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November 13, 2016 / achanguris

Flipping the Script: Making the Case for Customer Service Professionals to Handle Your Social Media Service

In the beginning of any social media program, it makes perfect sense for the social media team to handle the customer service requests that come in through the adopted channels. Your team knows the platform, the community, and your company’s voice — even if it doesn’t know the answer to every question and can’t resolve every issue without help. But as your social media efforts take hold and people see you’re available to help them, the volume of requests has a tendency to grow. Eventually you can reach a point where your social media team is spending too much time and effort fielding feedback and complaints and not enough on strategic messaging and community-building.

Social media customer service isn’t any less important — I’d argue it’s absolutely essential — but when you reach that point of critical mass it’s a good cue to reconsider your approach and see if the professionals primarily responsible for customer service can take over the same function in this new medium.

As part of the social media team at Highmark Health, I watched our average number of service requests grow from an average of 100 per month to nearly 300 per month in a little more than a year. If you’re an airline or major retailer, that’s nothing – but you also probably have a much larger team to handle your social care workload. In our case, we took turns monitoring our channels, but it was becoming a challenge to juggle our day-to-day workloads while addressing, trafficking and documenting the resolution of every inquiry. It was time to make a case to flip the script to let our well-trained customer service representatives take the lead.

I should note that we had support from our front-line friends in customer service from the very start. They were working alongside the social media team daily and could see there was an opportunity to improve the process — for everyone involved.

Learning to Make the Right Case

Our first attempts to convince the higher-ups responsible for customer service centered on the growing number of requests the social media team was handling, but we quickly discovered those statistics weren’t impressive to supervisors who were used to managing a far more substantial workload through more traditional channels. In retrospect, it was a bit of a mistake to focus on our team’s pain point. While it’d be nice if our cries of “hey! We could use some help over here!” were met with an outpouring of support and resources, we all know today’s business realities mean everyone is stretched thin and can’t meet every need (especially when someone else is covering it).

Our next tactic was more altruistic. We highlighted the fact that many of the requests the social media team was passing along to customer service for follow-up offline were simple tasks (password reset requests, coverage questions, etc.). With the right people manning the accounts, we could answer those questions right on the social media platform, making the process easier for our customers. After all, any time you can shorten the distance between a question and the answer it’s better for all parties involved.

That assertion got some of the right people paying attention, but the wheels of change continued to grind slowly.

In the meantime, a couple of members of the social media team started tracking the time we were spending on essentially duplicative efforts — fielding, trafficking and following up on inquiries we received on social media. Those results are what really got the executives’ attention.

The social media team was spending 20-25% of its time (that’s at least one full day out of each week for each member of the team) on social media customer service. The majority of that time was dedicated to following up with a variety of specialized service teams to make sure each inquiry was resolved and to try to ascertain the members’ satisfaction levels for tracking purposes. The email chains felt endless and the whole process was fraught with inefficiency. Plus, the company was paying the social media staff for all of that time (at a higher hourly rate) and the only things we could actually do were internal hand-offs and follow-ups.

That was the ticket.

Making it Happen, in Stages

With the blessing of the necessary leaders, our friends in customer service formed a dedicated social media customer service team. We trained the five-member group to use our social media dashboard tool and helped them understand our voice and social care philosophy. They took to it like ducks to water. Helping customers is their specialty; all we did was change up the medium.

Still, we didn’t shove the new responsibility at the team and run. As thorough as we tried to be in developing the training materials, they had a lot of good questions in those first few weeks. The social media team was always available to coach, guide, or just answer a question, and I’ll admit I kept a close eye on things (initially) to make sure everything was in line with our standards. I’m a worrier by nature, but my worries were short-lived; the leaders in customer service had selected a top-notch team for the job.

At first, the social media team was still responsible for monitoring our channels and assigning the customer service inquiries to the newly formed team. After a little more than a month, they were ready to take over that part of the process, too. Today the customer service representatives are right on the front line, picking up their own assignments and letting the social media team know if there’s an issue we need to handle (comments related to a marketing campaign or company news, for example). The dedicated representatives keep our response times low and the new workflow is saving a ton of the social media team’s time. The customer service team is available from 8 a.m. until 9 p.m. Monday through Friday and 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. every weekend and, correspondingly, at least one social media team member is available to pick up assignments during those hours as well.

And the best benefit of these efforts? Our customers are getting the help they need faster and more efficiently. They’d always noticed our responsiveness and willingness to help, but now they’re getting exactly what they need as quickly as we can provide it.

And, at the end of the day, that’s really what it’s all about.

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