Manager: “A customer should not need to differentiate between a ‘support’ presence vs. a ‘marketing’ presence on social. Support vs. Marketing is an internal, organizational construct that segregates and potentially diminishes a customer’s perception of the brand as a whole.”

 

Stephan Delbos, Editor & Content Manager, Brand Embassy (@StellarCX): “Customer service has to be human-centric, and it must balance the benefits of automation with the authenticity of the human touch. That's what customers demand now: the ease of digital communication with brands but the feeling of actually connecting with real people and being treated like a real person, not a case to be solved.”

 

John DiJulius, President of The DiJulius Group & Customer Service Consultant (@JohnDiJulius): “#1 don’t make World Series bets with someone via social media. That leaves a trail of proof and then you have to pay up. [And for the record, he did pay up!] Seriously, that question really pisses me off (can I say that?). That thinking drives me crazy. Why does everyone treat social media like it is an island by itself, with its own set of rules? They don’t only do it with social media, they do it in their business. We are business to business, it is different for us. Or we are manufacturing. Or we are a call center. It doesn’t matter. Your focus must be on providing a positive experience on EVERY interaction, whether it is face-to-face, click-to-click, or ear-to-ear. Carpe momento—seize the moment! Stop looking at social media differently than you look at how you interact with people at your store, on the phone or in an email. World-Class is World-Class.”

 

Whitney Drake, OpEx Leadership Excellence Acceleration Program (formerly Social Strategy & Care), General Motors (@qoswhit): “This year has been a year of discovery and our number one take away as we look towards 2017 is self-service. Enabling our customers to find answers more easily will help raise their ownership experience and reduce frustration. This content will also allow us to help customers in a more well-rounded way.”

 

Adam Fraser, Founder of EchoJunction (@adamf2014): “Social customer service needs to be treated as a core business process in the same way a phone call centre historically was considered. Technology matters but focus on people and business process first.”

 

Dan Gingiss, Marketing & Customer Experience Executive (@dgingiss): “From interviewing dozens of great brands on the Focus on Customer Service Podcast, I’ve learned that every company is unique, and the ones that embrace their uniqueness in social media become the most memorable. A great example is Spotify, which responds to customers with personalized music playlists that, when read beginning to end, answer the customer’s question. There are so many ways to be creative in social care, which is why integrating social media marketing and customer service makes so much sense.”

 

Lisa Goode, Senior Director of Social Business, Southwest Airlines (@TheGoodePlace): “Just like any customer service channel, if we are going to provide customer service we must be committed to meeting or exceeding our customers’ expectations. The Southwest Airlines Community will be a focus next year as we leverage the expertise and wisdom of our customers to help answer other customers' questions. This is a unique onboarding opportunity for us with respect to new customer acquisition with both the Discussion Forum and the Stories that are part of The Southwest Airlines Community.”

 

Shep Hyken, Customer Service & Experience Expert (@Hyken): “Pay attention to your customer base. There are still some groups of customers (based on demographics and industries) that don’t use social to connect with companies, while others find it more convenient, quicker and their primary way of communicating their questions, problems, etc. A company must know its customer base and how they like to communicate. You can’t force traditional support (phone, email, etc.) or social care on customers who don’t want it. They are your customers and they get to choose how they want to communicate.”

 

Andrew Hutchinson, Head of Content & Social Media, Social Media Today (@adhutchinson): “The reliance on messaging platforms has been a big learning experience this year – even if the messaging takeover hasn’t happened as some had predicted it might just yet. There’s been a heap of research and data produced on messaging and how people are becoming more attuned to messenger commerce or being able to ask questions of businesses direct via text. While it may seem like most people want to keep their messaging private, and that they might not want ads in their message threads, the ease of interaction and personalization will likely make messaging a more important consideration for brands moving forward.

 

In the next year, I’d expect messaging platforms to offer more simplified tools to help smaller businesses maximize the benefits of messaging, which will then make them advocates of the option, increasing awareness among users who may be somewhat resistant. Once people start to see the benefits, customer service via message will grow – and when it does, you’ll want to be paying attention and tapping into that trend.”

 

Kriti Kapoor, Global Director of Social Customer Care, HP Inc. (@Kriti_Kapoor): “Pay attention to details. Every customer interaction matters, every conversation counts. And we must continue to learn and improve our core operations. The HP Social Care team now runs surveys across each of our primary channels of social support. In addition to paying attention to agent response quality and brand voice, we can now measure and improve our resolution rates, customer effort and support Net Promoter Score. As social customer care matures within customer support as a function at leading brands like HP, Comcast, T-Mobile, Hyatt, Microsoft, etc., demonstrating progress will enable teams like ours to accelerate investment and the shift to social care.”

