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Chief Research Officer, G2 Crowd, formerly Group VP Software Business Solutions at IDC where his group covered CRM, EA, PPM, PLM, SCM, cloud and SaaS, pricing and licensing, and software partners, channels and alliances.

11 responses to “Why Companies are Using Social Software”

  1. Chuck Van Court

    Michael:

    What exactly are you suggesting when you say: “Meeting customers when, where and how the customer chooses is not optional?”

    For instance, many customers would likely prefer companies to respond to their questions in facebook or twitter within 1 hour or less, but does this really make sense for most companies?

    Support should clearly be readily available through social networks relevant to an organization’s customer base, but providing support directly within the very limiting systems infrastructure of these social network’s and creating new fast-path queues rather than feeding into existing support queues for all but premium customers does not make good business sense to me for the vast majority of business models.

    Balancing making customers happy with creating sustainable business models that can nicely scale seems to hold true regardless of touch point or “social” pressures.

    What are your thoughts?

    1. Michael Fauscette (@mfauscette)

      Chuck,
      I’m not suggesting that companies should build unsustainable business models. The point is that many businesses believe that it is sufficient to define very narrow ways of interacting with customers and that customers expect companies to interact more broadly and out in the public social web, not just on its own website. Interacting on social “channels” doesn’t have to be disconnected and outside the customer service backend, in fact I’d say that is a serious mistake. Just adding resources to interact on social networks, for example isn’t really sustainable. Integrating and connecting by using support systems that have the capability to manage those external interactions is key from a company perspective. Customers don’t care what you use as a backend management system as long as their experience is acceptable.

      Customers want you to meet them where they are, but as far as expectations of timeliness, setting (and keeping) reasonable expectations is fine. It’s much more important to do what you say you will do, than to be instantaneous with response. Tiering support response to account for premium customers (or for customers with greater influence) is acceptable and makes good business sense. Using a backend support system that is integrated with public social channels will help you set and meet the reasonable time criteria.

      Meeting customers “when, where and how” the customer chooses is about opening up your customer interaction model to include new ways of interacting, not just ways that the customer may find unacceptable. Companies can’t control the channel, they can (and should) however, control the systematic way they deal with interactions on their side of the firewall.

  2. Vicki Tambellini

    Michael,

    Thank you for sharing your research. We’ve been providing social business software since late 2009. Nearly every discussion today is focused on providing better support for customers and partners. We find that there’s still a lot of confusion over using “social” in the name of a product / solution. We tend to talk about communities of practice, learning communities and user communities.

    Vicki Tambellini
    Enterprise Hive and The Tambellini Group

  3. Chuck Van Court

    Thanks for your reply, Michael.

    At a high level, I am in total agreement with everything you are saying. However, the devil is in the details and it’s not as simple as just using the social networking sites for the front-ends into back-end support infrastructure optimized for delivering customer care within organizational objectives.

    Let’s dive into a specific use case regarding Facebook to illustrate specific implementation options and their inherent implications:

    Need: An organization has a material number of their customers using Facebook that want to be able to ask questions there.

    Option 1: Customers are allowed and encouraged to post questions on the company’s Facebook wall. To support this, the company uses software that attempts to identify questions posted on their wall based on some terms defined by the company, or just processes all wall posts, and feeds them into their customer care software supporting Facebook and other channel and access points. Responses are pushed back to the wall and where appropriate and acceptable to the person asking the question, the support interaction is moved to outside the Facebook wall and handled privately due to the nature of the inquiry or complexity of the issue. Because questions and answers are publicly viewable and due to the inherent expectations of Facebook, responses need to be provided faster than questions originating from email or Web forms (generally within a couple hours), and the time to respond cannot realistically vary based on the person’s perceived value to the business or any (questionable) measurement of the person’s influence on the Web.

    Option 2: The company clearly denotes that questions should be directed to the “Support” tab inside Facebook and not to the wall. Facebook Connect is utilized so the person does not need to log into any other system or provide their email address. When the person goes to the support tab they are brought to a page inside of Facebook (an Iframe in Facebook to be exact) and are able to submit their question. The form is built to ask for all information relevant to their particular inquiry so that the support rep has all the information required to resolve their issue without needing to go back for additional information. Simple questions require no more typing than if they were posted on the Facebook wall. When the person submits their inquiry they are presented with any content that the system has determined to possibly resolve their issue and the person submits their inquiry if the content presented does not resolve their inquiry. Responses to the inquiry are emailed to the user via Facebook or sent to a secure inbox that is also part of the support page, depending on what the customer prefers, and all interactions to resolve the inquiry are included together in one place.

    Both options are readily accessible to the person and equally easy to submit the question. However, Option 2 is clearly more optimized to provide superior support and allows the company control over what service levels they manage to and if they vary by user. Option 2 also only provides a taste for how the user interface for providing customer care can be optimized without being encumbered by the inherent limitations of the specific social network’s user interface.

