Experts Weigh in on the Importance of Social Along the Customer Journey | Hootsuite Blog

Experts Weigh in on the Importance of Social Along the Customer Journey

On July 21, 2016, we hosted our second Hootsuite Social Breakfast of the year at the Ham Yard Hotel right by Piccadilly Circus in London. The “Customer Experience: Driving Success Through Social” seminar was standing-room only as delegates heard from two keynote speakers and a panel of experts.

Hosted by Susan Perry, Hootsuite’s director of global marketing, the event uncovered how the customer experience is about more than just customer service. It is the culmination of all experiences the customer has with a brand, starting with when they first discover the product or service. And at the root of this experience lies emotion and personalization.

Experts Weigh in on the Importance of Social Along the Customer Journey | Hootsuite Blog

The morning’s discussions focused on how brands can unlock business value from social media. There were four key points.

1. The age of the customer

With some excellent—and sometimes outrageous—real-life examples, Susan Perry set the scene for the morning’s discussion by stressing how “brands must strive to deliver an exceptional customer experience in every situation possible, no matter what that situation is.”

We are now undoubtedly in the “age of the customer” where a great customer experience is what sets brands apart and give them a competitive edge. “Eighty percent of companies expect to compete mostly on the basis of customer experience, versus 36 percent four years ago,” according to Gartner. This is more than adding value, it is about sparking an emotional connection with a brand. Today’s empowered buyers demand a quick, seamless, and transparent buying experience.

Thanks to the key digital transformation trends brought on by social media, the rise of mobile, and the expectation of real-time communications, the age of the customer is reshaping marketing and sales strategies. It means there is no go-to-market strategy anymore—it is now go-to-customer.

As Perry explained during her presentation: “Ninety of young adults are using social and, with the rise of mobile, they’re always connected.  This has caused the expectation of ‘real-time’ – suddenly people are expecting immediacy from brands, friends and their digital community. This cultural shift has created a new ‘Generation C’—the Generation Connected concept centers around everyone who is digitally connected. They’re not defined by age, income or education, but by their digitally connected lifestyle.  This group is really focused on transparency and demand immediacy – money is no longer a metric of success; instead the size and influence of their online presence is the new currency. Most interesting, they’re no longer trusting their friends and family for advice about products or services. They’re trusting their online community which includes not just like-minded people but experts in particular areas, and they can get their opinions straight away. This Generation C is actively shaping corporate culture and expectations.”

Experts Weigh in on the Importance of Social Along the Customer Journey | Hootsuite Blog

Consequently, people are not picking up the phone to call brands and ask questions, raise issues, or make complaints anymore. They are communicating on their terms and at their convenience, and they expect immediate responses and resolutions. This is nothing new in the world of social customer service. But many brands are failing their customers’ expectations.

Brenda O’Connell, director of business development for Twitter EMEA, explained it well: “Over the past two years, we’ve seen a 2.5-times increase in the volume of people Tweeting to brands and service accounts. What we are also seeing is that many brands do not respond to these Tweets. So many brands are still not engaged or not mature as far as social customer service is concerned.”

Experts Weigh in on the Importance of Social Along the Customer Journey | Hootsuite Blog

Brands can significantly enhance their ability to provide an excellent customer experience by trusting and empowering their employees with social media too. Having a social-savvy workforce is a key ingredient for businesses seeking to successfully master digital transformation.

2. The go-to-customer strategy

There are four pillars of good customer experience that brands need to adhere to if they hope to establish a coherent go-to-customer strategy:

  1. Strategy
  2. Process
  3. Technology
  4. People

With changing times and technologies, customers are becoming better educated about products and services that interest them through their own research. As customers become accustomed to serving themselves, they also have much higher demands for sales associates. Customer-facing employees must feel empowered to take on this challenge.

Likewise, organizations need to ensure that the right people are on the front line, with the training and motivation to succeed during these decisive moments. They can’t miss a thing in this fast-moving environment—whether it be an opportunity to delight customers or capture sales.

Fundamental to the go-to-customer approach is having the willingness and the ability to put the customer first.

To do this successfully, brands need to accept that they are not in control of the conversation. They cannot (and should not) dictate where, when, or how social engagements take place. By researching, analyzing, and segmenting their audience across the various social networks, they will be able to understand where their customers are active. “Know your customer” is a business adage that’s been around a very long time, but it has never been more apt than today.

Kellogg’s EMEA’s head of social media, Clare Kleinedler, explains: “Creating immersive experiences in the right platform is vital for brands—but you have to make sure you’ve got that balance of being in the space that they’re in without encroaching on their space.”

Experts Weigh in on the Importance of Social Along the Customer Journey | Hootsuite Blog

Effectively adopting this strategy relies on treating individuals within a target audience as a human being, not a number.

