A leading Indian software giant strengthens its presence in Zimbabwe

Drishti-soft Solutions, a leading contact center technology provider from India is strengthening its Zimbabwe presence by participating and sponsoring the 3rd Annual Customer Servie Conference organised by Contact Centre Association of Zimbabwe . The conference will be held on 11th June 2014 at Rainbow Tower Hotel, Harare.Drishti’s flagship product, Ameyo is a multiple award winning call centre and customer interaction management software that has helped companies improve their customer service across various verticals in over 40 countries. Drishti has already delivered several implementations across Africa and their launch in Zimbabwe in partnership with Africcs has been well received by experts in the contact center industry. As part of its commitment to the Zimbabwean market Drishti will also partnerAfriccsby sponsoring the setting up the national agriculture call centre which is set to help hundreds of thousands of farmers.
The CCAZ Customer Service Conference will address the multi-disciplinary needs of customer care and service delivery. The event aims to redefine customer service strategies and solutions, highlight the impact of changing consumer preferences and the best practices to reform customer service.Through their participation Drishti intends to offer expert guidance and a wide exposure on customer interaction management technology that will provide opportunities to enterprises that aims to revolutionize their customer service.
Among various profound speakers like Hon’ Minister Mike Bimha, Ministry of Industry & Commerce; Hon’ Minister Walter Mzembi, Ministry of Tourism & Hospitality; Eng. Sam Kundishora, Permanent Secretary Ministry of ICT; Mr.Sam Alexander, Regional Director of Drishti-soft Solutions will hold a session on “Transform Service Delivery in Government and Service Sector through Contact Center technology”.Presentation by Mr Alexander will hold great opportunities to companies that have been striving to deliver exceptional customer service, thereby making their mark through improved customer service.

Does Anybody Really Believe In Fantastic Customer Service?

Now for a report that tells us what we have long suspected. Most chief executives and boards have no understanding at all of what customers want, claims Leading by Example, a new study from the Institute of Customer Service (ICS). The same CEOs and boards also ignore the advice of experienced frontline staff.

In addition, many of them fail to lead by example by exhibiting and demonstrating the very skills that frontline employees judge as vital to the delivery of quality customer service.
Only 51% of 650 UK workers and line managers surveyed thought that their CEO and board were at all interested in customer insight. Fewer than half of those polled also feel that their senior executives do in actual fact understand the key needs of their customers. And just 36% of managers think that their senior executives actively listen to customers in an attempt to lift service. Only 44% of frontline staff feel that their ideas are taken on board.

The findings go on. Only 28% of the organizations involved in the study had a board member with responsibility for customer service (perhaps they will hastily appoint someone now).
And just over half of employees surveyed believe that boardrooms put profits before delivering a truly great customer experience.“If employees suggest that customer needs are not understood in the boardroom, what must customers be feeling,” states ICS chief executive Jo Causon. “Unless the UK’s C-suite takes the time to analyse customer preferences, behavior and levels of satisfaction, they should not be surprised if the bottom line is hit as customers go elsewhere.” The findings may not be particularly surprising but they actually are at odds with a line that the ICS has been pushing recently.

In May, it sent out a missive declaring that a new trend was emerging in corporate Britain – the UK’s biggest companies were looking for a new kind of chief executive; one dedicated to improving customer service as a way of bettering the long-term financial results of their companies.It cited David Potts, the new chief executive of embattled UK supermarkets group Morrisons, who has unveiled a new staff bonus scheme that links pay and bonuses to levels of customer satisfaction at their stores.Jill McDonald, who has recently left her former position as the (well-named) UK chief executive of her US fast food namesake to take on the top job at motoring and cycling retailer Halfords, is apparently another example of this new trend. Her new chairman Dennis Millard said the company had been looking for someone who had “nurtured a culture of customer service.”
And Simon Roberts, the UK managing director of chemists’s group Boots, has gone on the record saying that customer service is the first thing on the agenda at every company board meeting.Asked which other companies were also exhibiting this trend, Causon cited UK mutual, the John Lewis Partnership.
Tesco, the British supermarket chain that was continually praised for understanding customers’ needs during the “glory years” of former chief executive Sir Terry Leahy and has since fallen from grace with profit warnings and an investigation into overstating earnings, is conspicuously absent from the most recent customer service praise.