    The only reasons that a person would prefer Option 1 (to post to the Facebook wall) are a) because they want to bypass longer lines for other channels (they perceive a faster response will be received) or (b) they believe the public exposure to the support interaction will enable them to get an outcome that the company otherwise would not provide. It is also worth noting that the volumes of questions posted on the wall will only increase if this is indeed the fastest line, which will make this responsiveness more difficult and costly to deliver. At this point, changing service levels if not removing the option entirely.will certainly have severe backlash.

    Akin to a person walking into a store using a megaphone and calling out for help, providing support directly within Facebook as defined in Option 1 may very well be the preferred method for many customers, but it generally will not be the best method for most organizations. Service levels and how a company elects to respond to customer questions and resolve issues must be driven by sound business strategies and management and not by the channel or customer desires.

    Providing the best possible service and support to customers when and where they need it is indeed important, but the devil is in the details and the implementation chosen must balance many needs.

    What are your thoughts?

  4. Esteban Kolsky

    disclaimer: i was brought to this discussion by Chuck Van Court who asked me to provide two cents. below is more like a dime of bad advice, but you should read it anyways as it goes in a different direction and it is (i assume and think) interesting.

    You are both making incorrect assumptions – the most glaring one is assuming that customers want support and service via multiple channels and websites. Customers want an answer, if you tell them where to get them, that is where they will go; if they don’t find it, they will try another channel. Your job is not to do amazing things across all channels, that is further down the line, but provide mind-blowing support through one channel. If you do that, multi-channel is easy and an add-on (as it should be).

    That is the whole context of this discussion.

    Mike, you said that companies are talking Social in all seriousness now, and I could not agree with you more. The data that I collected over the past few years does not support using social as a new-different-better-more-important channel.

    Chuck, customers go to facebook from frustration with other channels – but fewer than 20% of customers make social their FIRST stop. Considering that other channels are faster, better, easier, more automatable, and all that goodness (not to mention that we know how to use them better) wouldn’t it make more sense to f— forget social and use the other channels better? Take the dollars invested in social and use them to improve other channels and your bottom-line results (not cutesy numbers like followers, or liked, or PR metrics like that) will improve: lower cost per resolution, more first-call-resolution (higher satisfaction, potential loyalty), better allocation of resources, lower training and maintenance costs, and – the key, better correlation to KPIs since you have already done all that work.

    Caveat: communities are different, but we are not talking communities here – and even if we were, we’d be talking the wrong type anyways.

    Providing support via social channels is more expensive, lengthier, and with far worse ROI than a) creating a proper multi-channel strategy that identifies questions that can be answered by channel properly, 2) publish SLAs relative to that policy and implement FB and social channels guidelines for users to follow if they want to get support (funny thing, people don’t want to squeak to get the attention, they want an answer… if you tell them how/where/when/how they can it, they will do it – even if they are in FB at the time and they need to go somewhere else), 3) enforce them to death.

    FB is horrible for support no matter how you do it, and communities are not yet properly utilized- so you are arguing how badly we can implement something today – not how it can we do better. Trying to fix something broken with the wrong tools or remedies results in “redneck repairs” where duct tape, bail wire are used extensively and common sense is abandoned in lieu of a just-enough-to-get-by solution with no long-term value whatsoever.

    Ask Comcast if, given the customer service results – not PR – they would implement @ComcastCares again… remind them you said not PR results, customer service results. Same for Verizon Wireless, SWA, JetBlue and any other darling of the social world.

    The problem is that today social still remains about megaphones, not about solutions – so we are far better touting our own horns about how good we are solving one problem in 48 or 72 hours, but we ignore that we could’ve solved the problem with 1/20th the cost in less than 1/100th of the time better in another channel… which one brings more value to the organization and the customer?

    If you said social, you are nor making business decisions.

  5. Chuck Van Court

    Thanks for commenting, Esteban!

    I totally agree with you that most customers just want answers and that companies need to ensure that their customer care infrastructure gets them to answers a quickly as possible.

    I also agree that most customers only turn to Facebook (and other social networks) for support when unsuccessful getting resolution through other support channels and that companies are best served by focusing on optimizing their core customer care infrastructure before worrying about extending support through the many potential access points on the Web.

    But there is non-stop hype coming from many vendors and influences that tout that businesses need to “be where their customers are” and many suggest if not outright state that in Facebook that means to answer questions on their Facebook wall.

    So at the end of the day, If a company concludes that they are going to extend support through Facebook, do you believe it matters in the short and long term if it is done through either of the 2 options I identified, or do you have another option to suggest?

    Business managers are faced with translating all this talk into specific implementations and I absolutely believe the question I am asking is very relevant and has significant consequences. My position is clearly that I believe that with rare exception business leaders are getting duped if they buy into providing support directly in a Facebook wall or directly using the systems infrastructure of any other social network of the day. Am I off base? Why? What do you, Michael and anyone else out there believe?

