Using social media for customer support is commonplace in many global corporations but old-school construction SaaS vendors lag behind new start-ups in its adoption.
Use of social media for customer service has been on my mind a bit recently. Last week, I provided some Twitter training to CIOB branch administrators and one of the questions related to people sharing their customer complaints on social media. I shared the 2005 pre-Twitter example of Jeff Jarvis and his ‘Dell Hell‘ with a malfunctioning laptop:
I decided to turn this into a test: Was Dell reading blogs? Would Dell respond to me in our public forum? Would it recognise the PR crisisette that was brewing? Simple answer: No. Dell was silent. Dell failed the test. I emailed its marketing department: Anybody home? Anybody blogging? Nothing.
Dell’s eventually reacted to this well-publicised customer service disaster (and others) by investing in strong customer service social media listening and reacting capabilities. It added customer support to its Facebook page, and as consumers began to vent on Twitter, it centralised its customer support functions at @DellCares in May 2010, and in the first two months directly supported 1,800 customers via Twitter. I benefited. In July 2011, my new Dell laptop failed, and I tweeted to a friend about my #Dellfail. Within an hour, @Dellcares had been in touch to start arranging a pick-up and repair.
Dell were not alone in this; Carphone Warehouse’s Guy Stephens was also testing the channel, and I had another positive experience with ‘Andy’ at @OrangeHelpers when my mobile phone SIM card failed in February 2011. More recently, @VirginMedia noticed a tweet I posted about local cable service interruptions, and I get helpful advice via Twitter about that. Of course, you would rather not have a problem in the first place, but, in my view, a prompt and proactive response can mitigate the impact and even make you feel better about the brand (at least, eventually, as I learned with East Midlands Trains), and 1000s of corporates now pay serious attention to customer service on social media – keen to avoid PR disasters such as United Breaks Guitars.
SaaS Social support
Why I am I sharing this on Extranet Evolution? Well, for a long time, I have watched how the leading collaboration technology vendors have managed customer issues, and it has taken years for some of them to wake up to end-users venting dissatisfaction online. I noticed Tweeted complaints about vendors’ systems go unanswered for days at a time, and competitors would sometimes quietly approach the end-user to learn more about the issue. As a social media advocate, when I was at BIW (now Conject) I suggested it might be useful for the helpdesk to set up a dedicated Twitter account so that they could respond direct to queries and also provide hints and tips and timely warnings of upgrades, etc, but it was never taken up – like most vendors in the sector, they mainly respond through the @Conject corporate account (1032 followers).
One exception is 4Projects which, in addition to the main @4ProjectsNews Twitter handle (961 followers), created @4PSupport (currently 58 followers) in November 2014. This proved useful during a recent issue affecting users in the UK and Europe when the company could at least respond direct to end-user complaints about the service being slow or unavailable. Tweets about the issue, and links to the service status page, therefore didn’t have to be routed through the company’s corporate account.
Recently under new (but existing) management, Business Collaborator has also been looking at its support function. Previously only offering support by email and phone, it’s changing its support desk software (BC blog post) and adopting Freshdesk. This will retain the email and phone support functions, but a customer portal can also be used to raise issues, while a ‘Knowledge Base’ will provide answers to some frequently asked BC questions. No mention of Twitter in the BC blog, though it has recently started to tweet from @SemanticBIM (204 followers). Update (18 February 2014) – The new BC support portal is now live and Twitter support is “coming soon“.
|@woobius (UK – dead!)||684|
|@Cadweb_net (UK – dead!)||323|
|@SemanticBIM (Business Collaborator, UK)||204|
Social media has been a slow burner in this market sector. Back in June 2009, Asite created its own community site and started to exploit social media, but it’s taken time to build up momentum; when it launched Adoddle17 last March, Asite CEO Tony Ryan was talking about being “cocial”, but – measured by Twitter followers (989) – its main @Asite corporate Twitter account still lags behind some competitors.
While number of followers is a fairly crude and unscientific measure of Twitter engagement, it’s instructive to see how many followers the corporate accounts of various vendors (discussed at different times on this blog) have. It’s not always a reflection of the size of the company, the user base, how long the vendor has been in existence (or even if it still is), or how long the vendor has been on Twitter, as the table – right – suggests.
As I was compiling the numbers, I was struck by how the ‘old school’ providers seemed to figure towards the bottom of the list, while the three table-toppers are all relatively recently-founded startups with youthful management which are targeting the tech-savvy mobile construction collaboration market.
Of course, Twitter is only one channel (and engagement means more than counting followers); several of these vendors also have pages or groups on Facebook, they may also have company followers on Linkedin, and blogs and YouTube video channels (among others) also feature among vendor communications. I will be taking a closer look at vendors social endeavours in a future post.
I’m increasingly fascinated by this area. As a PR professional, I think one of the key issues is getting PR teams (who traditionally manage social media channels) and CRM teams to come together to work out best practice. I think that all too often – even in big, well-funded companies – the two are too separate. If CRM teams get more/better social media training and on each shift have people sit with the PR teams who manage social media channels, then the two could do so much more to improve the situation. And key to making this happen is finding some common ground on reporting – at the moment, PR targets/objectives are separate from those of CRM. There should be some reporting overlap to show benefits/value of working together.
It’s particularly pertinent to companies selling Software-as-a-Service for projects as the quality of service, QoS provided to customers and end-users can be a big factor in whether the customer continues to work with the vendor once a project finishes. Clearly, end-users’ views may strongly influence that decision. If the SaaS vendor can show both high QoS standards (exceeding the minimums set out in a service level agreement, SLA) and high end-user satisfaction with the service, it may help turn a single-project engagement into a repeat order, or even an enterprise agreement. That would be a clear business outcome for which the customer service team could rightly take some credit, and which a PR team could exploit in telling the story to other potential customers and influencers.
Best wishes – Paul