Through a Glass Darkly
At the risk of sounding like Dr Who (whichever incarnation you prefer), I recommend taking a virtual trip backwards in time to gain a fresh perspective on the present. I had an opportunity to do it at Edinburgh’s Camera Obscura, a Victorian ‘eye in the sky’ which has provided a breathtaking moving panorama of the city for more than 175 years.
If you’ve never been, I recommend visiting when you are in Edinburgh for Convention. In simple terms, a camera obscura is a clever optical device whose origin can be traced as far back as Aristotle. A cross between a giant pinhole camera and a periscope, a camera obscura uses lenses and mirrors to bring sights which are beyond the normal range of human visibility into sharp relief, providing a moving 360 degree perspective of what’s going on in the world.
As I looked down on the people in the streets below it occurred to me that social media represents an even more valuable vantage point for businesses today. It seems incredible that Twitter was founded just seven years ago, yet has 500 million users and is now the communication choice of first resort for people from politicians to business leaders and movie stars - not to mention the Kardashians. And let’s not forget in this mix, everyday folks - i.e. your customers, who are increasingly turning to social media to air views on your business and the services and products you provide.
We are all aware that Twitter and Facebook etc do not represent the totality of any customer base and it is hard to glean how representative social media users are of the wider customer community. This means there is a risk that over-emphasis on social media as a customer listening post could result in a distorted view or ascribing disproportionate value to the opinions voiced via that medium.
But, as Twitter grows in influence and gets increasing media airtime, it is clear that it can have a significant impact on perceptions of your brand on the part of other customers, your board, your shareholders, colleagues and the wider public.
The question arises - is social media the new voice of the customer? It’s a topic in which CCA is leading the debate. We are delving into how organisations of all sorts engage with customers via social media and highlighting areas of best practice.
One key shift we have observed - albeit in some cases at a worryingly slow pace - is a shift from customer contact teams being passive observers of social media activity to becoming active participants, to provide help to customers swiftly and efficiently.
Our new research with Kcom into the Future of Customer Service, shows that monitoring is now a mainstream activity with 71% of members doing this on a regular basis. But a mixed picture emerges on engagement.
We are still gathering results from the latest members’ survey (it’s not too late to participate, please click here to complete the survey) but initial results indicate that for around 36% of organisations, responsibility for social media resides with the marketing function and is not deemed as an appropriate area of activity or responsibility for customer contact teams. Is this really an intelligent division of responsibility or should there be a more enlightened approach to social media engagement?
These are among many important questions we are discussing to determine whether organisations are taking full advantage of the intelligence they can gather through the prism of social media and the ways in which they can use the channel to improve customer service delivery.
This week we hosted a webinar in which Tesco Social Media Operations Manager Peter Tromans, talked about the innovative approach Tesco has taken in setting up a social media team in its Cardiff contact centre. Staffed with people skilled in both core customer service skills and social media, it found that 60% of Tweets require a response and it responds to 86% of these in less than one hour - an impressive feat. We welcome more examples of clever approaches and positive results.
Big questions which remain unanswered include: Is all the time and energy businesses currently expend on monitoring and measuring phone calls wasted if the voice of the customer is increasingly digital? Is our focus too narrow, outdated or misplaced?
We urgently need to know whether our view of the customer is distorted and to use that understanding to sharpen our vision and our strategy concerning social media.
Acclaimed US journalist Sydney J Harris wrote: “The whole purpose of education is to turn mirrors into windows.” At CCA, our quest is to use the full might and insight of our network to break through the looking glass and see our customers in sharper focus.