The impact of social networks on every facet of customer relationships continues to escalate, with more companies using Twitter and Facebook to deliver exceptional customer service experiences by solving their problems quickly, clearly and transparently online (Bernoff, Li, 2008). Social networks are pervasive in their adoption today, with Facebook having more subscribers that some nations have citizens (Woodcock, Green, Starkey, 2011). This has transformed online customer service from simply a Web-based application delivered over a website to an interactive, real-time conversation with customers online (Bernoff, Li, 2008). The intent of this paper is to evaluate how Comcast and other companies in the services industries introduced the new product of online customer service over social networks to their customers, and how these changes made the businesses more profitable and stable as a result. This paper also includes a support plan for customers who choose to use social networks as a means of connecting with companies they are customers of, and also how new technology partners contribute to enhanced customer experiences.
Introducing Online Customer Service on Facebook and Twitter
There are dozens of companies today who have chosen to use social networks as the foundation for automating and improving their customer service strategies online. The greatest benefit of choosing to use social networks as the foundation of automating customer service strategies is their rapid adoption, continual improvements to the user experience, and the build-out of Application Programmer Interfaces (API)s that streamline the application development process (Bernoff, Li, 2008). In addition, social networks have become the foundation for effective change management strategies, as resistance on the part of customers to adopting and using a platform they are very familiar with is lessened over time. In addition to these factors, it is clear that consumers now prefer to rely on social networks over traditional Web-based and offline media channels to gain product information, guidance from their trusted friends on what products or services to buy or not, and most importantly, how to get satisfaction on customer service issues.
AT&T, Comcast, Dell, Starbucks, Southwest Airlines and many others have launched Twitter accounts that are staffed by teams of experience customer service professionals who have the authority to expedite and solve their problems. Of these, Comcast, Dell, Starbucks and Southwest Airlines have also created Facebook applications and Fan pages used for expediting service requests and also passing along reports of positive experiences (Bernoff, Li, 2008). Of these, the most pervasive in its use of social networking-based applications is Starbucks, which has created the online community Starbucks Cares (Bernoff, Li, 2008).
How each of these companies introduced customer service applications on the social network platforms from Twitter and Facebook show how drastically customers' preferences are shifting for how, where and through what applications they choose to be supported online. There are differences however in how manufacturing-based vs. service-based companies introduce customer service applications online as part of their broader Social Customer Relationship Management (SCRM) strategies (Ernst, Hoyer, Kraft, Krieger, 2011). AT&T, Comcast and Southwest Airlines created teams of approximately ten to fifteen people who specifically focused on how to expedite customers' problems throughout their organizations, getting them solved quickly (Bernoff, Li, 2008). These teams were often managed by a director to vice president-level manager who had the experience in customer service to manage non-standard requests. These director and VP-level managers also had the credibility and authority within the company to solve problems fast (Bernoff, Li, 2008). Comcast was acutely aware of how it had failed with its previous efforts to automate customer service had failed in the past, and chose to create process workflows, expedite request strategies, and request routing to solve the complex customer problems they anticipated receiving online. As a result of Comcast committing so much attention to these areas of back-office customer service and CRM integration, their Comcast Cares programs on Facebook and Twitter have been among the most successful on social media (Bernoff, Li, 2008). Like Comcast, AT&T had fifteen staff members working and coordinated with existing customer service systems and processes before it ever launched its social networking-based online initiatives. Dell's approach to launching customer service on social networks was slightly different, as the company began to immediately use Twitter as a selling channel, and shortly after initiating this strategy they generated $1M in sales within a single month. The Dell customer service organizations was also re-organized with a separate department just for social media, as the initial success of selling $1M in PCs and laptops made the company see there was strong Return on Investment (ROI) from investing in this channel. (McCormick, 2009). Dell was the first to successfully transition their Social CRM strategy from customer service to selling, while also supporting their brand and creating loyalty in the process (Bernoff, Li, 2008).
All of these examples illustrate how the customer service component of a Social CRM strategy is best launched only after the internal systems are all orchestrated with each other, created to support the goal of being responsive and transparency with customers (Fournier, Avery, 2011). Just launching a Twitter account, creating a Facebook application, Fan page or initiating entirely new mobile platform-based approaches for customer service won't work. Ironically many of them fail because of the lack of back-office support the examples in this paper illustrate (Ernst, Hoyer, Krafft, Krieger, 2011). Instead, the careful planning of the customer service experience, in as a quantified and measurable of an approach possible, is needed to ensure that Social CRM systems are successful in delighting customers (Woodcock, Green, Starkey, 2011). A second lesson learned from the launch of these online applications is the focus needs to be on how to keep each interaction with a customer consistent across all channels. For Comcast, who had literally thousands of customers upset with the poor quality of their service, taking the extra time to unify all customer service responses, across all channels, was a key success factor in their success (Bernoff, Li, 2008).
Third, the customer service function with the company initiating social networking-based customer service and Social CRM applications increases their probability of success by defining minimum response times for requests, regularly having customer surveys done to measure progress towards goals, and defining incentive and compensation plans for employees who enable excellent service (Ernst, Hoyer, Krafft, Krieger, 2011). Taken together, all of these factors can contribute to a more effective launch of customer service applications on social networks, and the long-term success of Social CRM strategies.
How Social Networks and Social CRM Added Value Due to New Technology
Dell's generating $1M in revenue from their Twitter account serving as an extension of their multichannel selling strategy was the first significant ROI achieved by any company using social networking as a basis of their Social CRM strategies (McCormick, 2009). Comcast estimated that they reduced customer churn by over 30% using this strategy and was able to reduce the costs of service by 12% in the first year alone (Bernoff, Li, 2008). Having CRM applications integrated into social networks has also given Consumer Packaged Goods (CPG) manufacturers a greater degree of insight into what their customers prefer in existing and new products, while streamlining the service and support process (Woodcock, Green, Starkey, 2011). Dell is an exception in that they attained rapid ROI for their investments in social networking, while also extending their multichannel selling strategies effectively at the same time. For the majority of companies however the initial benefits are reducing customer churn and increasing customer loyalty, as customers are heard and responded to with real-time updates and problem solving-based support. Over time the initially unquantifiable aspects of customer service delivered over social networks accumulate to reduced churn rates, greater levels of customer satisfaction and higher customer retention (Fournier, Avery, 2011). The lifetime value of customers…