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Customer service – a bugbear of many consumers, and the source of much frustration. Social customer service has long been seen as the much-maligned poorer cousin of traditional channels (call centre and email). But has the tide started to turn? According to Dimension Data, 35% of all customer service interactions are digital, and if growth continues at the pace it is, it will overtake phone contact by 2017.

I’m going to declare a vested interest, having dealt with four brands’ customer service teams through a range of channels with varying degrees of success over the past week or so. But we don’t just rely on anecdotal evidence here at IF, we deal in data, and with customer service satisfaction in certain industries being at its highest level since 2011, it seems that some brands are getting it right.

Hardly surprising, you might say, considering agencies like ours are parachuted in at times of crisis to turn things around. But when you look at the increase in number of people who turn to social channels after dissatisfaction with the more traditional channels, brands are clearly starting to focus time and energy on social channels. I’m not giving all brands the same praise here – far from it – but small improvements can be seen in even the seemingly inept customer service teams. There is still much work to be done for many a big brand.

Colleagues have written before about how to improve your social customer service, and it seems both from the data and anecdotally, that a higher number of resolutions come from social within a time frame the customer is happy with. Having said that, there are some extremely poor exceptions. For example, a week-long exchange with a leading supermarket’s online shopping service across six separate staff members and two channels without resolution is unacceptable in anyone’s book. Whereas a live chat facility embedded in an online retailer’s website, with an amended order and a goodwill gesture sorted within 5 minutes is exactly what what customers now expect.

The most successful customer service is done in real time with a well-serviced team, giving the customer confidence that they are being prioritised by the rep concerned. Whether through a live webchat facility, email, or responding instantly on either open or private social channels, giving a customer your undivided attention means positive resolutions for everyone involved, and positive sentiment and feedback on your social channels. And cost is no excuse – there is no need, necessarily, to employ a whole new department of social-savvy youngsters to run your social customer service. Training existing staff to integrate social into their existing work is a more cost effective alternative, resulting in a holistic approach to resolution for the whole contact centre.

Clearly we still have a way to go, but with the right data, the right advice, and the right training, now is the time for brands to shine in their online customer service.

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