By Matthew Klein

June 12th, 2015

The Social Shake-up Conference shook out in Atlanta over the last few days, and it was a stellar event. The keynotes and panels were packed with insights from leading marketers and industry minds on how businesses can better use social to serve their customers. My coworkers and I took in as much as we could, and plan to share as much as we can about what we experienced over the next week or so.

The sessions touched on a range of critical challenges for brands on social in 2015 and beyond. “Collaboration for Omni-Channel Success: How Service and Marketing Intersect” and “Results from the Front Lines of Social Customer Service” both dove deep into the diverse experiences of several brands that handle customer issues on social media. Here’s a look at some of the most valuable nuggets:

1. 43% of large brands are still unhappy with their company’s social customer care efforts.

Natanya Anderson of Whole Foods, Nick Ayres of Intercontinental Hotels, Joe Hughs of Ernst & Young, and Brent Leary of CRM Essentials discussed the major challenges around getting customer service integrated across different channels, primarily social and telephone. This is no easy task in a company with a culture built around traditional CS channels, particularly a phone system. However, where many brands have struggled, others have successfully created a smooth experience across multiple customer service channels. Nick Ayres worked on transitioning veteran customer service agents at Intercontinental Hotels over to social and they now have 20 agents that are fully capable of providing real time social customer service. Nick concluded, “Part of my ambition is to work myself out of a job — meaning a social-only role for customer service, envisioning a completely integrated approach.”

Their advice for moving your company toward social customer service: Customers’ needs are not silo-focused. Natanya stated, “Someone has to raise their hand and say this is important. I’m gonna do it.”

“Someone has to raise their hand and say this is important. I’m gonna do it.”

Natanya Anderson, Whole Foods Director of Social Media

2. Let your customers decide where they want to interact

Natanya observed, “If you launch a channel, you should expect to handle care there, even on Instagram! [Your customers] just see a brand, and they see a chance to [get an] answer [to] a question.”

There was a consensus among the panelists that customers should decide where they want their questions answered. Once brands made the leap onto a new channel, for whatever purpose, they need to be prepared to respond to customer service issues —meaning that brands should consider whether they’ll have the resources and structure for customer service before moving on to a new space.

There’s also the frequent question of whether it’s okay to ask customers to change channels for support. Whole Foods currently handles about 40% of their customer service queries on their social media channels, and their social lead believes that brands should strive to resolve customer service cases on the same channel on which it’s initiated, although sometimes switching to another is inevitable. If this needs to happen, the attitude and manner through which it’s done is very important. You should request (not demand) a change of channel, and then explain why.

3. Customer service is part of the overall social experience

Natanya reminded us that CS can’t be an afterthought – “Before, when adding a channel, you would think about content, analytics and moderation, but now you need to think about care.” Your customers are going to turn to your social channels for service whether you plan for it or not, so start strategizing now and train your social media managers accordingly.

Customer Service is only going to take place on social channels more often, and brands need to be ready to make the adjustment by appointing an internal social customer service champion, training their customer service teams, and allocating the necessary resources to the program.

Keep an eye on our social channels and blog for even more insights and observations from the Social Shake-up Conference.

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