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Should Telcos be more Social?

As consumers’ expectations of the speed and availability of telecoms services become ever higher, customer service will be an even bigger challenge for the telecoms industry in the next few years. Telcos will need to be able to provide customer services wherever their customers are and whenever they want to be served. But how important will social media be in helping telcos achieve this? Ram Mohan Natarajan, Firstsource Solutions Discusses.

On the front line

Telecoms companies are among the most active in embracing social media strategies. Some financial services companies are also following this path, but telcos are more advanced in their social media journey. This is mainly due to the fact that consumers now expect always-on connectivity and functionality from their smartphones, and typically reach out to customer service channels, including Twitter, immediately upon losing their service. Smartphones are also increasingly offering application convergence between social media messages, emails and text messages. For smartphone user customers, a Tweet or Facebook comment is just another message, and they expect a swift response.

Building the ideal customer service site

Social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook are, however, not the best places for complex customer service. 140 characters is not the most efficient way to solve a technical query or an issue relating to your personal account. A more  effective solution to technical issues can be via online peer group forums where customers discuss problems with each other, via a mix of resources including FAQs, collaborative ‘super users’, supported by online moderators. Conversations with customers via social media sites alone cannot offer this depth of service. The challenge for companies is to create social media content that consumers will see, react to, and migrate to in order to follow.

The cost cutting benefits of online engagement

One of the primary advantages of customer service via social media – and, ultimately, peer group forums – is its ability to reduce the number of agent to consumer interactions.

Twitter and Facebook can be used as a ’one-to-many-communication’ to alert  followers  to particular issues such as network outages  – and to provide updates on the progress in fixing the problem. These kinds of alerts can reduce calls into the contact centre as consumers will be aware of the issues and of the measures being taken to solve them. Similarly troubleshooting steps posted on online forums can also help improve self-service.

From a cost-cutting perspective, a more effective objective is to channel customers towards a company’s own peer group site where they can self-serve, supported by company moderators, which will ultimately generate significant cost savings.

It is also worth noting that though demand for conversations with companies via social media is growing, the growth in the number of agents staffing social media channels need not grow correspondingly. One agent can handle multiple social conversations simultaneously. And though response times via social media should be fast, they do not demand the speed of real time online chat.

The value of partnering 

Telcos are also spending more time analysing their brand in the social media space to glean crucial customer intelligence. But pulling out the raw social media sentiment is just step one. The real key is to place this sentiment in context with other customer interactions – including customer webchat, emails and phone calls – to gain a 360 degree customer service picture.  By partnering with an outsourcer, that will already be bringing together different forms of analytics from across the different communications channels, telcos can derive the right actionable insights, and leverage them in real time to improve the customer experience.

Good and bad customer service is in the public arena

It is important to remember that customer interaction with telcos via social media sites chiefly consists of complaints, queries and product feedback. As all such comments are public, they generate huge potential for both brand advocacy or brand damage.

Few will forget the autumn 2011 disruption lasting several days to internet, messaging and email services on BlackBerry smartphones. Users around the world took to social networking sites to complain; Twitter trended with anger, frustration and disappointment in the service. The outage itself was eclipsed by RIM’s protracted silence, followed by confusing messages and then a late apology from executives that prompted negative comments about Blackberry to trend even higher. The failure to get on top of the outpouring of frustration on social media no doubt helped fuel the widespread negative coverage in the mainstream press too.  Since then telcos have been quick to try and react in the right way to comments about their brand on Twitter.

Slowly but surely

We recently conducted a survey in collaboration with YouGov which shows that social media is a long way from being the main customer service channel for consumers. In fact, our survey shows that between the age range of 18-45, only ten per cent of consumers use social media to contact their telecoms network provider. However, of greatest interest is that those that do use social media to contact their network provider find it very helpful. The survey shows that 42% of people find it useful compared to 11 percent who find it unhelpful whilst 33% describe it as fast compared to only 11 per cent who find it slow. These findings mean that social media is likely to become increasingly popular as a customer service channel as more people try it.

Despite social media not being as important as the contact centre yet, it is clearly an emerging part of the customer service mix alongside other digital channels such as webchat, online forums and FAQs. With time it could even be the most important customer channel, and telcos should already be preparing for this.

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David Dungay

Editor - Comms Business Magazine
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