    Off to enjoy a dry day in Seattle 😉

  6. Esteban Kolsky

    Short answer: they are being duped if they believe they can do service better via facebook or any other social networks regardless of the method they use.

    if they do it strategically, as they did email, chat, IM, text, and others before – they have a shot at doing it right. Doing it differently because it is social? Not a chance.

  7. Chuck Van Court

    With rare exception, I totally agree that social network technology does not provide a communications channel better at meeting customer needs than other channel alternatives.

    However, many companies still need to make it easy for their customers to quickly get to answers from their social network of choice.

    The strategic decision comes down to if the social network is to be used as a component for their customer care infrastructure or just as an access point into their customer care infrastructure. Once made, this decision will not be easily changed and has significant consequences.

    For most business models it just does not make sense to compromise one’s customer care delivery by the inherent limitations of the social network technology, which they have no control over and may not even be relevant to their customers in a few years.

  8. Michael Fauscette (@mfauscette)

    Chuck and Esteban,
    First, thank you for the discussion. Now, my disclaimer, I’m on vacation with my daughters in Europe on a cruise, I have very limited and really slow connectivity, but the good news is that it’s really expensive 🙂 if I keep comments short you’ll understand why.

    Anyway, as usual Esteban, we’re pretty much in agreement. Chuck, I don’t think we’re far off either, you are just taking the conversation a little deeper, which is a good thing. I don’t think that any of the additional support options are necessarily mature or sorted out or that social is by itself any better or even that different. I also think that the “answer” is very business and industry specific. There are a few things that I do think we know though:

    -for several different reasons I think companies need to figure out and implement a way to monitor social networks and social media channels. From a marketing perspective it could go from simple brand awareness and sentiment to specific campaign effectiveness. From a support perspective listening could provide at a broad level input that could head off a general or specific product / service problem. At an individual level it does have potential but also limitations today. Systematically companies need to sort out the response side of both the broad problem and the individual. The individual is much harder of course and as I said before, I don’t think it’s scalable unless responding is tied to company systems and processes.

    -As Esteban said, people just want answers and in general will go to the place you send them if the answers are good / correct / easy to find. That’s not always the case though, in some / maybe many (I’m not sure yet) cases people are turning to networks with the expectation that “friends” may provide better (or at least faster) answers. This goes to the idea of trust filtered answers. Companies may not be a part of that conversation, or they might choose to be if they uncover this during monitoring/listening.

    -We didn’t really touch the idea of company sponsored communities at all and I think that, for many businesses they provide an interesting opportunity to increase loyalty and perhaps provide a comfortable environment for peer to peer support. Peer to peer support is positive for the business for many reasons and may (but not always) reduce support volume or it may simply change the level of support cases. It could also provide the opportunity to increase the companies knowledge base and teach the company many things about its own products. Communities also provide other opportunities beyond support but that’s not really what we’re talking about here.

    -I wasn’t really at any point, specifically talking about how to use facebook, and I don’t really think that’s the way to look at it (well, except maybe for marketing presence). I do think that at the strategic level it’s important to set up network agnostic ways to listen (or sense) and respond to what is happening. That response may be to deflect to another support channel or maybe push to a community for an answer, or even provide answers, that depends on the business, the vertical and other market factors.

    Okay, that’s about all the connection / answer time I can afford at this point.

  9. Chuck Van Court

    Hi Michael:

    Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts, especially when on vacation…yikes, this stuff can wait until your return, have a great time.

    I also appreciate you willingness to get into the weeds some since it clearly is a place most analysts and other influences are more than happy to avoid.

    I totally agree that company sponsored communities and peer support can provide significant value. I also believe that beyond just creating new KB content, it is imperative for existing knowledge base content to be perpetually evolved using people’s real-world insights, but for this to happen the community must be baked directly into the knowledge base with built-in metrics (reputation engine) to motivate desired participation and identify and reward specific demonstrated expertise. Otherwise the community will never do anything to evolve existing KB content as necessary and it will quickly be dated, forcing people to get their answer by extracting information from multiple community posts that are often incomplete and not presented in a way best understood by the person who just want’s the company to take more responsibility for quickly getting them to their answer.

    Online communities can absolutely serve an important need for an organization, but they in no way allow organizations to abdicate their responsibility for providing consistent and high-quality (self-service) support that quickly and completely resolves consumer’s issues. Traditional knowledge bases are rightfully losing favor for supporting non-static subject matters, but Community KB’s that truly have the community baked in can serve very vital needs.

    Like extending traditional customer care to users in social networks, I also believe that peer communities are generally better provided outside of social networks since the technology of social network’s are limiting relative to alternatives. in most cases social networks just make better access points than channels.

    As far as social monitoring goes, I totally agree with your stated requirement that many companies need to be monitoring the Web for interactions impacting their brand, which requires using software optimized for that purpose across the Web rather than thinking that customer care solutions providing rudimentary analysis of wall posts and tweets will suffice.

    I look forward to getting your thoughts upon your return.

    Off to hit some golf balls and to do some hard motorcycle riding to help take off some of the edge 🙂

    Cheers, Chuck

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