Justin Clark, Transport for Greater Manchester’s head of social media, articulated why: “I don’t like the word ‘customers.’ It’s people like you, people like me. They could be late for work, on the platform in the rain waiting for their tram to arrive—something we can all relate to. Have some sympathy and put yourself in their shoes. How would you feel? Talk to people the way you would like to be spoken to. And remember: they’re not customers, they’re people.”

Brands now have the ability to identify and influence new audiences on their terms in a non-intrusive manner, as Paolo Valenziano, head of digital for Bank of England, explains: “We are able to use social media to reach out to and engage with a younger demographic that we wouldn’t normally or traditionally reach via TV, PR, or other traditional communications channels.”

3. The power of emotion

The customer experience can take place over many weeks and across multiple channels—online and offline. Along the journey, a customer can go from frustration and dissatisfaction to delight and gratitude for having an issue resolved.

Emotions are powerful, and tapping into them can be a challenge, particularly when faceless text-based messages can easily be misconstrued. As such, visual content has been the vanguard of businesses seeking to add more value and context to the customer experience.

But the rise of GIFs on social has provided a fresh and emotive way for brands to communicate with their target audiences. GIFs provide context, tone, and meaning that words alone cannot possibly convey. And they do so in a couple of seconds. They’re easy for the customer to digest, understand, and react to.

4. Rapid personalized engagements

Respond quickly and authentically. This may be obvious to some, but some brands struggle with this concept. Compounding the challenge, only three percent of conversations about a brand on Twitter are tagged with the brand’s Twitter handle. It’s important for businesses monitor to brand mentions on social media—including unbranded mentions as well as common misspellings and abbreviations of company or product names.

Justin Clark, head of social media at Transport for Greater Manchester, sums up the process nicely: “In our customer care, social is impacting how we handle traditional comms—we are actively going out there to find customer issues, help resolve them and using the intelligence gained from social to improve future services.”

It is no surprise that the most effective engagements on social media are when a customer’s opinion (negative or otherwise) is identified by a brand and responded to despite the brand not being tagged or notified directly by the individual. This shows the customer that the brand cares about their experience and wants to help. More often than not, these types of interactions help convert a negative situation into a positive one.

Brenda O’Connell, director of business development for EMEA at Twitter, explains it well: “We see two steps in the customer relationship. The first and basic step is acknowledging your customers by responding to them when they reach out to you for support. Just by simply responding you can in many cases take potentially negative contacts and flip them into positive ones. The second and equally important step is answering questions, resolving issues, and delivering great quality end to end customer service consistently on Twitter. Brands who engaged in both of these steps and are great at customer service on Twitter see higher levels of customer satisfaction and increased sales opportunities”

Experts Weigh in on the Importance of Social Along the Customer Journey | Hootsuite Blog

Sean Smith, head of account management for EMEA at Brandwatch added: “One of the great things about Twitter is that you have a lot of specific information—what was tweeted, where from, who by and when. Response times have therefore become a huge metric in businesses. Bots and artificial intelligence tools can automatically respond to customer enquiries while also allowing tweaking and personalization, which reduces response times and frees up a lot of time to deal with more significant issues and complaints.  However, brands must balance social authenticity with speed of response through listening and reacting accordingly and in a personalized manner.”

Primark used GIFs to combine humor and user generated content to drive engagement for their Ultimate Christmas Jumper campaign.

It started with Primark making their own ultimate Christmas jumper, which included a built-in snow machine. Then, using How To videos, Primark encouraged people to customize their own jumpers, such as an edible jumper. On Christmas Jumper Day itself, they asked fans to share their own creations with Primark’s “Mystic Mother Christmas” (#mysticmotherchristmas) who would respond in real-time with a personalized psychic reading or a piece of fun shareable content.

The GIFs trended globally on Giphy and also trended on Facebook Messenger for a whole week. Influencers and celebrities also received the Mystic Mother Christmas psychic skills.  The end result was real-time personalized engagement that got everyone talking—from grannies to One Direction, everyone was wearing Primark’s festive jumpers: Primark received over four mentions per minute and 246 mentions per hour.

What this means for social brands

The opportunities for brands to deliver an exceptional customer experience are great. To actually succeed, brands need to always ask themselves: “What do my customers want?” And they must accept that any individual could change their mind at any moment.

Sean Smith, head of account management EMEA for Brandwatch, sums up the process: “Ultimately, you’ve got this huge amount of social information that you have to help brands to analyze, segment, and push to different areas of the business to act upon. Regarding customer service, when people complain to a brand through a social channel they are engaging with you so you have got to respond.”

Or, as Paolo Valenziano, head of digital at Bank of England, put it: “Using Twitter and not responding is like picking up the phone and not speaking.”

Different organizations may have their own definitions of what customer experience means, but the Harvard Business Review succinctly describes it as “the sum of all interactions a customer has with a company.” Brands must bear this in mind throughout the social journey of each and every individual person that is interacting with their brand on any level.