Branded online communities are a powerful tool in the customer engagement and customer service toolbox.
They are also being used effectively in conjunction with traditional and social network channels to support customer satisfaction and retention. According to Social Media Today's Social Customer Engagement Index 2012---
"...with the growth of branded online communities, we expect to see companies building strategies to connect broader social networks to their own social properties to provide a deeper, extended, more intimate level of service engagement. And companies who begin working on this strategy should improve their opportunities to solidify customer relationships."
One interesting tidbit that surfaces from the report is that smaller companies can sometimes reap the benefits of effective engagement more easily than the big brands. Because they can be more nimble, and they have less bureaucracy, they can respond faster and get deliver the correct information to the customer easier.
Even more interesting, among the group that is "very satisfied" or "very positive," there is more integration of social tools into the customer service area, and they seem to have learned faster that branded online communities are strategically important.
The meat of the survey includes a series of case studies from some big brands. Each case study revealed a key takeaway for the rest of us:
Key takeaway: Peer-to-peer support is a highly effective way to deliver outstanding customer support online.
Through authentic and transparent conversation, we drive our business objectives of decreasing contacts while supporting our loyal customers, influencing spending, and increasing insights.
Key takeaway: Implement a proactive approach, reach out to customers in need and provide self-serve online support.
Dell is finding that its proactive approach helps customers solve issues online and reduces the need for them to call for support. ...There are obvious Operational Expense benefits to this – self-serve online has a way lower cost per incident/transaction than a traditional support channel like the phone – but more important, our customers have been telling us for several years through Net Promoter Score surveys that many actually prefer to go online for solutions.
Key takeaway: Social channels are a great addition to existing traditional customer support channels; there's no need for an "either-or" decision.
JetBlue knew social media could be an invaluable way to reach its audience and for its audience to connect with it outside traditional channels. Company leadership recognized social as an extension of normal customer engagement and also saw the potential for inspiring advocates to speak on its behalf in front of larger audiences.
Key takeaway: The social engagement strategy must evolve as technology and customer preferences evolve; take advantage of new channels where they fit your strategy.
The company has always had a very engaged customer base. Before social media, customers would call or mail letters and photos of them and their families using and enjoying L.L.Bean products. They still do, but social media has made it much easier for them to become brand advocates, by providing public platforms to share their L.L.Bean memories and experiences.
Do these survey results reflect your experiences as a company? How have you incorporated the social channel into your customer service?