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Former Member

It seems like with every year that passes, customers grow increasingly impatient.

Where five years ago we could tolerate waiting 24 hours for a response from a customer service email, we are increasingly living in a real-time world where we want to know the answer right now.

Most enterprises are attuned to this trend and have responded by offering a myriad of channels for customers to connect. This includes phone and email, of course; but more recently, things like live chat and a strong presence on social media outlets. Many companies are pouring millions into expanding their channels, investing in social media listening centers and various technology to track and measure customer sentiment. 

Unfortunately, just making these communication conduits available doesn't solve the problem, nor does simply investing in technology. Last year, Software Advice Analyst Ashley Verrill conducted on an experiment that proved this latter assertion. She sent 280 questions on Twitter to 14 of the nation's top consumer brands. After one month, brands such as Coca-Cola and McDonalds responded just 14 percent of the time. So what was the issue?

Are Companies Really Listening to Customers on Social Media?

I mentioned that simply making the channels or technology available doesn't make a company inherently

responsive on social media. The companies in that participated in that social media experiment are among the most successful in the world – if anyone was investing in this kind of technology, it would be them. So where was the disconnect?

The researcher in the experiment designed questions to fall in one of five “topic buckets” that social media technology experts deemed worthy of receiving a response. This ranged from “negative” feedback, to technical questions that would require the responder to look up account information. Depending on the type, the messages were written with common keyword identifiers – or words companies can program their social listening software to pick up when combined with the brand name. This could include things like “angry,” “mad,” “#fail,” and so one. Unless this is something they are listening for specifically, these messages can get lost in the mix (especially if you consider some of the brands receive hundreds of mentions per day).

In addition to listening for such keyword identifiers, brands should also pick up on important brand mentions that don't include a direct @ symbol. While not all of these messages should receive a response (you don't want to intrude on other people's conversation), they can still present opportunities to surprise and delight the customer. Consider, for example, that during the social response experiment, four different people tweeted this message (none of which received a response): “Still thinking about buying a new laptop today. It's Macbook vs. HP. What do you think?”

It could be that these brands just didn't take the time or effort to understand what they really should be listening for. Or maybe it was something else... which leads me to my next question.

Do Companies Just Not Care About Social Media Customers?

There's an argument to made for not responding to customers on social media. The worry is that you might be training your customers to voice their complaints on social media because that's where they will receive the quickest response. This is not the kind of public exposure you want.

However, there's a bigger opportunity many companies might not be considering. Customers are paying less and less attention to what brands say about themselves. The old model of pushing press releases and blog articles out on social media is having a decreasing affect on customer opinion, while comments from friends, family and other connections are increasing in influence.   This presents a unique opportunity for brands to take a different approach and “humanize” the brand by participating in conversations that matter most in the customer experience journey.

Every time someone organically mentions your brand on Pinterest, Twitter, Facebook or another social channel, it creates an instant opportunity to start a conversation. The more a brand can foster these engagements the better. If they really wow the customer, they increase their chances of inspiring that person to re-tweet, like or otherwise recommend them to their social circles.

How Do Companies Scale Their Response?

There is, however, one last dilemma to addressing this lack-of-social-response situation. Brands want to encourage conversations on social media by responding, but it’s increasingly impractical (if not impossible) for employees to handle the volume. Not only that, but they can’t be the only ones talking about you. So what is a brand to do?

Empower your top customer advocates to respond for you. This model already exists and is practiced in the customer communities space. Take this HP community member, for example. He spends upwards of 30 unpaid hours a week responding to queries in their discussion forums. At SAP, the SAP Community Network enables the company drastically scale reach and response. Customers are empowered with community management tools that send automated alerts and incentives to those who respond. Imagine if companies could replicate that experience in the social media space.

In this scenario, social listening tools could still filter out messages that would be better suited for an employee response. But instead of the rest of the brand mentions going unanswered, other customers could be served automated tools to start a conversation. All that companies need is the technology for empowering customers in this way, and the gumption to make it happen.

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