 

Davy Kestens, Founder & CEO, Sparkcentral (@davykestens): “That the need for social customer service was just the beginning, and merely the most promising example of how consumers’ communication and customer service expectations have shifted. Social is the first touch point where brands are noticing this, but this wave will have a major impact on the entire customer care operations of brands in the next year.”

 

Allison Leahy, Director of Community, Fitbit (@zapleahy): “After speed and availability, customers seeking support through social want the person on the other side to know their contact histories regardless of which channels they’ve used. This next year will be focused on extending our capabilities further by integrating with other systems so that we can build an even more robust social care operation that is equipped not only to find opportunities to engage with customers, identify product issues, and offer accurate and timely solutions, but to hand off to other support channels in a seamless way that minimizes friction commonly associated with channel switching. We look forward to using insights gained over the past year to serving our community better in 2017!”

 

Jeff Lesser, Sr. Product Marketing Manager, Twitter (@jefflesser): “We spent the year focused on making customer service on Twitter even more seamless. To identify which products to build, we went straight into product-solving mode, working with care teams around the country to identify pain points and ways we could make their jobs easier. We are so proud of the features that we were able to launch as a result of listening to our team and customers on Twitter, and will continue to pay attention to consumers’ and clients’ needs in the future.”

 

Joshua March, Founder & CEO, Conversocial (@joshuamarch): “Social is growing up. It’s mature, and now requires executives to focus on the ROI to measure the real cost for resolution compared to other traditional channels such as email or phone. There’s also been a massive increase in the technological innovation and focus from social channels like Twitter and Facebook towards making their platforms the ideal channel for customer service. These advances are redefining what companies can achieve on social, and as the proven ROI value of these effortless channels increases, they will become the go-to channel for all customer service interactions.”

 

Laurie Meacham, Manager Customer Commitment, JetBlue Airways (@LaurieAMeacham): “That while full service on social used to be a rarity or a nice surprise and delight, it’s now becoming an expectation. This may result in longer handle times from start to finish, but it’s an important investment and speed is still important for the initial response. We’ve also noticed that many customers prefer private channels (DM and Messenger) and initiate conversations that way, so we’re looking at the possibility of establishing different SLAs for those channels as the messages there tend to be longer and sometimes more involved.”

 

Dan Moriarty, Director of Digital, Chicago Bulls (@iamdanmoriarty): “Social customer service HAS to be human. As technology takes over – with bots, with scripts, with workflows, with SLAs – it's important that we don't lose the human connection. That's not saying I'm anti-bots; there's a time and place for them (namely when all the customer cares about is speed and it's a more transactional type interaction) but with everything we do the most important aspect is bringing a brand's humanity to life through its people. The quality of interaction matters – social customer care isn't just a check-box (‘Yes, I've responded...’) – it's incredibly important to look at the types of conversations that are being had, and make sure we're training agents to have conversations that our customers would have with their own friends and family. That's how you make your brand relevant here.”

 

Bill Quiseng, Chief Experience Officer, billquiseng.com (@billquiseng): “2016 is the year that customers moved en masse from toll-free numbers and ‘Contact Us’ emails to live chat, on-line forums and social media platforms to get quick support. Companies will need to allocate resources to monitor all these channels and respond with resources accordingly.”

 

Ben Roberts, Marketing Strategist, Heinnie Haynes (@Roberts_Ben_M): “Bots have really come to the forefront of social customer service in 2016. There have been some great case studies, but also a lot of really poor examples. It’s a classic case where the people who are at the forefront of the technology have the opportunity to shape the industry, but with that comes big risks of it backfiring. This is something we’ve been really cautious about adopting too heavily, but in 2017 this is something that will definitely be integrated into our social customer service programme, with a look to avoid the mistakes that the early adopters have made.”

 

Neal Schaffer, CEO & Principal Social Media Strategy Consultant, Maximize Your Social (@NealSchaffer): “I learned from my own personal experience that, as a marketer, I'm responsible for ensuring that the brand experience is aligned with our brand promise. Social customer service allows brands to tap into the ebb and flow of not just public sentiment about their brand, but also specific feedback that is equivalent to a virtual focus group that can help my clients build a better customer experience.”

 

Peter Shankman, author and entpreneur (@petershankman): “Listen to your audience. They'll tell you exactly what you need to do, every single step of the way.”

 

Ravi Shukle, Social Media & Relationship Marketing Expert (@ravishukle): “That personalization is key. Adding personality and an unscripted approach will help take your customer and employee relationships to the next level. When customers feel like they are talking to a real person compared to a bot they begin to open up more and as a result are more willing to trust and forgive. By all means use scripts to assist but do not rely on them 100%.”

