Serve Your Customers Snacks on Twitter and Dinner on Your Website

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While some of the MindTouch staff was busy attending (and presenting!) at the LavaCon Hands-On Workshop in New Orleans, there was a really interesting conversation happening in San Francisco. During its annual user conference this year, social media marketing software company Lithium opened up a great dialogue about whether customer experience is just a bunch of hype and ways companies that talk the talk can also walk the walk.

Lithium CMO Katy Keim throws down the gauntlet of shame pretty early in the discussion, noting that “95 percent of [Facebook] and 70 percent of Tweets to brands are ignored.” She says something is “broken” and we agree. At a time when social media engagement is crucial to your brand’s success, those statistics are completely mind-boggling.

So what’s going on here? Where is the disconnect between creating a good customer experience strategy and its execution? We’d better collectively figure it out quickly because Gartner analyst Jenny Sussin says social media platforms may soon become a primary channel of customer support.

Researchers over at Forrester are drawing the same conclusions. As analyst Kate Leggett succinctly puts it,

“Social channels are increasingly important. Online communities and Twitter have seen increases in usage rates in the past three years. However, satisfaction remains low for these channels, as companies have not invested in best practices for managing interactions on these channels.”

In summary, customers want to engage with companies on Twitter and Facebook so they take their issues and compliments to those platforms. Companies apparently know this but haven’t come up with ways to effectively manage these conversations, so comments from customers (and potential customers) are largely ignored.

This is not a good plan and nobody wins here.

Products that help businesses harness and manage conversations across multiple microblogging platforms are part of the solution, but a comprehensive strategy doesn’t end there. Twitter and Facebook interactions alone are far too limiting to take customer support to the level it needs in order to be effective. You need more.

Authoritative branded content and a deeply curated knowledge base on your website give you the building blocks you need to power official responses you offer in places other than your website. This will help you accomplish two important things.

Provide consistent and correct information. Nothing turns away a customer faster than seeing different answers to the same question. While troubleshooting product issues, it’s annoying to find conflicting answers among users. It’s unforgivable when they come from inside the company itself. A solid, in-house, continually updated knowledge base means your customers get the correct answers everywhere, every time.

Burn down information silos that hold your company back. In the early days of web-centric customer service, it was quite common to house product documentation in one area, techcomm in another, and miscellany like FAQs in yet another. It wasn’t the best solution, but it was based on the technology we had to work with at the time (read: not much).

Today’s tools easily turn mountains of disparate, siloed information into a cohesive bank of searchable data that’s easy to both update and manage. Customers and staff can find the right answers, right when they need it. That, friends, is one of the main goals of excellent customer support.

Twitter, Facebook, and the myriad other social networking platforms out there are fantastic ways to engage and groom customers. The people have spoken and decided that’s where they want to be able to talk with businesses, so go hang out with them. Before you head over to the social media snack lounge, though, make sure your house is in order so you can have them over for a full meal.

Image: Extranoise

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