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The evolution of customer service engagement, and its implications for your business

The evolution of customer service engagement, and its implications for your business

We are all familiar with the statement ‘buyer beware’, now, it’s becoming more about ‘brand beware’. 

If you even casually pay attention to social media, you are likely to notice it on a regular basis, a company messes up, and the hounds come for it. Items such as a wrong or offensive tweet, a Facebook video showing misconduct, or a news story with less-than-positive coverage all have a massive reach. 

These stories, perhaps more than anything, point to just how customer service engagement has changed over the years. You might even say it’s evolved, right into one of the biggest nerve centres of social media. 

How technology has changed the way we engage 

Just a hundred years ago, the competitive landscape was drastically different. As companies began to produce products at scale, few had a need for customer service. Complaints, after all, were individual in nature. If you took care of an issue, and you were almost guaranteed that bad publicity was almost non existent. 

Organisational scale and technology has changed that environment. The easier it’s become to log a complaint or ask a question, the more customers have taken advantage of it. Making a phone call, after all, is much easier than having to show up at a store in person. The biggest change, naturally, has come with the advent of the internet and social media. 

Comparing today’s customer service needs with the same situations 100 years ago presents two entirely different worlds. Companies regularly face PR disasters because they didn’t address a concern the right way. Your first thought about United Airlines is likely not positive because of the various viral complaints over the years. 

Most importantly, that change is accelerating exponentially. It took television about 25 years to get to a 50% adoption rate. For social media? Try five years. New technologies are constantly entering the equation, and with them come new customer expectations. With 79% of Australians using social media according to the 2018 Sensis Social media report.  

Social Media: More than just a marketing tool 

Marketing departments know all about social media as an outreach tool. The right channels and strategies help to give your brand a voice and personality, while driving interactions with potential customers. At the same time, limiting it to this usage does the medium, and your customers a disservice. 

Even in its comparatively short lifespan, social media has completely changed the way we communicate. Almost every business, regardless of its size, uses it to engage with current and potential customers. Consumers, on the other hand, are leveraging it to talk not just to their peers, but engage with these companies. 

Worldwide, we’ve reached the 2.5 billion user mark in social media users. In Australia, about 15 million citizen use Facebook on a monthly basis. Add other networks like Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube, a picture of social media as the dominant communication channel today emerges.  

Of course, and partially because of this wide reach, engagement on social media is not always positive. Nearly 70% of consumers have used social media to try to resolve a service issue they’ve encountered with a company. When that company responds and engages as a result, customer spending increases anywhere between 20% and 40% as a result.  

In that way, social media is actually superseding other communications channels in complaints resolution. Why call when you can instead send a tweet that can gain social leverage and public exposure? Why wait for customer service hours when you can lodge a complaint at 2am? Why wait on hold when you can post a question and view a response in your own time, at your own convenience? 

In other words, social media has given customers a voice. They need it to be heard. Customer complaints can now occur in a public format, making continuous and active engagement absolutely crucial for any company not wanting to go down the road of United Airlines. 

The unique engagement needs of social media 

Social media has radically transformed the way customer service works. Because complaints can be public, and due to the nature of the medium itself, organisations across the spectrum have to adjust. Engagement no longer means picking up the phone and addressing a specific issue. Instead, companies have to be aware of their environment. 

First, communication is immediate. Almost half of your customers expect a response to a complaint within 60 minutes, regardless of the time of day. For a third of your customer, that expectation goes down even further, to 30 minutes. 

Compare that to phone calls, where customers expect to be redirected outside of normal business hours and on hold even during them. Immediacy is absolute key in modern customer service engagement. 

The public nature of the medium also poses challenges. A customer service rep in a bad mood may get away with it during a phone call. If that happens on social media, the response gets traction through retweets and shares, starts to reach thousands of others, and turns into a PR disaster.  

Many organisations are using the private message functions of social media platforms to take these complaints away from the public view. This still provides the immediacy and convince aspects of social media platforms but also takes away the issue from public view and critically, providing privacy to both the consumer and the organisation. 

The importance of engagement documentation 

‘This call may be recorded.’  

Stop us if you’ve heard that one before. Companies regularly log customer service engagement. It helps them track the types of complaints that users may have to identify larger issues and underlying causes, while giving them the ability to improve their training.  

Email disclaimers tend to provide the same protection. We have all seen the ‘This email is confidential’ and other statements that attempt to indemnify the organisation from the individual views within the email. 

Curiously, the same thing is not yet happening at scale on social media. Many companies have yet to completely understand the importance of social media archiving. Real-time activity is more difficult to track, so too many organisations simply opt out. 

That, in turn, can quickly become a problem. Not keeping accurate records means that as social media networks change or old posts get lost, they’re impossible to find. Let alone the complexity of retrieving private messages. The natural disadvantage is the lack of training ability and the resulting customer service improvements.  

It can go beyond those problems. In Australia, the Freedom of Information Act allows individuals to request records from any public entity. As we’ve covered in a recent post, even the simple act of deleting a post can cause a public firestorm, and might actually break the law. The importance of archiving social media for government organisations has never been greater 

In other words, documentation of your engagement and post archiving on social media is absolute key. Customer service responses should be covered by a social media policy, as well as the relevant local laws. But what happens after these responses matters just as much, and should be an explicit part of your policy. 

Social media is already the dominant communication channel of our modern world, and its importance will only continue to grow. Is your customer service operation, and your record keeping ability, in line with that trend? If not, now is the time to change. As customer service engagement has evolved over the decades, a strategic approach to the concept is no longer optional. Prioritising it now, on the other hand, positions you well for both the present and the future. Be educated, know your companies social media policies, use relevant social media archiving tools and gain peace of mind when engaging with your customers.