But how can the latest report’s findings be so different from the trend that the ICS identified only two months ago? Causon’s explanation is that the organization’s research does indeed show that many leaders adopt a customer-centric approach to business strategy. However, they are let down by boards who do not contain representatives with direct experience of customer service roles.If such a role does not exist within an organization, then she says that board members need to develop the relevant skills, insight and vision to ensure that the customer is a “constant reference point.”
In addition, she points out that 56% of employees quizzed in the recent poll agreed that the way that they are given incentive to provide good customer service is correct.
Two-thirds of them agreed with the statement: “At the very least, my boardroom recognizes me for the contribution I make to customer service.”
The ICS report recommends that boards create “a language around customer service” to reflect business performance, risk and reputational issues.
It also wants them to develop reporting metrics centered on customer service and to improve their collaborative and listening skills “so that the C-suite is better informed about what customer-facing staff learn and deal with on a daily basis.”
It is easy to be skeptical of such research. How many times, for example, have you found yourself asking a call center operative to pass on a constructive suggestion to their line manager whilst knowing that you will have exactly the same issue the next time you are unfortunate enough to need to contact the company?
Many companies still make their switchboard telephone numbers almost impossible to find on their websites or do not put them online at all, preferring the lengthier process of telling customers to contact them via email or an internet form.
And how many times have you been “mistakenly” cut off when telephoning a so-called customer service center and asking a question that nobody there wants to answer? Telecom companies who are among the main culprits of this practice do not even see the irony.
Recently, I conducted a straw poll of senior corporate communications executives and asked them whether consistently exemplary customer service was ever possible, let alone common at their companies. The answer from them all was the same: it is possible but only at a price.
Despite the protestations of the ICS, consumer watchdog groups and other voices, I suspect that this will remain the case at many companies.
Otherwise, the solution is obvious and reasonably simple. Link the pay and bonuses of all frontline staff to their customer service performance and make sure that this link carries on all the way up the chain to the board and the chief executive.
How many companies really do this? Therein lies the answer to the question of whether there are any publicly-owned businesses out there that really do believe in fantastic customer service.

Source: Forbes

City positions itself as leading call centre hub

THE City of Johannesburg has embarked on a sustained drive to position itself as a call centre hub, with call centres for the lucrative international market which are capable of providing better service levels cheaper than its competitors.
“We want to become world leaders in the call-centre market,” says David van Niekerk, programme manager of sector support in the city’s Economic Development Unit (EDU).
Joburg has already established itself as a destination of choice for call centre operators in South Africa. A report compiled by Trade and Investment South Africa in 2002 put the number of call centres in South Africa at 410 238, of which 60 percent were located in Johannesburg.
Van Niekerk says the City is assisting Johannesburg-based companies in getting call centre businesses and meets with call centre stakeholders to discuss issues of mutual interest. Johannesburg has also contributed towards the annual Call Centre Networking Group (CCNG) Awards, which sponsors the Innovation Award.
The City has now commissioned an international demand-side survey “to create a value proposition for Johannesburg and for South Africa, which will include a cost analysis of conducting business here”, says Van Niekerk.
The study will gather information on competitiveness factors, such as labour costs across different bands of business process outsourcing and call centre operations. “We will also look at our telecommunication rates, property rates and explore the possibility of giving incentives for firms to be more competitive,” says Van Niekerk.
Van Niekerk says it is projected that the financial services sector alone will be outsourcing $356-billion annually by 2007. “If Johannesburg gets only five percent of the pie, this will amount to some R142-billion.” To put that figure in context, adds Van Niekerk, “the Gross Geographic Product of Joburg is R160-billion”.
But South Africa will face stiff competition from countries such as India and the Philippines which offer cheaper labour costs. What gives South Africa a competitive edge, says Van Niekerk, is that it offers value in certain niche markets, with new technology and a relatively skilled and amiable workforce with a good command of English. “We also have a time zone which is compatible with that of Europe. This factor could make South Africa a preferred Call Centre Outsource Location for the European Time-zone, and especially to the UK market due to the English language compatibility,” says Van Niekerk.
While call centres are one of the fastest growing industries in the city, their growth is hampered by the shortage of skills in the sector, admits Van Niekerk. To combat this, the City has unveiled plans to set up a call centre academy in a joint venture with CIDA campus.
The City will provide seed funding for the project and help set it up. “Once the academy is up and running,” says Van Niekerk, “CIDA will run with it.” Van Niekerk says entry-level learners will get two months training in a simulated call centre environment. This project forms part of a bigger project that deals with creating a lucrative “Business Communication Zone” in the inner city of Joburg.
The City has also commissioned a survey which will target international investors already conducting business in South Africa and those who chose not to conduct business here, says Van Niekerk. “We will ask them to give reasons why they didn’t invest here. That will help us to identify and tackle our shortcomings.”
The study will look at the costs of doing business in South Africa in comparison to international norms. “We will look at property costs, technological costs, and the costs of labour,” says Van Niekerk. The study is expected to be completed by the end of October.
Van Niekerk anticipates that information from the survey will help populate an industry-related web-based database which is to be launched in October. This portal will also be used to as a single point of reference for prospective international investors and outsourcers.
According to Van Niekerk, the city will soon be working on a project to make telecommunications in the city cheaper in order to attract investment and to promote trade. “We will be liasing with the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (Icasa), the National Department of Communication, Telkom and the second network operator to explore ways of reducing costs.”

