With nearly one in two internet users on Facebook, hundreds of millions on twitter, forums, blogs, and niche networks social support isn’t just a great way to communicate with customers, it’s become an essential part of doing business and is nearly as expected as a phone number. But don’t worry about hiring on a whole new support team: with a creative approach, social support is more about using the benefits of the channel than investing millions — and that’s important as the flood gate of inquiries is near infinite.
Leverage the support resources you have, let reps get social
The only differences between a call and a tweet are length and visibility. The first is a simple learn, a few tools, guidelines and some practice. Visibility is more of a challenge and something that has to be thought through less you have rep’s tweet make the front page of tech crunch but fundamentally the people who already know the support business are right for the job.
Bring support to the product, sales & marketing teams for their expertise
Most questions are functional but the fun ones are deeper and sure to come up time and again. With customers expecting real answers, social support is a great way to bring the back of the business front and center enabling product teams to monitor, check in and throw an answer or two in the hat. Technology advances help put a stop on slip ups and save you from having to do a support training to the whole org… But twe all serve the customer so not only will they appreciate the expert response, it’s one heck of a way to insure corporate really gets the customer.
Get away from 9-5, get flexible
Customers aren’t tied to 9-5, a post can happen at any hour and a response is expected not in seconds but not days either. While this means throwing away the single shift approach, it also makes things fun for the support team… with no requirement to pay full attention to any one issue, no eyes on visibility, things get a lot more flexible… Multiple contacts, remote work, there’s a opt of opportunity to shake things up, get more people doing less hours and avoid the call center turnover as a result.
Invest in technology to standardize, track & measure responses
If there’s one area you do spend on it should be support management. Enterprise programs like CoTweet [my pick], Involver and Buddy Media not only provide a single interface to manage all your channels but with assignable items, escalations, customizable canned answers and even authorization levels, they’ve really made social support as easy to manage as traditional support, perhaps even more so with the added insights access to the user’s profiles give. Trying to go the free route is dangerous and leads to missed posts and double replies but you can always work your way up from cheaper to more powerful.
Develop community tools to foster user to user collaboration
As your support offering increases, so will the demand from customers who see that you’re on and don’t require a phone call to reach. While scaling your staff is part of the game, scaling your users is really the only way to keep up. This means putting together the right tools whether it’s a support community based on a form, integrated tweets to let users chime in with each other, or dedicated channels on third party networks, give people a way to do the lifting and they’ll not only chime in, but lend a lot of credibility to what’s said too.
Reward and foster peer support with advocacy rewards
Following those community tools you’ll find that there are never respond, occasionally respond and always respond types. Growing and keeping that third group is a big win to getting over to peer going so just as you target advocates who promote your brand, find those helping it and enable them with moderation tools, badges, and the occasional piece of swag. It just takes a little visibility to get them amped up and others following for their own shot at the same.
Educate your customers away from brand channels, over to better digital options
As your peer to peer network grows it’s important to get people off of brand channels and into the support systems. Through visible links, polite suggestions to existing faqs, tabs, profile tweaking and just about anything else you can link on but really it’s about training. Monitor the brand channel, respond with a support one… People learn and the noise for support starts to move away from the engagement areas, where it’s harmful and easy to lose track of, and over to the dedicated places where the answers are better anyways.
Turn the learnings into better product information, better products
Social support, or really support in general, comes full circle when you start addressing the root issues in your marketing, pre-sales education, and yes the product it’s self. Whether it’s through your social support system’s reporting, forum polls, or just keeping a pulse on trends and terms, it’s not hard to identify the top pain points – fix them.
Of course changes don’t come overnight but with a little upfront acknowledgement, FAQ explanations and member empowerment you’ll find customers are far more willing to tolerate a problem you’re on top of than one you keep cut & pasting the answer for.