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Three things to consider when outsourcing your social media customer service

Posted August 3, 2016
social media icons on a keyboard

Back before customers flocked to social media to voice their issues and concerns, companies and brands could take their time in getting back to them — if they bothered to directly reply at all.

Now, successful social marketing can be quickly derailed by a single negative exchange that manages to catch the attention of the wider internet.

There’s simply too much at risk to a brand’s long-term image to treat customer service on social media (also known as social care) as an afterthought. Even so, many companies still don’t treat social care with the respect and strategic focus that it deserves.

The benefits of strong social interactions

A strong social media strategy is not all about avoiding the negatives, but also about embracing the positives. According to a report by the consulting company McKinsey, “Seventy-one percent of consumers who’ve had a good social-media service experience with a brand are likely to recommend it to others.”

That’s partly why companies like JetBlue are at the very top of their industries when it comes to customer satisfaction. The company has amassed over two million followers on Twitter,thanks to consistent activity and helpful customer approach on the platform.

Jet Blue’s social media team is constantly responding to a variety of queries. While the average social media response time is 11 hours, Jet Blue is replying almost instantaneously. Savvy customers with big social followings have taken note and are sharing their own praises for the company.

That type of praise pays off for businesses according to major global consulting firm, Bain & Company, who found that “consumers engaging with brands on social media were more loyal and spent up to 40 percent more money with the brand.”

The argument for effective outsourcing

Good managers and executive teams knows that retaining and up-selling existing customers is far more cost effective than finding and selling to new ones. But building a specialized customer service team from scratch is extremely difficult, time consuming and expensive, which is why many companies choose to outsource

The question is, if a company turns to outsourcing to try to emulate what top firms like Jet Blue have done, what do they need to look for from their outsourcing partner? Industry experts weigh in on how to make the most out of the social media customer care outsourcing partnership.

Integrate your partner

In order for an outsourced customer service division to be effective, a couple things need to be in place, says Vanessa DiMauro, CEO of Leader Networks, a research and strategy consulting firm which helps organizations succeed in social business and online community building. “The outsourced division needs to be intimately familiar not only with the products and services, but also the culture of the organization,” says DiMauro.

DiMauro says cultural affinity and business integration is especially crucial for social media because, unlike other customer support channels, every engagement is visible for the world to see. If your outsourcing team makes a mistake because they don’t understand your products, services or culture, it can quickly become embarrassing for your company.

Additionally, each organization has a personality, and so the outsourcing partner must mesh with the existing attitude of the brand. “Some are witty, some are responsive and hand-holding, some only deal with urgent matters.” says DiMauro. “The best way to figure it out is to first embed the outsourcing partner into the organization, either virtually or actually in house.”

Build your North Star and pursue it together

Dr. Nicola Millard, head of customer insight and futures in BT’s Global Services Innovation Team, says that an organization must truly understand what it wants to accomplish via social media. She differentiates between a company who simply wants a social presence, versus one who sets out with a goal to solve problems, like serving customers faster, for instance. “Customers don’t just want you to be on social media to say sorry, they want you to be there to solve problems, and to solve them fast. The only way to do that is by integrating the outsourced team as much as possible.”

Millard cautions against separating outsourced and captive support teams, especially if speed is a goal, since that can damage quality and effectiveness. “Customers want you to respond as fast as possible, but if you’ve outsourced your social team and they are working alone, then you might end up giving one customer two different responses. That just creates a confused, and likely angry, customer.”

The solution in this scenario is to make sure the time is spent to train the existing teams to properly coordinate with the outsourced team. Everyone must be on the same page and understand that each interaction is important, and must be worked on together. Even if it takes a bit longer, it’s better to strive for quality through patience than to rush to provide poor service.

Set standards and share information

Jeannie Walters, CEO and chief customer experience investigator of 360Connext, a global consulting firm specializing in the cornerstones of customer experience, believes that one of the most important factors to settle right off the bat is the definition of success. “Make sure you agree on very specific standards. Twenty-four hours is too long now to respond to a complaint on social media. So the outsourcing partner needs to understand what time frames you expect, and commit to them,” says Walters.

DiMauro agrees that not defining success is one of the biggest concerns when outsourcing. “You’ve got to make sure that they report on basics like number of cases closed, but also deeper business impact metrics, so that the buyer can actually understand the meaningful impact on the business,” she says.

Were the ideas provided by customers actionable by product development, human resources or research and development? What kinds of information shared made a meaningful contribution to the top line or fueled innovation within the organization? “These deeper layers impact the organizations ability to grow and perform,” DiMauro says, noting how essential it is for companies to work with their outsourcer to extract this information.

In the end, it’s possible to achieve success when outsourcing social media, but it’s critical for the organization to do its homework on the prospective partnership, set clear goals, and integrate the partner’s people and processes to achieve the best outcomes.

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