social computing

Social Customer Care – 101 | Cookie Cutter Responses vs Engagement, Dialogue & Conversations

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A vital component of owning a product or consuming s service is Customer Service. In-fact, how good/bad customer service is, has a major influence during the buying decision of a product/service.

As part of using customer service, most of us would have had an experience interacting with a human being — either over phone or through emails/systems. Many a times I have wondered if it is actually a human being at the other end of the phone line/email or some programmable robot spewing out canned responses.

Just have a look at numerous customer review websites like mouthshut.com, consumercomplaints.in, community portals, twitter etc and you will get the drift.

A recent post Efficiency vs Effectiveness had highlighted this aspect of customer service and how organizations in today’s social eco-system need to take an effectiveness based approach. Social Monitoring & Analysis tools, like Radian6  Visible Technologies etc can get you a sense of what your customers, in social channels, are talking about your products & customer service. Now, while technology can get you all this information, the key challenge is how organizations respond & engage with customers.

Organizations have 2 choices:

Cookie Cutter Approaches  == Efficiency, Repeatability, Consistency, Productivity, Scalability, Mass rollout, Can be outsourced, Traditional measures, Easy trainability etc.

Engagement, Dialogue & Conversations == Each transaction is new, Customer of one, Extreme Personalization, Empathy, Human Centric. New age organizations are realizing this and are in the process of creating roles like “Community Managers” to interact with consumers in the social channels.

Let’s understand the differences in the above 2 approaches through these sample responses

“Thanks for sharing your problem. I’ve looked into it and have taken the dealer to task. The problem lies with your head gasket. Please take the car to the dealer and we’ll sort it out ASAP. “
OR
“Greetings from XYZ Company. Our cars are the most reliable and this is proven by 5,00,000 customer cars on the road today. We cannot be held responsible for the way you have used your car”

“Looks like your low battery is due to bad sensor, or a loose connection. Please bring it to the service station and we will glad to diagnose & help”
OR
“The ABC battery has been officially certified for 35 hours backup by CERCI”

“Yes, we realize that our dealers from the northern part of country need a severe ramp-up and are in the process of doing so. Existing dealers are being taken to task, and newer customer-focused dealers are being shortlisted”
OR
“DEFG India prides itself on the No.1 position in customer satisfaction survey. Our dealerships provide industry-leading after-sales service“

Which one do you think is more human, engaging & conversation centric? Which one would you prefer? Do you have some views & experience to share on customer service?

Social Customer Care – 101 | Understand the difference between efficiency vs effectiveness

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Most organizations having customer service support/care have been following the best practices, six sigma approaches to measuring efficiency & productivity of their customer service agents — how much time to close a call, how many tickets closed, what is the throughput, how fast the transactions are happening, etc. The emphasis is on ‘closure‘ the reflex action is to ‘respond & close’. The organizational structure, processes, metrics, rewards & ethos/culture is built around this philosophy of ‘efficiency‘. It doesn’t matter if the channels are the internet based ticketing systems, call center based support, email bases support or even brick & mortar support — everywhere the emphasis is on efficiency & productivity.

Enter the Social World:
With almost every organization embarking on a social media strategy, they find themselves using the same philosophy, yardstick, approach of the traditional customer service approach — a transactional approach, on social media. Somehow organizations don’t realize that the playing field is different and the rules are different now.

In the social paradigm, organizations need to realize that the key is to have meaningful conversations that can lead to insights for actions. Customer service agents need to take time, think and actually hear people out before engaging in a dialogue with your customers. This calls for a new way of thinking, a new approach, a new philosophy — where the organization & the customers are speaking  in a shared and common language. Where the organization is part of the audience, where it is OK to accept mistakes, where it is OK to be ‘human’ & empathize with the customer, where it is OK to have small talk with customers and not just focus on closing the call ASAP.

This now calls for the organizations to measure their call center agents on ‘how many conversations‘ they had, how much dialogue they are having. Not only just with the customer but even internally within the organization on linking what the customers are saying to various parts of the organization — how much collaboration are employees having internally?

This calls for organizations to be rewired for the right processes, metrics, training, coaching, ethos required in the social world.

Social is a totally new mindset —  one of ‘effectiveness‘ and not just about ‘efficiency

So, if your organization is starting out on a social customer care journey, do understand the difference between efficiency & effectiveness.

