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Retailers must recognise social media as a customer service channel

Despite good customer service translating directly into increased loyalty there are still very few retailers using social media channels to engage with their customers even though the medium is now widely used as a tool to complain and raise issues with merchants. By Glynn Davis.

GENERAL MERCHANDISE

Retailers must recognise social media as a customer service channel

Speaking ahead of being a Networking Partner at the 3rd Retail Bulletin Customer Loyalty Conference 2012 in London on June 13th, Josh March, chief executive of Conversocial, says only now are retailers “waking up” to the fact customers are increasingly using social media as a primary customer service channel.

For younger customers he says the likes of Twitter and Facebook are the first port of call for asking questions of companies: “It’s the way they interact with retailers and you’ll find they tweet in-store. They are turning to it as it is easier and they [believe they’ll] get a better response.”

For the older demographic social media is more likely to be used when they are frustrated by a lack of response from communicating with businesses down other more traditional routes: “It’s their last port of call and by doing it publicly they hope they’ll get noticed.”

This latter point is vital because the public nature of social media is why retailers should be addressing the issue of responding to customer’s queries and problems that are delivered via these new, and rapidly growing, channels.

March cites a piece of research from a major telecoms company. It found that of a group of customers who were threatening to leave the company for a rival, a response from the company on Twitter helped turn this around with 90% then deciding to stay put and 50% of these becoming brand advocates.

Twitter is especially effective for pro-active customer service, with March recalling a tweet from a customer in a Tesco store complaining of not being able to access the company’s free wi-fi. The company spotted this and responded by assigning the relevant technical person to solve the problem.

There is a similar story from Marks & Spencer where a tweet from a customer complaining about long queues in a specific store resulted in more assistants being despatched to operate the tills.

However, the problem for many retailers with adopting such methods is that they originally entered the social media world with a view to using it purely as a marketing and branding tool. They had not thought of it as a customer service channel and it has therefore been kept well away from retailers’ customer contact centres.

“Unfortunately a lot of the companies that have taken the plunge on social media are getting customer issues sent to them but they are ignoring them,” he says, adding that this is seriously damaging their brands and negatively affecting customers’ loyalty.

An idea of the damage that can be caused can be seen from research Conversocial undertook with New York University. It found that if a customer can see on Facebook that a company has not responded to fellow consumers’ problems then they are less likely to buy from that retailer. “It’s publicly showing [their customers] that they are not helping,” says March.

Those businesses that have embraced the social media channels as a customer service platform are diverse, according to March, but are typically “early adopters and the most innovative” companies. He points to Groupon, Net-a-porter and Conversocial client Tesco as among those businesses being pro-active.

“Tesco cares about loyalty and is prepared to be innovative because it regards itself as a leader. They take a punt. Philip Clarke [Tesco chief executive] was on Twitter and so it is social media-savvy, which helps,” suggests March.

Making the move and recognising social media as a customer service channel requires it to be linked to the businesses customer contact centre. But this is complicated by the public nature of the medium: “When a company responds, it is a public response, which can be shared and re-Tweeted. It’s not just another channel of the company’s contact centre.”

March says it therefore requires retailers to recognise that there will be new training necessary for some of the contact centre team, new processes adopted in the department, and a rigorous approvals process added.

He points to the example of the cinema chain Odeon that placed its social media customer service activity into its contact centre and managed to lessen the negative sentiment of customers by 60% by engaging with them across the various social media channels.

For full programme details and registration, click here.

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