Online Community is Customer Service

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…

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.

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  1. I’m not sure I agree. I do tend to agree re marketing–primarily because of the reasons you outlined and also because in my experience marketers/advertisers generally think in terms of one-way communication, not two way. As a PR person for a major brand I was personally involved in helping resolve customer issues on-line and in-concert with the customer service team. I think together we did a much better job than either would have done alone.
    I think the roles (PR and customer service) are changing and blurring, making it tough to generalise.

  2. Absolutely, which is why I think the online community manager is a hybrid of marketing and PR – and mostly customer service.

    Plus part mother, part cop, part teacher. 🙂

    I just feel that Customer Service is missing out on the discussions because the blogosphere is full of marketers making SN claims. Heh.

  3. It would be lovely to think such a convergence was taking place; that all departments of a given company were concerned, first and foremost, with the customer experience.

    I get the impression just from reading comments from a Telstra/Bigpond employee on this blog (and others), that companies might be more concerned with PR (appeasing blog authors critical of a companies services) than taking the feedback and incorporating it into the company’s processes.

    I guess it poses another philosophical problem… is the problem the product or the the customer? It is difficult to pretend some people don’t just have an axe to grind and won’t be appeased with any outcome. That perhaps abusing customer service is the one aspect of the overall product experience they utilise. lol

  4. nice perspective and I agree with the convergence comment, it’s all captured if there is an approach to listening to the consumer…all disciplines whether marketing, sales, PR, digital, customer service or the driver of the delivery truck need to be listening to the consumer. I tink it’s still difficult for people to embrace the one to one when so much of the past has been about mass. Nice work…cheers @MolsonFerg
    .-= @MolsonFerg´s last blog ..Canada Day Message from Molson’s New CEO and President, Dave Perkins =-.

  5. The bit that stood out for me was the line you had outlined in red (okay literally as well as figuratively):

    “And they are responsible for getting back to every single client, and making sure that each one is satisfied, individually.”

    I have previously worked on a huge forum, and I do see that if people sniff marketing over individual focus, they are not happy.
    People do want to sense a relationship where their best interests are given consideration.

    (Though it’s also true, most customer service reps need more training!

    Said a BigPond employee to a friend of mine last week, “Well you should have been paying more attention!” (this is after BigPond set up a broadband account with a primary email that had the name wrong – and then insisted it couldn’t be changed.) )
    .-= Anni Taylor´s last blog ..Longtail keywords– Why chase them? =-.

    1. I’d take an “honest but imperfect” relationship with a company over a “shallow but noice” one anyday. 😛 Even from BigPond!

      The tough thing for companies to realise is that Customer Service is no longer one-on-one. Anything said or done gets recorded, repeated, reiterated and retweeted. There goes any control over brand message!

      Did you find that people were willing not to have a personal answer as long as SOMEONE on the forum got the right answer that every one was looking for? Interesting isn’t it?

      1. Yeah but it would be great if customer service asked questions and got it right – rather than blaming the customer afterwards. Now that would be noice! 🙂

        Yes, definitely, people are ok with not receiving a personal answer if they retain a sense of it feeling personal.

        People identify with certain groups within a large forum – and they appreciate it when a person (spokesperson otherwise) within that group receives a satisfying answer or commitment to action. Agreed!
        .-= Anni Taylor´s last blog ..Longtail keywords– Why chase them? =-.

  6. In a perfect world Customer Service is feeding Marketing the information they receive from customers so that Marketing can be sure the right message is created for the customers. But none of us live and work in a perfect world.

    1. there’s too many people in that loop. social media is about disintermediation …

      Put it this way. If a company say “oh please we want to engage with you, on Facebook, Twitter, etc, please please be our friend” and then spams 1-to-many campaigns with billboards, TV ads, magazine advertorial and whatnot, why should we trust their “we want to engage with you” statements?

      But you are right – Customer Service will talk with customers, see what they like, implement campaigns (called “activities” in online communities) such as Talk Like A Pirate Day competitions and the like, and Marketing will remain none-the-wiser. 😛

  7. hi Laurel,
    Is it in fact the case that increasingly, customer service -is- marketing, and marketing of potentially far greater impact than traditional marketing/advertising? ‘Marketing’ by doing rather than talking about what you do (or what you’d like people to believe you do) as is the case with traditional marketing/advertising.

  8. I agree that Customer Service is a better organization than Marketing to manage this community, but they are measured by metrics for “existing clients.” Here in the “Twittersphere” both customers and prospects exist and are openly talking about YOUR brand. So in the absence of either organization standing up on behalf of the company, it needs to be someone from SALES who is technical and ideally comes from a Customer Service background to lead the charge.
    .-= Andy Fields´s last blog ..PainPoint: Network World Article – http://bit.ly/EU43Y – Cisco Certified Architect – "MBA for CCIEs", cost of $15k =-.

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