 

Adam Toporek, Founder, CTS Service Solutions (@adamtoporek): “I think the most impactful takeaway for me this year is the trend line on the use of social media for customer service. Regardless of the effectiveness of the channel — and each channel has its pros and cons — Millennials are simply more comfortable approaching organizations via social media than traditional channels. This means we must plan for a continually increasing share of customer care issues to be communicated through social.”

 

Jeremy Watkin, Head of Quality, First Call Resolution (@jwatkin): “Your customers are either contacting you via social media because another channel didn’t work for them, or because it’s their preferred channel. Either way, they are expecting real solutions to their issues and won’t look favorably on clearly canned responses, requests to call or email support instead, or anything else that requires additional effort on their part. If the issue truly cannot be solved on the customer’s channel of choice, it’s our job to reach out to them on the best channel.”

 

Scott Wise, Founder/President/CEO, Scotty’s Brewhouse (@brewhouse): “The one thing I know is that I don’t know anything. We are moving at light speed. And not only is the technology changing, but so is the consumer, and the next generation is impossible for us to truly predict with all of these moving parts. The thing that doesn’t change? People still want to trust your business, know you are authentic, know you listen to them and HEAR them, know you will have a conversation with them and use their wants, needs, desires, comments, complaints to improve your company and products after you hear them.

 

Question #3: "What do you predict will be different about social customer service a year from now?"

 

Roy Atkinson, Senior Writer/Analyst, UBM Americas (@RoyAtkinson): “Several episodes from 2016 (the woman stuck in the Amtrak elevator, for example) show that it is not enough to have a Twitter account (or a Facebook page) and monitor your Mentions; you must have some technology that is constantly searching for mentions of you online. Even if your social team is really good at responding, you may wind up looking less-than-stellar if you miss a communication. Search everywhere, all the time.”

 

Jay Baer, Author/Speaker/President of Convince & Convert (@jaybaer): “A LOT will be different about social customer service in one year, but I expect there to be a much greater use of video in company responses, and a much greater use of Instagram as a core social care channel.”

 

Alan Berkson, Director of Community Outreach / Analyst & Influencer Relations, Freshdesk (@berkson0): “When I talk to customer service managers, I hear the biggest challenge with social customer care is the sheer volume of queries. Look for bots to be available on multiple social channels to handle the simple queries and begin to address some of the more complicated queries. This will be true across all customer care channels. This also means you will need to staff and empower your in-person channels to handle the more complicated and complex queries.”

 

Nate Brown, Manager of Client Services, UL (@CustomerIsFirst): “Social customer service is much less about having ‘the new cool service channel’ and instead having a quality and consistent customer experience across all your channels.  For us, 2017 will be a year of clear branding and collaboration.”

 

James Degnan, Xbox Community Support Manager: “More automation, and more brands joining ‘the conversation’ – Brands are looking toward innovative solutions to automate ‘self-help’ for common questions. The most savvy brands will also begin to blur the lines between traditional customer service interactions, and simply participating in a non-support conversation.”

 

Stephan Delbos, Editor & Content Manager, Brand Embassy (@StellarCX): “Customer service has to be human-centric, and it must balance the benefits of automation with the authenticity of the human touch. That's what customers demand now: the ease of digital communication with brands but the feeling of actually connecting with real people and being treated like a real person, not a case to be solved.”

 

John DiJulius, President of The DiJulius Group & Customer Service Consultant (@JohnDiJulius): “Be where your customer is. Forget flavor of the month, program of the year or management by bestseller. Figure out what your customer wants and work backwards. As technology gets more and more integrated in our communication, don’t lose sight of who creates the true experience. Technology can never be empathetic, build relationships or make a brilliant comeback when your company drops the ball. Customers crave recognition and a personalized experience.

 

In short, technology cannot provide genuine hospitality. It cannot make people feel good, take care of others, express emotions and vulnerability in a relatable way, or make people laugh. We have subconsciously sent the wrong message to all our employees, that it is about the technology – our website, apps, social media, virtual tour, iPads, kiosks, self-checkout. So our employees start using the technology as a crutch, thinking they have less importance, less of a role with the customer. They rely on the technology to provide the experience. We need to reverse that. Customer experience is 10% technology and you are 90%.

 

We need to make sure every single person working in your business knows and understands one critical thing: YOU ARE THE EXPERIENCE. Those who understand the human touch is an indispensable part and the most important part of a great customer experience will make the difference. Customers and people are starving for a humanized experience. It’s really about human connection.”

