Social media + cloud = great customer service

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As social media becomes more pervasive and powerful, it is being viewed by some businesses as both a threat and an opportunity.

This juxtaposition was addressed by our CEO, Marc Benioff, last year when the cloud computing pioneer likened the social media threat facing businesses to an uprising akin to the Arab Spring in the Middle East. As customers become more social, all companies – including SMBs – that don’t adapt, could face their own ‘Corporate Spring,’ or customer revolt, online.

Driven by unprecedented demand from customers with high expectations, people want to communicate with businesses of all sizes on their terms, and they want answers to be accurate and delivered quickly. As Amazon founder Jeff Bezos predicted, a negative customer comment that used to affect maybe six people, through social channels can now influence up to 6,000 potential customers, causing significant brand damage.

While it’s right to highlight these challenges, if you’re a small business looking to grow, it’s also important to acknowledge the huge opportunity that social media provides in terms of engaging and retaining customers.

Effectively monitoring and responding to customer enquiries through social media channels can help SMBs to gain a competitive edge. By embracing social media customer service, small business can deliver outstanding experiences that not only wow existing customers but also attract new business.

A new generation of customers

The impetuous for social media becoming a customer service channel is the result of a new generation of customer. Gen Y is driving the push to anywhere, anytime customer service.

Service that just a couple of years ago could be controlled and funnelled into the familiar phone or email channels, is now spilling over into Twitter, Facebook, the web, live chat and every other new channel or network that emerges.

These customers don’t want answers in days, they demand them in minutes, and are likely to complain vocally and in public if they are ignored. Complaints can escalate across social media as other customers, and potential customers, spread the original post or tweet it to their friends. What was an isolated incident can become common knowledge across a wide segment of your customer base.

This generational change is also affecting the types of devices that customers use to access social media, with smartphones and tablets becoming increasingly popular.

Social media and mobility

According to research from Sensis, 52 percent of all social networking by 14-19 year olds and 46 percent by 20-29 year olds, takes place via a mobile device. The trend towards using mobile social media is accelerating the demand for anytime, anywhere customer service, resulting in immediate customer feedback shared online that is entirely driven by the experience they have with your business.

To deal with this level of immediacy, some Australian companies are setting up extensive, round-the-clock response teams. While this may not be a resource within reach for some SMBs, new cloud-based and mobile technologies mean smaller companies can now access cost-effective tools, such as a 24/7 online FAQ-style support centre that will allow them to match the scale and capabilities of big business.

Customer service in the cloud

Traditionally, there have been steep barriers in terms of the cost and expertise of SMBs to access cutting edge technology. However, new developments in cloud technologies allow even the smallest business to deploy a quality, multi-channel engagement strategy.

A simple, cloud-based solution such as Desk.com, offers a social and mobile help desk that doesn’t require specialised IT knowledge and is easy and cost-effective to set up. With solutions like Desk.com, SMBs are on the same playing field as larger, more established organisations.

Online retailer Shoes of Prey has realised significant advantages with Desk.com. The company was growing rapidly and needed efficient customer issues management for its small and busy team, which could replace spread sheets and emails.

By operating through a browser-based customer management portal, the team were able to work off the same customer issues list, effectively divide and conquer on tickets and respond to customer enquiries from a range of different devices, in the office or on the road.

With a scalable customer service platform, Shoes of Prey is now able to react to surges of customer interest around promotions such as sales and social media competitions, delivering the flexibility and agility that the company needs to grow.

Supporting small teams

With a cloud-based platform for customer service, SMBs are able to maintain a relatively small and agile customer service team. For example, Desk.com customer Instagram, the photo sharing app, supports 30 million iPhone and one million Android users worldwide. The company accomplishes this with only 13 staff. With employees easily wired in on any device, support can be 24 hours a day, seven days a week, worldwide.

Traditionally, Australian small businesses’ customer bases have been limited by geography. But as the Internet and globalisation combine, they are now able to access markets anywhere in the world. International customers are easily acquired; however, retaining their business and exceeding their expectations can be a time-consuming and expensive task without the right tools.

With an effective cloud-based solution, a small team based in Sydney, Melbourne or Brisbane for example, can provide social and mobile customer support across multiple channels to a large customer base across Australia, or the world.

Riding the Zeitgeist

Social media provides an opportunity for SMBs to have their finger on the pulse of customer wants and needs like never before. Social music streaming company Rdio uses Desk.com to aggregate customer feedback and suggestions found across social channels. When there is significant buzz on services such as Facebook and forums about changing a feature or adding a product, Rdio is able to capture this information, analyse and brief the company on what its customers want.

Rdio has discovered that by harvesting the great depth of feedback available on social media it can react to customer desires in an agile and consultative manner, exceeding expectations of customers with product development that occurs faster than what its competitors can produce.

Decision time

Deploying a cloud solution that supports customer service across a range of social channels will ultimately help small businesses ensure all their customers are heard. Complaints, new product ideas and praise are all captured, noted and responded to. Today, SMBs can have conversations with customers in ways that companies ten years ago could never have dreamed.

But it’s important not to approach social media like you’re a fearing a ‘Corporate Spring.’ As an SMB operating in an increasingly competitive, hyper-connected marketplace, the first step is to bridge the social divide that separates your business from its customers in order to reap the rewards of today’s social service opportunity.