Whether it is to voice concerns, report issues or even offer praise, customers will always want a way to communicate with brands. This has not changed, and probably never will.
What has changed is the way customers expect to have these conversations. With the advent of new technology and evolving social platforms that enable quicker communication, customers no longer have to experience the frustration of excessive wait times when dialing into a call center, waiting for their turn in the queue. The force and immediacy of social media and the importance of the interaction between customer and brand are transforming the nature of customer service: how it is implemented and what makes a successful customer service department. Technology has made the customer and business interaction one-to-one once more, albeit in digital form.
In this quickly evolving landscape, it is important for a brand or business to have a strategy in place to meet consumer expectations across many channels. In the not-so-distant past, consumer expectations of how to converse with a brand were focused on the traditional call center, but that has changed greatly. “Consumer expectations have required businesses to evolve their customer care beyond the call center model and service their customers across multiple channels,” says Jayson Smith, director of social media at RCI. That doesn’t mean that traditional forms of customer care will be left behind—phone communication will always be important. But as technology evolves and communication through social media becomes more accessible and immediate, consumers will expect to have multiple options with which to interact with businesses and brands.
Today innovative businesses are servicing their customers across a multitude of channels. As social media adoption develops and businesses work to enhance their methods of consumer interaction, companies are finding that their social media management crosses into customer care territory. For resorts and hospitality companies, there are three important points to keep in mind: the ability to scale, to personalize and to be fast and responsive. “The challenge is, you need to be everywhere, and you need a business process so it’s not overwhelming,” Smith says.
Across all age groups, the average amount of time spent daily on social media is 1.7 hours, and millennials ages 25 to 34 spend 2.6 hours a day. Facebook is the most popular network for people to connect to businesses, with 29 percent of social media users; followed by company blogs, at 15 percent; and personal Twitter accounts, at 14 percent, according to Skift’s 2014 survey Social Media Customer Service in the Travel Industry.
Interestingly, customers have different expectations across different social media. For example, people expect a same-day response from something posted on a Facebook page, according to an Oracle study, but a majority of users expect a response on Twitter within one hour, according to Brandwatch. Not only is the real-time factor a benefit for servicing customers, but also, the level of transparency in social media conversations creates goodwill, especially when the problem, complaint or suggestion has been addressed quickly.
The Skift study states that most hospitality companies have a response goal of 30 minutes, and at the most, a resolve time of 48 hours. “We interact with our owner base and customers through Facebook, Facebook Messenger, Twitter and live chat,” says Jessica Ernsberger, social media specialist, club services, for Bluegreen Corporation. “We treat each request, inquiry and complaint with the same urgency. For the most part, we try to resolve the case right there on Facebook or Twitter. We’re absolutely committed to helping the customer with their issue until it’s resolved.”
While response time needs to be quick, so does sorting out the types of comments or complaints that are coming in and from where. For example, a negative comment on TripAdvisor can wipe out five positive ones, but an instant and transparent exchange can put the resort in a very good light. “If we see a negative review, we investigate the issues and our responses are thought out and professional—and we ensure that we cover each point of their complaint,” says Abbi-Gail Heyworth, an ULTIQA brand and marketing executive, who says the company interacts with customers on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and Twitter. “We also ensure that each response is personalized and has an action we will take to rectify any issues mentioned.”
Companies and brands need service infrastructure in place to handle real-time comments, complaints and requests for help. In the recent past, this has become a core part of what any business does. “Integrating social customer care within the call center environment is a beneficial strategy,” Smith says. “This helps to ensure that all complaints or requests are handled in the same voice, with the same level of service and accountability.”
While Facebook and Twitter are the giants of the social media landscape, others, such as Instagram, instant messaging and social messaging apps, are also in play. Social messaging apps, like WeChat, WhatsApp and Kik, are creating a new kind of service evolution. And resorts should be marketing their abilities to handle requests through these channels. Some customers may choose to simply launch a messaging app instead of voicing their request in an open forum like Facebook or searching for a contact phone number. Rather than try to make the customer adapt to old service models, brands and businesses are adjusting their own customer service tactics to fit the ways consumers prefer to communicate.
There’s no time zone when you’re online, so team members need to be available 24 hours a day. What this means is, customer service agents and social care agents need to have a console or platform that pulls all the feeds together and allows them to answer in real time. There are a number to choose from, like Sprout Social, Sprinklr and Spredfast, but resorts must figure out what works for them.
RCI is working diligently to integrate social customer care with overall customer service processes. “Our vision is to integrate social media into our customer care centers so that any customer care agent is equipped to handle social customer service inquiries in near real time,” Smith says. “RCI has a global presence of customer care centers, and we can begin to actively listen and respond in a 24/7 model to service inquiries around the world.”
Making it personal
As social media use grows, so do the teams, and it’s important to maintain an authentic, consistent voice that makes customers understand that a real person is responding to them. “I believe our customers feel a real person is interested in what they are
saying, because a real person actually is interested,” Ernsberger says. “We have one person who is responding across the board. As we grow and add more employees to the social media team, creating an authentic voice will be an area of focus.” Training is key to making sure all team members know what to do and how to respond to any and all queries. “We have trained each property manager in how to respond, and we’ve set a 48-hour deadline for responding to each review,” Heyworth says. Bluegreen trains all its agents and interns to respond in one voice. “There are weeks of classes regarding customer service and product knowledge before an agent can interact with our customers,” Ernsberger says. “There are procedures to explain, but a large portion can’t be taught, such as intuition and strong writing skills.”
In addition, the positives of social media can be found not just in transparency, but also in the information and data about customers that can be gathered. When back-end reservations, customer care and social media are all merged, resorts are able to mine and analyze the publicly available data about customers and therefore learn more about their guests while providing targeted, efficient and authentic customer service.
Illustration credit: Andrew Lyons