Training social customer care teams is one of the most pressing issues for contact centre managers whether social customer service is outsourced or in-house. No other department engages with your customers so openly where the digital world can see, judge, praise, or put your reputation in a spin when things go wrong. How you inspire your team will have a direct impact on how you inspire your customers.Agents who work on the social customer service frontline have the opportunity to humanise the digital experience and build one-to-one relationships. They must have the confidence to seamlessly switch between channels to keep pace with a very tech-savvy customer base and answer increasingly complex issues from customers who see picking up a phone or sending an email about as useful as commuting on a unicycle.
You need to invest in the people who are the gatekeepers of your brand's reputation in a very public domain. The quality of the support team you build, the training programme and engagement tools you provide, and how you reward staff is critical. Customer facing roles are changing beyond recognition and teams need to be empowered to deliver high-quality interactions and real dialogue with customers, at scale and in near real-time.
Here are six essential tips for successfully building your social customer service team.
#1 Evaluate the existing skills of your agents
Training existing staff to become blended agents working across multiple channels might seem like the quickest and most efficient solution. But, your best people on the phone may not be good at writing responses. Some contact centre agents just won't be comfortable engaging with customers on public channels. Others simply won't have the written communication skills to respond effectively, especially in 140 characters, or have the confidence to deliver, say, video support. Obviously, there are some crossover skills with email, and you may be able to migrate and retrain some agents from other channels. But, most likely you will need to recruit new staff given the specific skills needed around multi-tasking and complex problem solving. Agents need to be confident about working autonomously, be intuitive and have emotional intelligence to be able to 'read' your customers.
Here's a quick recruitment checklist
Source: 'How should contact centres integrate social customer service?' Sentiment / Our Social Times
#2 Create a specific social customer care training programme
15% of attrition in contact centres happens during training due to the growing complexity of support roles (Dimension Data)
- The most efficient strategy is usually to set up a small dedicated social customer support team, which is then expanded as your social customer offering grows and training is extended to the wider team.
- Let members use new social customer service systems in a test environment to help overcome any apprehension about change and see how the new system will help them better manage their inbox to increase job satisfaction from the get go.
- Create a social media playbook and have clear guidelines on what can be shared on an open channel and what needs to be discussed in a private conversation. The playbook should include real-world examples of how reply to specific types of questions and comments, handle complaints and deal with offensive language. Also include examples of replies which should be avoided.
- Have a clear policy on the triggers for when a comment needs to be escalated and guidelines on the distinction between an issue and a crisis.
Here's a really great example from crisis management expert Melissa Agnes on how to map out an issues management response flow chart to help customer support team managers assess flammable comments and liaise with marketing and PR colleagues. Here's the cool bit. It's available to download for free here if you want to use it.
Source: Agnes + Day
#3 Equip your team with the right technology
41% of contact centre managers admit that technology is frequently or occasionally to blame for customer service issues (Ovum)
One of the biggest reasons that some brands are failing their customers is they don't equip support teams with the right technology to answer customers properly in super-fast time. Frontline teams are under incredible pressure even when there are a moderate number of messages coming their way each day. If your social media team is trawling through mentions natively they will get frustrated and miss comments in the commotion. Using a social customer service app with intelligent workflow will alleviate the pressure on agents.
- Comparatively analyse volumes for each social channel you are monitoring to help you plan resource-wise when building your customer service support team and forecast inbound and outbound messaging. Using a social customer service tool with analytics will be a major help here to plan the number of agents you need to make sure they are not overwhelmed.
- Do you have the capability to route comments to a specific agent based on workflow criteria? Without sufficient automations to route mentions to the right team, agents could be their wasting time reading through messages which need to be answered by other departments. If you haven't got a dedicated customer service @account this will only make things worse and agents will get frustrated trying to keep pace, especially during a crisis when customers want to be kept informed.
- One of the biggest annoyances for customers is having to repeat the same story to different agents. Again and again. If your agents have access to full conversation histories in their engagement console this will help them assess and answer comments quickly without irritating customers.
- Look at integrating social messaging apps such as Facebook Messenger, Whatsapp or WeChat with your social customer service. This makes it easy for agents to swap channels if a conversation needs to be moved away from social. See our guide to social messaging for more info on this.
- Results from the fifth annual Social Customer Service Index by Social Media Today showed that brands which integrated social media support staff teams at the process level led to higher employee satisfaction with the company's service efforts. Team and process integration led to a 25% increase in the number of customer interactions handled on social channels.
#4 Get your tone right
Social has its own tone. Interactions are public and your brand will judged on how well it responds. Many customers are tired of scripted replies and canned responses, so if you are going to use these think carefully about how and when they are appropriate.
Customers appreciate personalised replies from agents who are experienced and knowledgeable.
Here are a few tips to help you get started:
- Address your customers by name and be personable
- Sign off your responses with a name or initials to be friendly
- Empower your agents to respond without a script and have conversations which your customers can relate to
- Avoid canned responses. People see through these and will notice when you send the same response to everyone.
- Show empathy not sympathy. Demonstrate you understand, not feel sorry for them.
- Protect customer privacy. When customers mistakenly share sensitive information advise them to delete the message and continue the conversation offline.
#5 Think beyond complaint handling
- Complaint handling is a critical part of agent roles but people also turn to social to get on the case on when they want to buy something. Research from the Institute of Customer Service found that around a third of people use social to make pre-sales enquires. Empower your support teams to engage on these opportunities, and share recommendations on alternative products and services with customers who can't find what they originally wanted.
- Give agents content links to share to give customers more self-help information and hopefully cut down on the number of interactions needed on social to answer a query properly.
#6 Retain talent
A good, cohesive social customer service team can take time to create. Ensure you can retain your talented employees by providing them with an intuitive and easy-to-use customer service app.
- Reduce repetitive tasks where possible and ensure you have a mechanism for the team to provide feedback about any improvements which can be made
- Using approvals in your social customer app will help to build team confidence. Supervisors can approve messages which need checking before they are posted and add notes for agents to guide them on how to improve what they are saying. This will also help to prevent any howlers going public, and potentially viral.
- Schedule regular team meetings to talk through best practice examples of what is working well, and what needs improving. Anyone who works in social knows things change very quickly and training should be ongoing.
- Use agent performance reports to assess if any changes are needed to team patterns and workflow to avoid overworking team members.
An effective social customer care team is a valuable asset in building brand loyalty and ensuring repeat business. Use these tips to help build and train your social team and ensure you get the maximum benefit from both your agents and your tool.
To see how the Sentiment app can help your team deliver outstanding social customer service, request a demo today.
There's more super-handy advice on getting your tone right and complaint handling in our guide:
15 essential tips for using social media to improve customer service.
Editors note: This post was originally published in October 2015 and has been completely revamped and updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.