Customer Service – not Marketing, not P.R., not anyone else – should be handling the online community relationship with your customers. Or, if you have a technical product/service, it’s technical support, or helpdesk. Surely that’s obvious? Yes? No?
I laid out different community manager roles in this post, and have talked about customer service running social networks before, but it bears explaining in more detail.

Marketing are trained to observe the customer. Not the individuals but the demographic. When was the last time a marketing person got back to a focus group member and told them how they were going to fix the problems the survey-or identified for them? For me: never.

  • We want you to tell us what you think of this product
  • How many people saw that banner ad?
  • Let’s create a pamphlete, postcard, radio campaign and push Outbound the information

Yes of course brand recall is up 5X in an online community and customers return 5x more often and stay 9x as long – all ROIs that gladden a marketers heart. But the real cost savings are that customer service and technical support calls drop to 1/5 by empowering peer to peer customer service and technical support. This just means a better educated, higher quality class of question comes through to CS if it’s not answered on the forum before the CSR gets to it. (CSR is Customer Service Representative by the way).

P.R. are trained to handle Leaders in social networks. That would be the press, government organisations and others with a spotlight position.

  • Here’s our press release
  • No, our CEO/Director/Minister/Senator has no comment on that issue
  • Let me check on that and get back to you, journalist/industry organisation ombudsperson
  • Please direct all media calls to P.R. or those who have media training.

Those on the other end of a press release know how to play the game, to take phone calls and otherwise act as a channel Outbound for P.R. whether they be in crisis management mode or
industry briefing mode.

At the end of the day, Marketing and P.R. just need a social media monitoring report so they can set some strategies for campaigns and such. But unless they are regularly exposed to the push and shove of customer service, they need basic CSR training before they go anywhere near the customer conversations. To do otherwise, is to set Marketing up for failure!

Customer Service (Inbound) are trained to listen to the customer. C S Outbound are trained to ask the customer difficult questions, including ‘why are you leaving us?’.

  • They start with “how can I help you?”
  • and finish with “is there anything else I can help you with today?”
  • and a whole bunch of open ended questions in between.
  • Service with a Smile (actually you can frown in forums too)
  • And they are responsible for gettin back to every single client, and making sure that each one is satisfied, individually.

Here’s a Customer Service Tip Sheet – not for online, but still, helpful.
They know every gripe and fix/workaround even the unofficial ones. They know how to log a problem so that the right people see the issues. Marketing pick up the statistics from the customer service enterprise system, but they don’t know what it’s like to have angry customer after angry customer on the other end of the phone, at the counter or in the forum. They aren’t trained for that. Go work the Customer Service phones for a while, Marketing person, and then tell me you know the customer. Heh.

The limitation with Customer Service is the 20s/2min rule. The Customer Service Leaderboards show which teams are answering calls within 20 seconds and resolving the call within 2 minutes. That may not work in a branded micro-community or Facebook group. Well, it might, but it’s more useful to take the time to find a fix and post it up under the F.A.Qs than getting the customer out of your hair within 2 minutes.

So Customer Service analytics need to change. And pick the loudmouth who talks too long on the phone with customers and has a real personality rather than the fast talking, get-rid-of-’em customer service rep. The loud mouth has a real chance of building a real relationship and imprinting some kind of strength into the community. The ‘gone in 2 minutes’ one will just annoy ’em.

The other issue is one of relationships. Very rarely offline do Customer Service take calls from suicide-rs, abused children, or notification of a death of a community member that both the social network and the Customer Service Online Community Managers may have known for a a few years.
The Customer Service Representative (CSR) training is quite different, in addition to standard CSR training.

WARNING: ADVERTISEMENT Which leads me to – rarely for me – a brief ad. I have taught online community courses for customer service since 2001 and can help you integrate social network management into the standard customer service training. End of Ad. 🙂 Sorry about that, but it would be remiss of me not to point out that I do teach that sort of thing. In case you didn’t know.

Of course, I’m simply slicing and dicing this differently than most social media marketing types who put social network management squarely in P.R. or Marketing hands. I think they do that because most of their experience is with blogs – which are not social networks and do sit squarely in marketing/P.R. as they are predominantly locked down press releases and marketing copy, where the blogger controls the content, the tone, topic and discussion. I’m really talking about many-to-many discussion communities, for customer service.

We will end up with a hybrid.

  • Marketing set the strategies e.g. Facebook group or Fanpage? MySpace or Bebo or both?
  • Customer Service to chat with the customer about their problems, wishlists and so on
  • Public Relations to give media training and keep the journalists and politicians from exploding at community flame wars and other PR crisis.

What do you think? Do you think that Marketing people understand what it’s like to sit on a hotline day in and out dealing with cranky people (or just cranks?). Or is it Customer Service? Or something entirely different?

*beep* you are now #563 in SilkCharm’s queue, your comment/tweet will be answered by the first available operator *beep* Heh.