Call media launches a new application

Callmedia has launched a new application to enable Facebook integration with the contact centre. The application, which provides a ‘Call Me’ button on a company’s Facebook page, is seamlessly integrated to the Callmedia software, enabling an immediate and relevant response to existing or prospective customers who click on the button.
Facebook and other social networking sites let companies create online consumer communities very quickly, allowing for brand promotion and increased loyalty. But the primary challenge companies face is how to translate those enhanced customer engagement levels into sales. The new Callmedia Facebook application offers a solution.
How it works:
1. An existing or potential new customer visits a company’s Facebook page. If they want a direct engagement with the company they click on the ‘Call Me’ button.
2. The request is immediately converted into a new task that feeds into the Callmedia software, as part of the ‘universal queue’.

David Groves
3. The request is intelligently allocated via skills-based routing to the most appropriate available contact centre agent according to the profile information of the individual.
4. The agent then calls the prospect or customer initiating a one to one conversation.
David Groves, Product Director, Callmedia, said, “For successful marketing on social network sites, it’s vital to have relevant and stimulating content. But until now there has been no effective method to translate visitors into direct interactions. Callmedia is enabling customers to talk to businesses very easily and quickly, giving brands the ability to turn that interaction into a sale, or to provide post-sales customer service instantly.”

Callmedia is a multi-channel contact center platform, delivering telephone calls, emails, faxes, SMS, Webchat, Callback requests and Social Media interactions (such as Facebook and Twitter). These channels can all be blended in real time with Predictive and Preview/Progressive dialler campaigns.
Deploying Callmedia contact centre applications in VMware virtual environments offers significant advantages compared to standalone server deployments. These advantages include:
• Backup and resilience
• Server footprint
• Power consumption
• Portability of software solutions from one virtual environment to another

• Multichannel and Outbound Dialler Blending on VMware
• Fast deployment across Avaya, Cisco and Mitel platforms
• Fully published Integration SDK for contact centres