 

Whitney Drake, OpEx Leadership Excellence Acceleration Program (formerly Social Strategy & Care), General Motors (@qoswhit): “This year has been a year of discovery and our number one take away as we look towards 2017 is self-service. Enabling our customers to find answers more easily will help raise their ownership experience and reduce frustration. This content will also allow us to help customers in a more well-rounded way.”

 

Adam Fraser, Founder of EchoJunction (@adamf2014): “I think messenger apps (as well as the messaging features of the ‘traditional’ social networks) will become increasingly important vs. the public-facing aspects of social customer service.”

 

Dan Gingiss, Marketing & Customer Experience Executive (@dgingiss): “There’s no question that private messaging will continue to grow, in part because it makes brands more comfortable to have discussions out of the public eye, and in part because customers prefer it as well. Companies will need to train their social care teams accordingly, and likely end up combining their click-to-chat, social media, and even e-mail service teams into one digital customer service team. I also expect Twitter and Facebook to continue raising the bar in terms of new functionality which benefits both consumers and brands.”

 

Lisa Goode, Senior Director of Social Business, Southwest Airlines (@TheGoodePlace): “Just like any customer service channel, if we are going to provide customer service we must be committed to meeting or exceeding our customers’ expectations. The Southwest Airlines Community will be a focus next year as we leverage the expertise and wisdom of our customers to help answer other customers' questions. This is a unique onboarding opportunity for us with respect to new customer acquisition with both the Discussion Forum and the Stories that are part of The Southwest Airlines Community.”

 

Shep Hyken, Customer Service & Experience Expert (@Hyken): “Social customer service is becoming a routine channel of support. Social channels like Twitter have already created a customer service application that allows companies to move their conversations into Direct Message mode, making the ‘conversations’ private. They have also added the feature of allowing the customer to rate the company after the interaction. More social channels will be developing similar tools for companies and customers to interact with over their apps. The trend toward customer support through social channels will continue to evolve.”

 

Andrew Hutchinson, Head of Content & Social Media, Social Media Today (@adhutchinson): “Aside from the likely increased use of Messenger, I would say there’ll be more automation and AI-fueled services that can help both customers and businesses make best use of social as a customer service option. This year we’ve seen a heap of AI tools released, like Facebook’s Messenger bots, LinkedIn’s @inbot meeting scheduler, and Twitter’s AI-assisted DMs. These tools are only scratching the surface of what’s possible – the trick is to automate where it’s helpful for the customer, but always be aware of the experience – otherwise the interaction can quickly become a frustration.

 

The benefit of AI-assistance services for brands is they can reduce workload and labor costs, and that will become an increasingly important consideration once we start to see smart, intuitive ways that AI can be used. Once the use-cases start to stack up, we’ll see a lot more AI customer service tools – it won’t be a full bot takeover in the next year, but it’ll ramp up considerably as technology develops.”

 

Kriti Kapoor, Global Director of Social Customer Care, HP Inc. (@Kriti_Kapoor): “We will see continued innovation in social care. Companies will accelerate the adoption of messaging platforms, train and deploy multichannel agents for better efficiencies across chat and social, and will invest in automation via chatbots and artificial intelligence to scale social care.”

 

Davy Kestens, Founder & CEO, Sparkcentral (@davykestens): “Messaging and other mobile interaction points are the next big wave, and we’re going to see unprecedented volumes of customer interactions shift to these new mediums. The ‘social care team’ will evolve to the ‘digital care team’ and support a much broader set of communication channels. Multiple messaging apps will be supported 24/7 and chat support will move to this team while evolving to a new form of both web and mobile messaging. I expect that brands which will be able to quickly adapt and support the digitally-savvy customers well (through a combination of staffing, AI, proactive automations and agent empowerment to truly help customers) will see the majority of their customer interactions transition to these new channels over the course of the next few years.”

 

Allison Leahy, Director of Community, Fitbit (@zapleahy): “After speed and availability, customers seeking support through social want the person on the other side to know their contact histories regardless of which channels they’ve used. This next year will be focused on extending our capabilities further by integrating with other systems so that we can build an even more robust social care operation that is equipped not only to find opportunities to engage with customers, identify product issues, and offer accurate and timely solutions, but to hand off to other support channels in a seamless way that minimizes friction commonly associated with channel switching. We look forward to using insights gained over the past year to serving our community better in 2017!”

 

Jeff Lesser, Sr. Product Marketing Manager, Twitter (@jefflesser): “Every day, people turn to Twitter to talk about the experiences they have with businesses. Many of our advertisers tell us that over 80% of their inbound social customer service requests happen on Twitter. As brands continue to use Twitter as a major customer service channel and consumers continue to make this behavior a part of their daily lives, we expect to see more usage, and more creative examples of how businesses communicate with customers on Twitter.”

