Unsocial and social customer service

If you’re struggling to make the case for social customer service, here is an overview of the situation to spark your colleagues’ interest.

Customer service as cost-centre

Traditional management regards customer service as a cost-centre. Why? Well, a customer is only a customer when they’ve already transacted – so the revenue bit is done and dusted. Now those customers just want service, which only costs us money right?

And that’s the fundamental reason that calls-per-hour is a call centre KPI (key performance indicator).

Of course we don’t want to deliver bad service, because that might damage our reputation and future revenues. But let’s not go over the top either. What?!… you want to do “social customer service”?! No way. That sounds like it only increases costs.

However, it’s living with this traditional outlook that places one firmly on a downward spiral, and that was before the advent of social. Now the opportunity cost in the age of social just makes this spiral all the steeper.

Customer service as profit-centre

By definition, determining profit requires we attribute revenue to customer service as well as cost.

OK, this sounds more enlightened… after all, that cost-centre KPI can be interpreted, is interpreted, as telling our people to get the customer off the line. NOW. Which is kind of odd when you think about how much we invest in trying to build a relationship, in trying to grow engagement, and then the moment a customer actually wants to interact with us directly we measure our team on how quickly they can get the customer out of our hair.

So how might we do customer service as profit-centre?

Well, perhaps we can correlate our investment in customer service with uplifts in sales, especially via up-/cross-selling. Or at least improved retention rates… they say keeping a customer costs a fraction of finding a new one.

OK, let me model something in Excel and see what it looks like.

When I hear statements such as this, I hear atrophy.

Living with this as the only alternative to the cost-centre approach is forcing the numbers. It’s ill-fitting. That spreadsheet starts looking a bit messy with assumptions and estimates left, right and centre that before long are taken by all as the gospel truth. And if people perform as they are measured we’ve simply moved them from one false KPI to new KPIs based on guesses focused entirely on our ability to imagine a direct cause of customer servicing with the effect of the cash register ringing.

… seeking to make a direct connection between every single activity and a fiscal measure of shareholder wealth creation is woefully simplistic to the point of dogmatic fancy. We must consign such simple mechanistic thinking to the past as we begin to acknowledge and confront the complexity of the world around us.

Source: Attenzi.

If this criticism doesn’t yet persuade you, allow me to identify an opportunity by way of a redefinition of CLV, reframing Customer Lifetime Value as Community Lifetime Value. Now find the Excel function for that bearing in mind we can only track a minority of community interactions to feed that outmoded Newtonian model.

Social customer service

Socialadjective, tending to form cooperative and interdependent relationships with others.

Customer service must be social by definition. It surely must be cooperative and focused on building mutually valuable and sustainable relationships. What other kind of customer service is there exactly?

Well right now there are the perverse versions listed above that were squeezed out of the inhuman machinations of 20th Century organisation; and that’s to our advantage, because if this is the standard our customers have come to expect we don’t have too high a bar to jump.

What’s more, this is a virtuous circle in my experience for the simple fact that people working in customer service approached this way have greater job satisfaction, which results in even better service.

Read this and weep. With joy.

While it should be unnecessary, prefixing “customer service” with “social” attempts to mark a distinct difference in practice. It entails a fundamental shift in the management philosophy guiding operations, and conveys the ready availability of all communications media through which to engage customers in conversation, helpfully.

Let’s assume your organisation has products, people and values you truly believe in. (We might need a different conversation if this is not yet the case.) You ask yourself – what can we afford to invest in delivering outstanding, amazing, contagious, fanatical customer support? And then you restructure the customer service team and systems to give those representing your brand the autonomy to do the best by the customer, and so by each other, by their colleagues, and everyone else with a stake in your success.

Outcome metrics such as customer satisfaction, retention and acquisition – rather than output metrics such as cost per engagement – will let you know how you’re doing.

Social customer service is not simply the addition of new media channels through which to service the customer as quickly as possible to meet those enduring cost oriented KPIs. Think of social per the dictionary definition above rather than in terms of social media and social platforms. Social is about people not tech.

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