Call Centers-the missing link to excellent service delivery in Zimbabwe

By Rinos Mautsa
The last decade has witnessed a substantial shift in emphasis on the part of many firms from focus on the productsthey produce to a concentration on their customers and the value that their customers derive from ownership and useof these products/services. This “customer-centric” perspective is correlated with the blurring of the line between productsand services, globalization and growing usage of social networking platforms. A closer look into the cutthroat competition in the Zimbabwean consumer facing industry one would clearly note that customer service excellence is the next competitive battleground for winning corporates. According to the McKinsey Global Institute’s report on Africa published in 2010, consumer facing industry is fast emerging as the future of global business, the consumer-facing industries will account for at least half of the continent’s Gross Domestic Product. The recent global marketing trends have witnessed a shift in core product competitive strategy towards providing customer centric technology solutions, of which, call centers is a very significant ingredient for customer experience management. In fact, future prospects of most firms would be built on significant growth in the proportion of revenue derived from customer experience management. Excellent service delivery in Zimbabwe in both private and public sectors is far beyond reach with consumers paying a big price in quest to get a mere service leaving one to wonder if the adage that “customer is the king” still apply.
While organizations have spent millions on advertisement campaigns, corporate social responsibility (CSR)and customer relationship management (CRM) programmes to provide better service andbuild stronger connections with customers. Achievement of CRM objectives for most organizations in the consumer facing industryremains an elusive goal without efficient and effective contact center operations management.Organizations invest millions in technology and expansion but ironically, after all the investment, only efficiencies improve, not performance or customer experience. The way to a customer’s heart lies not in software, systems and processes only but in service convenience and quality service delivery.Consumers are now well informed and educated thus need for those in the service industry to shift approach in a more radical way in order to survive. A company or organization making radical changes in its business model can capitalize on call centre as part of its CRM strategy. A switch from providing customer support only during business hours to providing 24/7 services can be a big leap for many companies. Globally most local authorities, insurance companies, telecom companies, medical associations, financial institutions, fast food operators all have in-house contactcenters which is the opposite in Zimbabwe. Contact center, also known as customer interaction center is a central point of any organization from which all customer contacts are managed. In this technology era, Zimbabwean customers are now contacting companies by calling, emailing, chatting online, visiting websites, faxing, and even instant messaging therefore it becomes handy for all organizations to set up in-house call centers.
Most banks in Zimbabwe are now offering mobile banking and e-banking service ,ironically they don’t have supporting call centres services to allow 24/7 support to their customers leaving one to wonder if customer experience management and excellent service delivery is on top priority. The country’s largest power utility, Zimra and local authorities can also take a leaf from our neighboring countries like South Africa, Zambia and Botswana who have set up supporting call centers to ensure efficient service delivery for all the public institutions. Our government can also take a leading role through the ministry of ICT and Tourism by setting up a national call centre which can service all national enquiries, tourism marketing, emergency services, act as information hub for investors and citizens among others key roles. Whilst the cost of setting up a call centre can seem to be enormous however the benefits far outstrips the cost. The main alternative to setting up of an inhouse call centre will be outsourcing to a third party provider.Currently in Zimbabwe there are now over three companies which are offering call centre outsourcing solutions.
A recent public sector survey conducted by Forbes in different countries revealed that the average customer contact costs is higher for face to face, followed by postal enquiries, then phone enquiries and the lowest being for online services.It is therefore vital to note that online services and call centers are not only instrumental in building loyalty and customer experience but are a cheap way to conduct business. Call Centers can keep organizations in touch with there clients 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, that’s an advantage that translates into customer loyalty. Most global leading corporates and customer oriented companies have noted this and now use call centers as a building block for all CRM and Marketing programs.This shift towards a service-centric strategy represents an important aspect of firms’ efforts towards enhancingoverall revenue and profit, customer acquisition and retention, and competitive differentiation.
Delivering exceptional customer service should be the central aim of any organization in Zimbabwe. Everyone involved in the business, from top management to agents, needs to be aware of its importance and what they need to do to make this happen. CRM objectives depend on a customer centric culture and enterprise-wide strategy, with particular emphasis on building buy-in and shared objectives among employees. While enthusiasm and participation at the top levels of an organization are necessary, they will be far from sufficient without call centers especially for companies in the service industry. This is now the high time for all players in the service industry or those directly affected by service delivery to consider call centre setup or efficiency for those with call centers when crafting CRM strategies.

Successful Change Begins With Results

By Richard Duve, Lecturer and Acting pro-vice chancellor ,Midlands State University

The proponents of results based change, Robert Schaffer and Harvey Thomson (1992) once said, “Most Corporate Change programs mistake means for ends, process for outcome. The solution: focus on results not activities”.

The performance improvement efforts of many companies have as much impact on operational and financial results as a ceremonial rain dance has on the weather. The rain dance instead of improving the weather which should trigger precipitation of rains it only improves the dance and contributes nothing to performance.

