How Social Customer Support Brings Social Media Beyond Marketing

Is it really possible to provide tech support in 140 characters? Industry experts, including Dell, offer sound advice and proven techniques to help you move beyond marketing blasts to provide social customer support.

By Vangie Beal
Wed, May 16, 2012

CIO — For the past four years, social media has been a tool that organizations have adopted largely as part of a marketing strategy—using platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and others to broadcast messages about your business to increase brand awareness and improve customer loyalty.

"We hear about the marketing side of social more often because so many brands have flocked to Facebook and Twitter to try and do the land grab and get as many customers as possible," says Chris Carfi, strategist for Ant's Eye View (AEV), a company that partners with enterprises to implement strategies and programs for engaging with consumers, partners and even employees.

"It may not be as sexy, but a lot of the really cool stuff is happening in other areas," he adds, referring to social media efforts in customer support and product departments, to name two.

Today's consumers post more than 1 million social messages every 60 seconds. In addition to talking about what they do in their personal lives, they're sharing thoughts, comments and complaints about the companies with which they interact. Smart companies are listening to these conversations and using social media for much more than marketing.

Author, speaker and consultant Brad Cleveland is known globally as an expert in customer management and has worked for clients such as American Express, Apple, Coca Cola and the Government of Australia. He says there is a huge retool going on in corporations to pull social contacts into their operations and treat them like they would any other channel.

"From a broad perspective, social is a lot more than just a channel. We use the term channel, but the first thing I advise is to have a strategy," Cleveland says. "There's marketing aspects, operations aspects and technology considerations, so social is more than a channel, but ultimately you need to bring it into your operations."

Social Customer Support: It's Not a New Trend

Carfi describes the enterprise journey to being social as a five-stage process—traditional, experimental, operational, seeing real results and finally, being a fully-social, fully-engaged organization. The path to being social can be defined by organizational steps, but it's a process that takes years.

"Organizations may aggregate to the fifth step of being fully engaged," he says, "but different parts of the organization, like marketing, support or HR, will be at different stages at different times during the journey."

In social, Carfi sees a lot of places where the customer support side of a business has done well. The social applications that predated Facebook, after all, were tied to forums and online communities. Examples of "outstanding organizations" that have connected with customers as social businesses go back to 2005, if not earlier, Carfi says. "Some businesses, like Autodesk, have community forums that go back more than 15 years [and] have grown and evolved."

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