Conversation: Customer Support in a Web 2.0 World
Posted by Becky Carroll on August 29, 2007
There is a new dynamic taking place in support. Customer service is becoming very public. The world now hears the details when a consumer has a poor customer support experience as it is bantered about on blogs, parodied in YouTube videos, and finally picked up by the mainstream media. The effects are spilling over into technical support as well. Customer expectations are higher than ever. The need to engage with customers in an honest and transparent way is becoming a business necessity.
As the support industry makes the shift from break-fix service and support to providing value to customers beyond the product purchase price, there is a need to practice the ancient art of conversation.This art has two components: listening and talking. In order for the conversation to be successful, the first component, listening, is really more important than the second. Support organizations have become very good in the art of talking at customers; the art of listening to customers is often less practiced.
The Self-Service Conundrum
While customer self-service is an important aspect of providing support when and how customers want it (in addition to potentially reducing support costs), there is a side-effect. Customer self-service takes away the human touch to the customer, the face of the company. Rather than a back-and-forth conversation about a support issue and its resolution, customers spend time on their own trying to figure out how to get the necessary answer. If they are successful, this can be a great model. If they are unsuccessful, the level of frustration mounts, only to be unleashed on the next unsuspecting CSR that answers the phone or the chat.
Value-added support is about people and continuing to build trust so that long-lasting customer relationships form. Value-added support is not about technology. Technology can be an enabler, and Web 2.0 technologies and social media help put people back into support. These technologies are facilitating conversations: customer to customer and also customer to company (and back).
Reluctance to Embrace
Some support organizations are part of companies that are quickly embracing Web 2.0 and social media. They have built large communities in the past and are re-engaging with those communities through blogs and wikis. Other organizations are starting to dabble in these new methods of communicating with customers. Many are still watching from the sidelines and a little leery of getting involved. At the recent SSPA Best Practices Conference in San Diego, I moderated a sharing session on web self-service, and the conversation turned to Web 2.0. Most of the companies in the room were considering how they wanted to use Web 2.0 technologies in support; only a handful actually had a blog, wiki, or similar social media in use with customers today.
Part of the reason for this reluctance to embrace social media is fear. There is a concern that customers will use this forum to start talking publicly about their issues with the company and all will turn sour. Guess what? These conversations are already taking place on the internet, with or without the company! One just needs to decide whether they want to be part of those conversations, even managing them from the company’s website.
Customer Support as a Conversation
If we are to truly transition support to a value-added model, a key ingredient is building customer relationships. This cannot be done through one-way communications. An ongoing conversation with our customers is necessary, as trust and relationship only take place over a longer period of time than one support interaction. If we just focus on the support transaction, we miss the opportunity for the relationship. If we view each support interaction as one part of an ongoing conversation with our customers and are willing to listen to them, we begin to look at the customer in a different light.
Customers want their immediate problems solved, but they also want proactive support. While the basics of providing customer support are still important, Web 2.0 and social media tools enable a conversation which goes past solving the problem at hand. Tools such as blogs, wikis, tagging, social networking, and even forums begin to create a sense of community and belonging as they facilitate proactive communication with customers. The potential return for the company is enormous. Transparency and honesty are required to play the game.
(This is Part 1 of a two-part post. Tomorrow I will publish the second part about using Web 2.0 tools for customer support.)