Companies introduce activities which parade under the buzz words of Total quality, continuous improvement (Kaizen), typically advance a managerial philosophy such as inter-functional collaboration, middle management empowerment, or employee environment.Some focus on measurement of performance such as competitive bench marking, customer satisfaction surveys or statistical process controls. These programs are introduced under false assumption that if they carry out enough of the “right” improvement activities, actual performance improvements will inevitably, materialize. At the heart of these programs, which we call activity centered, is a fundamentally flawed logic that confuses, ends with means, processes with outcomes. The proponents of this line of thinking further believe that once managers benchmark their companies’ performance against competitors, assess their customers’ expectations and train their employees in principles of creative problem solving ,sales will increase and quality improve but experts and consultants in this field are often ignored when they advise activity centered organizational heroes that they should focus on improving results because eventually results will take care of themselves.

It must be noted that the momentum for activity centered programs (ACP) continues to accelerate at a faster pace when there is no evidence to justify the flood of investment.

Several reasons emerge why activity centered improvement programs are no longer an appealing philosophy in this era of dynamic engagement:-

1) Not keyed to specific results. In ACP managers reform the way they work amongst themselves and the employees, they train people, they develop new measurement schemes, increase employee awareness regarding customer attitudes and these steps lead to better business performance. But the management rarely make explicit, how the activities are supposed to lead to the results.

2) Too large scale and diffused: choosing a vast array of activities simultaneously across the entire firm may prove difficult to synchronize them down to Gemba (frontline levels). This is like researching a cure for a disease by giving a group of patients ten different new drugs at the same time.
3) Results is a four letter word
When ACPs fail to produce improvement in financial and operational performance, managers never complain lest they be accused of preoccupation with short term achievements at the expense of the long term company performance. It is only a brave manager (organizational heroes or prima donas) who will insist on seeing a demonstrable link between the proposed investment and tangible pay offs in the short term.

4) Delusional measurement
Managers often make a mistake of equating measures of activities with the actual improvements in performance. They are not the same. You need to quantify performance in measurable terms.

5) People Driven
The biggest snag in propagating improvement programmes is that they are imposed and not people driven. So when staff experts and improvement gurus show up with their evangelistic enthusiasm and bright promises of TQM and continuous improvement, asking only for faith and funds, managers greet them with open arms. But the capacity of most of these improvement experts is limited to installing discrete, often generic packages of activities that are rarely aimed directly at specific results.

Results-Driven Transformation
In contrast to ACP, results driven Improvements (RDI) by-pass lengthy preparation rituals and its focus is on attaining measurable results in a short space of time. This line of thinking illustrates four key benefits of results driven approach that ACPs generally miss:

1) Firms can introduce managerial on process innovations only as they are needed. Results driven projects require managers to prioritize carefully the creative innovations they want to employ to achieve desired goals. Managers introduce modifications in management styles, customer relations in a just in time mode where as with ACPs, the process is ritualistic and training is the “right” thing to do.

2) Empirical testing reveals what works. Becausemanagers introduce these innovations sequentially and links them to short term goals, they can discover quickly how this strategy yields results, and this can be achieved by constantly assessing how each improvement step contributes to meeting deadlines.

3) Frequent reinforcement energizes the improvement process.Pride in accomplishing tasks successfully is a powerful motivator (Katzenburg, 2002). Short term incremental projects that quickly yield tangible results can inculcate“worrior spirit” in employees as they enjoy psychological fruits of success.
4) A continuous learning scenario
The proponents of solution after next (SAN)principle of creative thinking postulate that whatever you do now must have a bearing in the future. For example if Zimglass is to buy a bottle manufacturing plantit has to consider future implications of the dynamic business environment and should incorporate the need for future modifications to the plant now based on the SAN and the betterment timeline principles of breakthrough thinking, should the need arises or they risk what is called strategic inflection points (SIP) which is the sudden changes in the business’s operating environment (Grove,1999).

Execution is the discipline of getting things done.
Taking advantage of the power of results-driven improvement calls for a profound paradigm shift in the mind set.Management identifies the performances that are more urgent and sets about at once to achieve desired measurable progressin a short space of time. Good ideas become useless unless implemented and execution is the art of getting things done.

Learning from the future
One of the learning theorists Alvin Toffler once said “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who can’t read or write, but those who can’t learn, unlearn or re-learn”. This means that learning is a critical concept to any individual or organisation. Consequently, the 1980s witnessed much talk in industry and commerce about learning and how to allow people to learn as much as possible.

