Rather than drowning in or panicking over all the hype and speculation surrounding “social customer care”, the Australian ISP giant’s contact center operation has coolly and calmly developed a social media strategy that helps foster customer loyalty and brand advocacy.
“We believe social media will continue to grow as an avenue to address customer concerns, says Ilaisa Nacewa, contact center manager at iiNet’s Auckland, New Zealand site. “It is important to have this presence online; however, as more and more companies extend their customer care offering to include social media channels, you have to ensure you get it right.”
So far, it seems iiNet has done just that.
An Active “Social” Life
iiNet’s social media team is made up of a small group of agents who collectively monitor activity on such sites as Twitter, Facebook and the Internet discussion board Whirlpool 18 hours a day, seven days a week. The team uses the software solution CoTweet (by ExactTarget) to easily track customer feedback and manage conversations about the brand on the real-time web. The tool enables members of the social media team to publish updates, collaborate on responses and track interactions across today’s most influential social communities.
While iiNet’s initial foray into social customer care nearly two years ago involved mostly just listening to and, when appropriate, reactively responding to customers, the team has since become much more dynamic and proactive, says Nacewa.
“We have our own Facebook page and a Twitter account where we keep customers up-to-date with the latest information. This worked particularly well during the recent flood crisis in Queensland when customers were anxious about their connectivity. [These pages also serve] as an avenue for feedback when we release new products, plans, etc.”
He points out that, due to the fast paced social environment, it’s important to post information at least daily to keep followers/fans engaged. “Hitting them regularly with interesting and relevant information is the key to keeping the conversation alive online.”
Helping in that regard is the recently launched iiNet blog (http://blog.iinet.net.au), where members from all areas of the business are invited to share something about their work, a relevant experience, or a particular timely topic.
“We upload a blog entry almost daily and invite staff and customers to comment and discuss the posts,” says Nacewa.
Selecting the Right Social Media Reps and Metrics
Although all iiNet employees are welcome to join in on the blog conversation, it takes a special skill set to qualify for a coveted spot on the actual social media team.
“There’s a number of core skills we look for in social media team agents,” Nacewa explains. “Written communication skills are a non-negotiable, both in terms of being able to phrase a reply properly and being able to communicate succinctly – on Twitter you’re restricted to 140 characters a post. Also important is being able to read and interpret the tone of a purely text-based message.”
He adds that networking skills are vital too, pointing out that social media agents often receive queries that require input from other areas of the business in order to provide an accurate and efficient response.
Along with careful agent selection is careful measurement and management of the right metrics to ensure success in the social media channel. For instance, response time is a key measure, with the team expected to respond to any customer inquiry over Twitter, Facebook and Whirlpool within a maximum two-hour window. (That window gets much smaller for urgent customer requests or problems.)
“This rapid response over multiple channels, and the encouragement of direct customer feedback, has helped our fan base grow,” Nacewa says. “We have seen a positive flow-on effect concerning our brand, as it shows we are listening and engaging with our customers.”
Quality is another critical objective. iiNet relies on frequent training and clear guidelines to ensure that the correct information is delivered in a courteous and professional manner. As Nacewa explains, “When you are talking to a customer via a social media channel, you are not just talking to them, you are talking to everyone. It’s important that information be delivered in a way that reflects the brand and is accurate.”
iiNet also gauges growth in “follower” numbers and other measures of online influence (e.g., “Klout” scores for Twitter), as well as how well the team raises awareness of social media internally. Says Nacewa, “The team is expected to deliver regular training sessions to staff elsewhere in the business.”
As effective as iiNet’s social media strategy and tactics have been thus far, the company’s overall service approach is still strongly grounded in the traditional contact channels and metrics that drive positive customer experiences. The contact center’s main focus continues to be on providing quality customer care via the phone, email, chat and self-service, as those remain the most common channels through which customers seek service and support – despite all the “social” hype that currently surrounds the contact center industry.
iiNet hasn’t let the social buzz blur the importance of good people management practices in the contact center, either. Nacewa and his crew are quite proud of their commitment to agent development and rewards & recognition, as well as the fact that the center doesn’t hold agents accountable for metrics that are often out their direct control, such as Average Handle Time. “AHT is a measure for managers,” says Nacewa.
Such dedication to service fundamentals is actually a key reason why iiNet doesn’t need a bigger social focus at this time. After all, when you delight customers and solve their problems quickly via conventional channels, there tend to be fewer fires to put out online.
Still and all, iiNet doesn’t downplay the important role that social media is starting to play in the company’s overall service strategy. Nobody really knows how big social customer care will get or how exactly it will evolve, but Nacewa likes the position iiNet has put itself in.
“Social media is becoming such an important part of a customer care and communications strategy. Customers are becoming more and more comfortable with talking to us online. They trust they will be heard.”
iiNet – the Big Picture:
Location: Australia – Sydney, Perth and Melbourne; New Zealand – Auckland; South Africa – Cape Town
Hours of operation: 8am - 8pm local time at each site
Number of agents: Approx 1,600 in customer service across all sites
Products/services provided/supported: Internet access (ADSL Broadband, NDSL, mobile
broadband, fiber, dial-up); telephony (fixed line phone, VoIP, mobile); IPTV services; domains
and hosting; business products and solutions.
Channels handled: Phone, email, chat (business), self-service, social media
What’s so great about them? They have effectively incorporated social media into their customer care model while maintaining a solid focus on more traditional channels and performance metrics.