That will ensure that you know the rules of the game & the playing field before your begin the game

How to best make use of your organizations social computing platform

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Should you use your organizations social networking platform just like you use Facebook with your friends? Should you micro-blog the same way as you do on Twitter?

Maybe NOT.!!!
The purpose of social networking platforms within the enterprise are very different from the personal ones (the ones we use outside of work) — even if they look and feel the same. Social platforms within the organization are there to support the work of the organization and not to let individual employees do and say whatever they want.

So, what can you use corporate social networking platform for?
As part of your day-to-day work, you can micro-blog about the tasks and projects you are working on (subject to IP clauses), blog your views on various topics; you can bookmark the online links & resources you find useful; when stuck, you can ask questions to the communities for help, share documents etc.
This way, your digital footprints on the platform will become searchable, findable, and reference-able; helping people know what you are working on and in process make your existence and expertise better known throughout the organization, and benefit the organization as a whole.
This will let others discover what you know and what you’re good at. It will make you easier to find and increases the chances of you being a helpful colleague to someone. You can use the social platform to build relationships by adding value, being relevant — thereby fostering trust and respect; eventually helping in forge lasting connections.
Do all this on your organizations social computing platform and it will help build your personal reputation and brand.

What you should avoid

  • Don’t talk about what you had for lunch or how the food in cafeteria sucks!!!. We all know that 🙂
  • Don’t make personal attacks on people. It’s ok & perfectly acceptable to have difference of opinion and debates. But do those in a civil manner – without making personal attacks. 
  • Don’t discuss sex, politics, or religion. In an organizational context, these are taboo topics and it’s just too easy to upset people and start nasty, pointless fights on these subjects.
  • Be overly negative & cynical. Yes, there can be 1000 things that are not correct in the organization but try not to post/comment ONLY the –ve aspects. You can also look at the glass half full & then make +ve suggestions for improvement.

Social Computing behind the firewall | Pay attention to the ‘social’ behind the ‘computing’ for success

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With the advent of web2.0 and the perceived success of these technologies, tools, applications & platforms on the internet, making these tools & applications available behind the firewall seems to be the flavor of the season. It seems that any organization worth it’s salt ‘has to have‘ a enterprise 2.0 or web2.0 or a social strategy.  Most of the time, the people leading these initiatives don’t understand the essence of ‘web2.0/social’ applications and these initiatives then get reduced to rolling out blogs, wiki’s, social networking tools behind the firewall and asking people to use them.

This strategy of just rolling out social networking tools, without understanding why social computing works on the internet, is a recipe for disaster and any enterprise2.0 or social computing initiative based on a focus of just the ‘technology’ part will be short lived and not go anywhere. Anyone leading a social computing initiative behind the firewall needs to understand the ‘social science’ behind the ‘computing’ to appreciate why it has worked in the internet world and what all ‘social’ factors need to be considered and appropriate changes that need to be made in order for it to work in the more restricted ecology of a modern organisation.

Some of the underlying ‘social’ concepts that one needs to understand are:

  • User Participation: What factors drive user behavior and participation in social computing platforms on the internet? What are the key drivers and how is the organizational playground different from the internet w.r.t these key factors & drivers?
  • Emergence & Evolution: Do the managers & leaders of the organization understand the role of emergence in social computing or are they impatient and need all answers upfront and a ‘predictable‘ outcome with all intermediate steps outlined?
  • Managing vs Nurturing: Does the environment of the organization  create space for nurturing of people, ideas, thoughts, aspirations of employees or is the organization all about managing numbers, KRA’s etc.
  • The Arena Itself: What is good for the goose is not necessarily good for the gander here. The dynamics, the participation levels, the numbers of people participating in the social applications on internet would be vastly different from that behind the firewall.
  • Value Networks: Do organizations that want to extend the social computing platforms to their customers/partners etc understand that this is not just as simple as offering these platforms to customers? What are the additional things that need to be done?
  • Cultural Alignment: The ‘secret sauce’ according to me in the whole recipe of social computing behind the firewall. One could have an organization that understands all this but still does not have the right cultural alignment to make social computing work. What are the critical factors w.r.t culture here?

Social computing has the potential to transform how business operates, how the flow of business knowledge, insights, intelligence and collaboration happens across the organization. Social computing can create alternative & more effective ways of communicating and collaborating across the organization, but the  key to that promise lies in how well the leaders of the social computing initiative understand the above ‘social’ concepts & realities.

I will try and outline the key aspects of  each of the above points in more detail in my subsequent posts.