In recent years, most organisations of diverse sizes and nature have embraced mentoring, coaching programmes as well as training and development in general to ensure that their staff is afforded opportunities to learn and grow. however they need to link this learning and knowledge gained to results not performance.

Scenario planning
Schoemaker (1995) postulates that scenario planning is a disciplined method for imaging possible futures in which organizational decisions be played out. Scenarios are not visions or forecasts but indicate what can conceivably happen or what would happen if…?Managers who have the ability to predict accurately the future outcomes in terms of their successes will undoubtedly out maneuver competitors in the next century (Lindgren and Bandhold, 2003)
Starting with the end in mind
Professor Stephen R. Covey (1992 pp.98) says “To begin with the end in mind means to start with clear understanding of your destination, that is knowing where you are going so as to better understand where you are now and so that the steps you take are always in the right direction……”, and ultimately attaining your desired goals.It”s incredibly easy to get caught up in an activity trap, in the “busy-ness” of life, to work harder and harder at climbing the ladder of success only to discover its leaning against the wrong wall. Starting with your desired outcomes and cascade back to your plans is now the new normal .

Results based Management (RBM)
RBM is a management strategy by which all actors on the ground contributing directly or indirectly to achieving a set of development results, ensure that their processes, products and services contribute to the achievement of desired results. RBM rests on clearly defined accountability for results and requires monitoring and self assessment/audit of progress towards results, including reporting on performance (UNDG, 2009). Balanced score card your days are numbered.

Lessons for organizations of the future.

Will organisations of the future make mistakes of the past? Pfeffer (1997 p50) says “to avoid getting caught in the dilemma …of blindly following fads…”the following questions need to be seriously considered to keep the answers firmly in organisational leaders” minds:
• What is the key to our competitive success?
• What distinguishes our organisation from the growing crowd of look alikes?
• What are our core competences required in the firm’s competitive market place?
• Is the firm’s human resource base consistent with our core competences?
• What evaluation tools are in place to quantify our performance in terms of results

