It’s been awhile since my last post and although I’ve had a few starts, I’ve never quite had enough impetus to finish any of them. But I was attending a conference yesterday about social customer care, digital contact center and customer experience which got me thinking again about various things. So here goes…

I read a post today about five customer service trends you need to know about. For some reason, the more I read these types of posts, the more I feel that the conversation around social customer care hasn’t really moved on since 2009 (I’m being generous, I was originally going to write 2008, but so much in the social customer care space happened in 2009 – giffgaff, #Twelpforce, Dave Carroll & UBG, Conversocial founded). The posts still cover the same generic ground, they still churn out the same five or seven steps to social customer care-nirvana, they are still full of aspirational cliches backed up by seemingly irrefutable statistics, and the inevitable unanswered question about how do you industrialise social. Oh, and the posts are still dominated by technology; today it’s all about bots! And I’m sure @ekolsky will have something to say about it at some point in the next ten years before customer service disappears. The reality, though, he is one of the few voices of reason out there actually worth listening to.

So, let me add to the burgeoning corpus of social customer care writing by sharing my random musings on social customer care in 2016.

Collaboration increases productivity: 61% of organisations in a recent survey said that collaboration was key to improving productivity and the flow of information within an organisation. It’s increasingly all about collaboration using platforms like Slack, Yammer (you remember Yammer, just like you remember Four Square)… Everyone knows how to collaborate right? Everyone knows that sharing is the way to go, and sharing is about trust or being ‘trustful’ (subtle difference between trust and trustful on where the trust lies, and who does the trusting). So my question is this: If collaboration is at the heart of how organisations need to work, when was the last time your organisation had a conversation about collaboration? What does collaboration mean to you as an organisation? As an individual? What does successful collaboration look like? I bet you get the tool way before you have these types of discussions, if ever!

PS. I made up that statistic about 61% of organisations… but you believed me right?! Perhaps you’ve even started to look for the source of it or copy it for an upcoming business case presentation.

Culture eats telephones for breakfast: Okay, so I’ve messed around with this one a bit. Quick aside: apparently Peter Drucker was not the first person to come up with the phrase: “culture eats strategy for breakfast”. It is my belief that there is not enough focus in organisations on social as an agent of change. Change in mindset. Change in thinking. Change in ways of working. Change in ways of communicating. Change in the ways decisions are made. Change in culture. I come across individuals in customer service or on vendor-side (is it in their interests to question?) who have done little to challenge or question the historical baggage of ‘corporate assumptions’. Sadly, all too often, they aren’t even aware that these assumptions and shortcuts are just that. They accept them as golden truths. These individuals have forgotten how to think, perhaps don’t dare to think in pursuit of promotion. They have forgotten how to be creative, imaginative. They mistake process for experience, they think that simply saying ‘putting the customer at the heart of the organisation’ is enough… it’s not that easy to dismantle and re-wire your thinking!

Context is king: For I don’t know how many years the goal has been to create a single view of customer. To bring together in one place all the known interactions that a customer has, including social now, and I guess you’ll need to add messaging… I’m not sure what this omnipotent repository of ‘me’ looks like. I’ve never seen it. I just know that the companies I engage with have been trying to create it for longer than I can remember. And if it did exist, what would businesses actually do with it? Would it give me (not you) a better service, a better interaction, a better experience when I (not you) needed it? Let me explain with a simple example. A couple of weeks ago I was taking a German exchange student to Heathrow Terminal 2 and I tweeted to @Lufthansa:

Amazingly, Nes from @Lufthansa replied to me within ONE minute. Yes, we are still amazed when companies respond (but we shouldn’t be!). However, even though I started the ‘conversation’ on Twitter, they immediately tried to push me to the phone, but that’s another story for another time. Now, what got me thinking was not the interaction with Lufthansa, but actually a question I was asked about it at a conference. The question was: How does a company, in this instance Lufthansa, collect all the information about you in one place so that in situations like the one you described they could deal with your issue satisfactorily? I was somewhat bemused by this question and I answered it with a question: Why does @Lufthansa need anymore information about me beyond what I have written in the Tweet?

Why is there this overriding need, paranoia perhaps, from companies to know everything about me before you resolve an issue I might be having? Why is it sometimes, not enough, just to answer the question at hand and not ask me to confirm whether my phone number or email are still the same? Isn’t it enough to simply understand my context, and let that determine the best course of action to take and how much information you genuinely need about me? Perhaps empathy should sometimes eat single view of customer for breakfast!

Twitter is not email: You have at your fingertips the most powerful tools of self expression – Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Whatsapp… – and yet you are doing everything you can to turn them into the very thing they were created to disrupt. The customer service model that we now use came out of the drive towards mass production, mass consistency, mass commoditisation. A customer service that drives for efficiencies in productivity and cost. A customer service that is stripped of empathy, intimacy and humanity. A customer service of SLAs. Social customer care is the antithesis of this. Look ahead, not behind. Look to what could be, not what is. Design different or new services with the characteristics of social in mind. Design different or new services with the characteristics of messaging and mobile in mind. Don’t be masters to a service model that is increasingly no longer fit for purpose. And Twitter, Google, Amazon, Apple, Uber, Skype… I include all of you in this as well. You have the opportunity to influence and design a new type of service model. But will you look ahead or will you continue to be a slave to an ageing master? And by the way, coming up with new technology, is not a proxy for looking ahead.

Being bold is an option: Not enough people are bold enough! Question your thinking. Question your assumptions. Push your boundaries. Don’t be content to leapfrog the competition. Don’t be content to think outside the box. Be restless in the pursuit of being bold. If anything, forget about the box, don’t be constrained by it, and aim to leapfrog your customers, because if you can leapfrog them, you’ll always be ahead. Being bold means accepting things will not always go the way you want it to.

I’m also wondering, if the average social media response is 78 minutes, and customers expect to be answered within 15 minutes (these are genuine statistics), why you’re not using the phone? If social customer care is clunky, is of such limited value and doesn’t really work as a customer service channel, as stated by Esteban Kolsky, why are customers still using it? Perhaps as a customer, I’m simply not concerned about clunkiness and value? Perhaps as a customer using Twitter subconsciously reminds me that I’m in control. And perhaps, that is the point. And whether or not you answer my tweet, in a funny sort of way, I win. I win because if you don’t answer, you’ve just re-inforced to me what I’ve always felt – that you are uncaring, and if you do answer, bonus!

If nothing else, it gives us all a glimpse of what customer service might look like in the future (if it still exists). And even if it is only a glimpse, will you be ready for it or will you still be trying to cut seconds off your SLA?