Why social makes customer service more important than ever

By Joshua March , written on April 20, 2013

From The News Desk

When I attended university in the UK, I was offered a low-paying job as a customer-service representative for a large company. It was as dull as it sounds. Like many, but not all such positions at the time, this one came with a set of strict scripts and little room for creativity. Even if you wanted to help and be attentive, you had to follow procedure. I couldn’t think of a less glamorous job. I turned it down.

That was 10 years ago. Today, customer service is among the more sought-after professions for bright young professionals who expect to love their work and be well compensated for it.  Don’t believe me? A 2012 report from CareerBliss, which conducted an analysis of more than 100,000 employee-generated reviews, found that the Customer Service Representative was one of the “happiest” jobs in America. What’s more, according to employment website, the number of high-profile social customer service jobs has more than doubled since January of 2006.

Imagine, then, if even a sliver of the huge marketing budgets (including for paid media) that so many companies are forced to spend were diverted to providing real dialogue with current and potential customers. Imagine being able to provide service so superior it boosts not only reputation but also stock price and industry ranking. Imagine a future in which the best and the brightest vied to man not the corner offices but the phones and the Facebook accounts.

None of this is far-fetched: as companies grow increasingly aware of the power of social media, expect social customer service jobs to continue to rise in importance.

These, to be sure, are not the same customer service jobs that not so long ago were relegated to call centers and pared down to guarantee minimum interaction. Today’s customer service agent is much more likely to be spending a considerable amount of time on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media platforms, interacting with consumers in a much more natural, immediate setting.

This may seem a superficial observation; after all, technologies change all the time, and each new tool introduces new possibilities and new demands. However, social media has changed the customer service game in a much more dramatic way: rather than pursue their complaint as a discrete transaction, customers nowadays reach out to corporations as naturally and effortlessly as they do their friends. The same way I’m likely to think my friend is rude if he or she ignores a message from me on Facebook or Twitter, companies, too, are learning, often the hard way, that the kind of service they need to provide has to be immediate and public.

To do that effectively, the old way of providing customer service won’t do. Too often, the traditional rep on the phone was trained to do one thing and one thing only, which is pass a complaint up the bureaucratic chain of command, receive a resolution, and report it back -- a classic centralized model of corporate communication. Today’s customer service agent, on the other hand, must be nimble, smart, fast, attentive, personable, and talented at defusing volatile situations and creating new opportunities.

If it sounds like the job description of an ambassador, it’s because it is. That’s exactly what customer service agents today are: brand ambassadors, dispatched to the Internet to skillfully represent their companies, finally allowed to bring all their sensitivity and creativity and care to their work.

That’s just what Alon Waisman, the social media operations manager at GoDaddy, and his team did one day last month. A customer named Wes Tweeted that he was having problems with his service. He didn’t address the company directly, and he didn’t skimp on the salty language. Regardless, Waisman’s team, monitoring Twitter, soon learned about Wes’s problem, and tweeted back to fix the issue. Later that afternoon, Wes Tweeted again; “You want to know what great customer service is,” he wrote, “then talk to the people at @GoDaddy they tweeted me after seeing that I had a problem.” That’s good ambassadorial work right there.

And if a word like “brand ambassador” sounds too much like corporate hype, consider the following example: in August of 2012, the car rental giant Hertz—with more than 8,000 locations worldwide – implemented social customer service into their contact centers. Since then, Hertz customer service agents have been able to process exponentially more requests. How many more? According to a recent report from Gartner, the social CRM agent can manage four to eight times more high-value interactions, compared with a traditional, voice-based contact center agent.

It doesn’t take an economist to predict the results.  Social customer service agents are a more cost-efficient way of doing business, as a few individuals with a sophisticated skillset can resolve an impressively large number of queries each day. Even more importantly, social customer service is also emerging as one of the most efficient ways to cultivate and grow brand loyalty. As social networks thrive on direct and informal communications, a complaint well managed often feels like more than mere effective customer service; it feels like genuine care, and it goes a long way towards fostering goodwill.

Hertz understands the importance of social engagement, but many large American corporations don’t. But they should. If we reach that point, we can improve all of our respective industries, and continue to create the kinds of jobs that excite talented young professionals.