Why SMEs need to come to terms with the social networking age

The idea of customers seeking out a company’s ‘bricks and mortar’ customer service operation is becoming increasingly outmoded.

By Steve Garnett, EMEA chairman, salesforce.com

The idea that customers first seek out a company’s ‘bricks and mortar’ customer service operation when they need service is becoming increasingly outmoded. A recent survey of 1,000 consumers, conducted by online research company OnePoll, found just eight per cent contact the customer service department first when seeking advice or information on a product or service and only 10 per cent visit the retailer as a first port of call. Instead, customers are increasingly moving online.

Some 44 per cent of people now use some kind of social media, such as social networks or forums, for customer service purposes and 34 per cent now email customer service departments in the first instance. Furthermore, over half (52 per cent) expect companies to monitor social networks and online forums and four out of ten (43 per cent) would be impressed by a company that responded to a complaint made on these channels.

It seems that consumers are attracted to social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter that deliver customer service in real time. These sites offer an effective way for individuals and businesses to quickly and easily find experts to get their questions answered.

Today, the explosion of social networking is changing the customer service game. SMEs, in particular, should take note.

To remain competitive, SMEs must adjust to this new environment and accept that many of their customers are online in the cloud and actively discussing the brands, products and services they consume on a regular basis. Often instead of calling the vendor company directly, customers will simply access Facebook, comment on their problem and ask for input, or alternatively tweet about it on Twitter in order to draw on expertise available online.

SMEs now have to engage with their customers, wherever they are, and solve their problems in real-time before issues and concerns escalate. This can be a significant challenge for any enterprise but particularly for smaller businesses with limited resources and tight budgets.

The next generation of social contact centres is today delivering the functionality SMEs need to offer the kind of customer service that enables them to compete on a level playing field with their larger enterprise rivals.

The best of these tools allow SMEs to engage with customers across any social networking community, to interact with them through any channel and to manage any volume of service issues. They enable SMEs to easily track relevant social networking activity by instantly monitoring and capturing conversations about their brands on Facebook and Twitter and a host of other social networking sites, or by using the functionality to monitor blogs, forums and discussion groups.

They also allow SMEs to scale their operations quickly and easily to manage a wide array of service issues, including the millions of conversations that happen every day on social media sites. The ability to quickly wade through public comments, cut through the noise, target, segment and respond to relevant posts can be key in helping businesses to protect their brand.

Leveraging built-in social analytics, organisations will also be able to prioritise interactions across any channel by keywords, topic areas or by social influence of the user that is posting and tailor support strategies to meet changing sentiments on the social web.

As consumers increasingly look to online service channels, the business model for customer engagement is changing fast. If they wish to achieve a competitive edge, SMEs need to be aware of this and to take appropriate action. If they fail to do so, they risk being left behind by their rivals in this increasingly dynamic new world of online customer service.

Alan Dobie

Alan Dobie

Alan was assistant editor at Vitesse Media Plc (previous owner of smallbusiness.co.uk) before moving on to a content producer role at Reed Business Information. He has over 17 years of experience in the...

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