 

Joshua March, Founder & CEO, Conversocial (@joshuamarch): “Social is growing up. It’s mature, and now requires executives to focus on the ROI to measure the real cost for resolution compared to other traditional channels such as email or phone. There’s also been a massive increase in the technological innovation and focus from social channels like Twitter and Facebook towards making their platforms the ideal channel for customer service. These advances are redefining what companies can achieve on social, and as the proven ROI value of these effortless channels increases, they will become the go-to channel for all customer service interactions.”

 

Laurie Meacham, Manager Customer Commitment, JetBlue Airways (@LaurieAMeacham): “There will always be an aspect of social customer service that’s public and sends a one-to-many message, but I think we’ll continue to see a rise in the one-on-one interactions through DM and Messenger. It’ll be important for brands to prioritize and support this at scale.”

 

Dan Moriarty, Director of Digital, Chicago Bulls (@iamdanmoriarty): “Social customer service HAS to be human. As technology takes over – with bots, with scripts, with workflows, with SLAs – it's important that we don't lose the human connection. That's not saying I'm anti-bots; there's a time and place for them (namely when all the customer cares about is speed and it's a more transactional type interaction) but with everything we do the most important aspect is bringing a brand's humanity to life through its people. The quality of interaction matters – social customer care isn't just a check-box (‘Yes, I've responded...’) – it's incredibly important to look at the types of conversations that are being had, and make sure we're training agents to have conversations that our customers would have with their own friends and family. That's how you make your brand relevant here.”

 

Bill Quiseng, Chief Experience Officer, billquiseng.com (@billquiseng): “2016 is the year that customers moved en masse from toll-free numbers and ‘Contact Us’ emails to live chat, on-line forums and social media platforms to get quick support. Companies will need to allocate resources to monitor all these channels and respond with resources accordingly.”

 

Ben Roberts, Marketing Strategist, Heinnie Haynes (@Roberts_Ben_M): “Bots have really come to the forefront of social customer service in 2016. There have been some great case studies, but also a lot of really poor examples. It’s a classic case where the people who are at the forefront of the technology have the opportunity to shape the industry, but with that comes big risks of it backfiring. This is something we’ve been really cautious about adopting too heavily, but in 2017 this is something that will definitely be integrated into our social customer service programme, with a look to avoid the mistakes that the early adopters have made.”

 

Neal Schaffer, CEO & Principal Social Media Strategy Consultant, Maximize Your Social (@NealSchaffer): “I learned from my own personal experience that, as a marketer, I'm responsible for ensuring that the brand experience is aligned with our brand promise. Social customer service allows brands to tap into the ebb and flow of not just public sentiment about their brand, but also specific feedback that is equivalent to a virtual focus group that can help my clients build a better customer experience.”

 

Peter Shankman, author and entrepreneur (@petershankman): “Companies will finally realize there's tremendous revenue in great customer service, and it'll stop being an afterthought.”

 

Ravi Shukle, Social Media & Relationship Marketing Expert (@ravishukle): “That personalization is key. Adding personality and an unscripted approach will help take your customer and employee relationships to the next level. When customers feel like they are talking to a real person compared to a bot they begin to open up more and as a result are more willing to trust and forgive. By all means use scripts to assist but do not rely on them 100%.”

 

Adam Toporek, Founder, CTS Service Solutions (@adamtoporek): “Based on the continued growth of consumers using social media for customer service, we should see a much greater allocation of attention and resources to these channels on the organizational side. Large organizations will deepen their commitment, and more small businesses will begin to take these channels seriously.”

 

Jeremy Watkin, Head of Quality, First Call Resolution (@jwatkin):  "I have two predictions for social customer service in the next year. First, chatbots are all the rage. Some companies with a high volume on social media will find ways to use bots for automation— some good, others not so good. Second, with other channels like text and Facebook Messenger emerging, we’re going to see more symbiosis between these and social media both in customer channel preference and with the software vendors that are creating tools for managing all of these channels."

 

Scott Wise, Founder/President/CEO, Scotty’s Brewhouse (@brewhouse): “I think we are going to know more and more about the consumer and vice versa. I see that now on websites where I shop, customized ads popping up of things I have looked at from other sites, etc. I think we are in a scary data-rich world with privacy slipping away from us. The more information marketers have about consumers, I’m sure they will start using to their advantages – in conversations, offers, discounts, etc.”

 

For more on social media customer service, including interviews with many of the experts above, check out the Focus on Customer Service Podcast.

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