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Utilities Can’t Ignore Social Customer Service Any Longer

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Mark Wilkinson's picture
SVP Products Ibex Digital

Helping utilities and their customer experience teams transform customer journeys,  decode customer insights  and enhance revenues for nearly 15 years.  At Ibex, I lead the teams delivering...

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  • Mar 21, 2022
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Customers expect their trusted brands and service providers to be listening to social media and to treat it like a customer service channel.  It’s fast becoming the channel of choice not just for future generations, but for many of your most digitally enabled customers, period.  Utilities who ignore this trusted channel as part of their customer service program risk appearing tone deaf or even absent to a very large percentage of their customers.  The good news is that success with social customer service isn’t hard.  Every utility can do it.

According to Statista, 59% of customers favor brands that respond to complaints over social media.  More than 80% of Millennials actually prefer social media for customer service compared to email, phone or chat services.  We all know from multiple research reports that  utility customers already expect more digital and self-service as a fast response to their questions, it is clear that social media is a necessary, and even vital, channel of customer support for your digital CX program. 

But, social media can be a scary.  I’ve frequently referred to it as the digital Wild West that doesn’t seem to have very many rules.  And, customers have multiple social forums to express themselves, which makes social media messy, uncontrolled and very unpredictable.  However, a growing portion of our customers love it and their adoption increases every year.  So, utilities have no better time than now to embrace social media for next generation customer service as a critical point of customer engagement and support. 

In addition to its popularity with customers, social customer service benefits a utility’s bottom line.  Traditional contact center customer service escalations typically from $6 - $10+ and more, but social media customer service events can cost as little as $1 and deliver significant CSAT dividends, as well. Considered this way, Social Customer Service gets incredibly efficient – utilities meet customers where they are, and social delivers the quickest and most cost-effective way to improve KPIs of a digital Utility CX program. It’s a win-win!

On a larger scale, social media can greatly impact your online reputation – which will impact how your customers view your utility. By increasing your social media presence and online support, you can significantly boost your online reputation.  Consider the long life of social media posts.  Left unresolved, negative social media posts can be a drag on a utility’s digital reputation.  But, by treating social media posts as a customer service channel, utilities can take control of the story and close the loop on these customer escalations, burnishing the social narrative that lasts online for the long term.

In addition to the social reputation benefits of a positive social CS channel, consider that text from social media can easily be assimilated and analyzed to provide near real time intelligence to the Voice of the Customer program complete with sentiment analysis, adding even more value to improving your digital Utility CX program over time with more seamless, personalized, and positive customer interactions.

So, social customer service benefits utilities everywhere from  digital engagement and customer insights top burnishing your social reputation.  And, it’s easy to start a social customer service program. Any utility can do it, whether you have a digital Utility CX program already, or you are just beginning the journey into digital CX.

Listen First

Social Media deserves its reputation as the digital new frontier, so take time to collect and evaluate the different social media outposts where customers comment on their experiences with your company.  Be sure to budget at least a few weeks to uncover the trends and rules for each channel before you start to engage with customers. Don’t be in a rush to engage.  It pays to listen to understand each social channel’s rules and mores.  

Start Small

Once you learn the rules of each social media channel, pick one to start offering customer service feedback.  Maybe Facebook or Instagram covers the depth or breadth of the customer base.  Perhaps Yelp delivers the most complete escalations.  Pick a single outlet that best fits your comfort zone, and start responding to customer service related questions.

Stay in the Lane

Remember, it’s about social customer service, so avoid the temptation to promote the brand or mix the message with marketing communications.  Customers expect direct answers to their customer service questions, so follow your CS policies, but adapt them for the social forum.  Bring customers into private messaging channels for sensitive topics, and invite them to call for critical discussions.  Customers will appreciate that you engaged in their channel of choice, and found the best method to address their issues.

Index to Peers

Measuring success and progress in social customer service can be difficult without established benchmarks and KPI.  We recommend comparing yourself to peers in your market.   Plenty of social listening platforms can collect and manage posts about your utility, and index it to similar issues across your region.  Comparing performance to the other utilities in your market makes it easy to see if you are making progress, how you stack up among your near peers, and where to concentrate your next efforts.

As our customers continue to embrace social media, it’s a matter of when, not if, the utility incorporates social into customer service operations and larger digital Utility CX program.  Following this simple playbook makes it easy for virtually any utility to build a responsive team to pilot a social media customer service program.   As the data and research suggests, customers already expect the brands they use to deliver customer service through social media.  Chances are that your customers already post to your utility’s social media pages expecting a customer support response.  Delivering customer service in this channel of choice can be a clear win for utilities and their customers.

 

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Janna Normington's picture
Janna Normington on Mar 22, 2022

Social media is an excellent tool for understanding brand perception across various demographics.  Depending on their strategy, utilities can demonstrate their dedication to their customers by replying in the public channel.  An alternative is to remove the discussion in the public channel and handle internally.  Regardless of the strategy, taking customer concerns seriously improves the individuals experience and their perception of their utility.

The use of social media will continue to grown. Gen Z is now coming of age and entering the professional world.  A greater number will be first time customers with their utility.  As Gen Z is the largest population using social media, it makes sense to take a proactive approach, incorporating social media as a channel in a utility's omnichannel strategy, and meet their customer base through their preferred method of communication.

Vanessa Edmonds's picture
Vanessa Edmonds on Mar 23, 2022

Great article, Mark. This is becoming more important as the generations who have grown up in the digital age (younger folks) become bill payers. Mike Ballard from Oracle Energy & Water discusses this in this article: Four things customers want utilities to understand (oracle.com).

 

Mark Wilkinson's picture
Mark Wilkinson on Mar 23, 2022

Thanks for the link and reference to Mike's article.  For utilities, the issue often relates to customers already using these new channels in ways that utilities remain unprepared to manage.  I challenge all of our clients to check out their Facebook or Instragram pages to see if customers are posting support or service questions. Leaving those inquiries unanswered can't be the only option.  That's why we talk to clients about a social playbook, like Utility2030 Collaborative has been considering in their working groups.  Time to help the industry leap ahead for these emerging and adaptive digital channels.

Audra Drazga's picture
Audra Drazga on Mar 25, 2022

Mark,

I love this article.  

The next generation is driving how we communicate and for those of us who grew up before social media it is sometimes hard to remember this change in communication:  I love these stats 

"59% of customers favor brands that respond to complaints over social media.  More than 80% of Millennials actually prefer social media for customer service"

 

Another favorite from this article is how you refer to social media as the Wild West! 

"But, social media can be a scary.  I’ve frequently referred to it as the digital Wild West that doesn’t seem to have very many rules."

 

Mark Wilkinson's picture
Mark Wilkinson on Mar 28, 2022

Thanks, Audra.  We get a lot of questions about social media, usually from utilities concerned about how to tackle their core media accounts.  Social Media can make event the most digitally inclined company nervous, and utilities are at the early stages of real digital engagement.  Social Customer Service can be a great place to start, as it's already being used by customers to post questions and feedback.  Plus, utilities can tackle customer challenges and develop a great reputation for customer care and CSAT by solving customer problems in that social forum.  

The evidence overwhelmingly indicates that Millennials and Gen Z prefer social media for a lot of interactions with the companies they buy from, so it's an essential forum for utilities to connect and embrace this new generation of consumers.

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