Best practices in social media customer service

byMichele McGovern
If your business isn’t offering some kind of customer service via social media, you’re missing the boat. Research now proves the benefits are lasting and profitable — and who wouldn’t want in on that?
Some organizations are so savvy at social media customer service they’re using it to drive sales higher than they’ve ever been, engage customers in new ways and build brand recognition that might rival retail stalwarts.
Even better, we’ve uncovered some of the best practices in social media customer service from the people living and working it every day.
But first, you’ll want to fully understand the impact social media has had on customers, the face of customer service and future sales.
What do customers want from social media?
If you’re a marketing professional reading this, brace yourself. According to findings from J.D. Power and Associates research, only 34% of social media users go on a company site for marketing reasons. The rest are there for customer service reasons.
Meanwhile, this is news every marketer, customer service and sales pro can applaud: People who use social media to get help are likely to spend more money with a company than those who don’t use social media, said Jacqueline Anderson, director of product development for social media and text analytics at J.D. Power and Associates, while speaking at the ICSA Annual Conference.
One caveat: Social customers — like all the others — will buy more if their experience is good.
That means if you’re going to provide some kind of help via social media channels such as Twitter and Facebook, you’ll want to make sure everything you do conforms to the same high standards that exist in your other channels. The biggest reason: “Social media users will talk,” said Anderson.
Forty-two percent of social media customers will tell others about a positive experience, while just 15% of the general population will tell others. Plus, 53% of social media users talk about bad experiences, while just 24% of the general population spread the negative word, J.D. Power researchers found.
With such a high probability that customers will share bad experiences, it might be tempting to avoid the whole social media scene and stick to the phones — especially since the majority of customer service inquiries still come in via phone (still about 70%, according to most studies).
But social media’s not much of a choice any more. Customers demand it — and companies are increasingly responding: 33% of contact centers support social media, a Deloitte Consulting survey found. So make the best of a social media customer service approach with these best practices:
1. Stick to the right channel
Only 44% of customers say they get a response to their customer service inquiries on the same channel in which they were made, Anderson said. That’s a big no-no.
You must respond to customers via the same channel they used to contact you. If it’s an angry social media contact, make the first response via social media and suggest you take it offline (to email or phone) to get the situation resolved.
Assuming all goes well throughout the resolution, go back to the social media channel as a follow-up with customers (and the public who might see it) to confirm that they’re happy with the results, suggests Jason Levesque, CEO and founder of Argo Marketing.
2. Respond faster
Today, customers expect almost immediate responses in social media. Yet, just 61% of customers said they got a response within 24 hours of a social media inquiry, J.D. Power researchers found.
For Levesque and his social media team at Argo, “immediate” means 15 minutes. “Really, you want to respond to every customer engagement request within 15 minutes. You’d never make a customer wait that amount of time on the phone. So why would you do it for an email or a social media request. Fifteen minutes is an acceptable, reasonable response time as long as you give customers that expectation.”
If you can’t do that, consider posting hours when someone is available for immediate response and what customers should do for fast answers when that option isn’t available.
3. Be consistent
You don’t want to script every social media response, but you certainly can create a template for your most common inquiries and issues. That helps create consistency from one response to the next, regardless of who responds to customers.
From there, personalize it, Levesque suggested. Reps can always add customers’ names to the correspondence or a personal message that pertains to the individual situation.
4. Maintain consistency
On equal footing with message consistency is consistency across channels. Social media is an extension of all other existing channels (and likely another step into the next era of service, whatever that may be).
So customers should experience the same level of professionalism, quality and accuracy in social media messages as they do in phone conversations and email exchanges, Levesque and Anderson agreed.
5. Connect and empathize
Social media can seem impersonal at first glance. After all, on the surface, it appears to be a couple of computers interacting. But employees who handle social media interactions can connect personally with customers through clear empathy, especially in potentially emotional situations.
“Always use ‘feel,’ ‘felt,’ found,’” suggested Levesque. It’s a proven model for conveying understanding and empathy to customers.
As an example, reps might respond like this: “I understand why you feel that way. I helped another customer who faced a similar situation and felt the same. When it happened, we found that this worked best …”
6. Repeat the right language
Social media is a fast, convenient, casual way to communicate. But it’s no excuse for forgetting manners.
Companies need to ensure that front-line pros who post and respond via social media use words that reflect concern and courtesy — just like you would if you were having a conversation.
Anderson suggested a policy that requires every interaction include formalities such as “please,” “thank you” and “I understand …”
7. Get time and content right
You know it’s important to respond to customers in social media at the right time. To increase interaction with customers, post pertinent information — not promotional info — that can help customers at the right time.
Facebook posts — which should be fun and interesting should go up at the end of the work day because people tend to look at the site after hours. Twitter posts should be more newsworthy — some company news, some links to other sites with relevant industry information — and put up two or three times a day during work hours when people look for that kind of information, Levesque suggested.
8. Make it easier
Give customers icons at the top of the company website and social sites to connect in any way they choose — Twitter, Facebook, phone, online chat, etc. Reason: While customers’ first instinct may be to connect via social media, many change their minds and want easy access to help on the phone or an FAQ page, said Anderson.
Even more helpful: Use your “contact us” page to clarify best times to reach out on each channel.
Another note: Maintain just one account in each of the social media outlets. Some organizations start a page, then build a different customer service page — which only garners confusion with customers and creates inconsistent experiences.
9. Bring reps to life
Let customers know they’re chatting with a real person by having reps use their real initials, or first names and last initials in conversations.
Even better, some companies include reps’ head shots or a personal photo — perhaps of a favorite animal or vacation spot — with their posts and responses.
10. Focus on resolution, too
As much as we focus on response time in social media, it’s equally important to focus on getting issues fixed.
Anderson shared this success: One bank has agents work through customer issues until the customer confirms it has been resolved.
There are no hand-offs or “Let me get back to you.” The focus of every social media contact at the bank is reaching a resolution.
11. Keep customer care the priority
Because customers increasingly go to social media for service reasons, Levesque suggested that social media efforts and support remain in the hands of customer care.
That team already knows how to professionally, consistently and accurately help customers — and is the best candidate to do it via social media.
12. Ensure brand cohesion
Marketing still needs to play a strong role, in the social media presence. They want to be sure that the content looks and feels the same across all channels.