Online forums have more influence on customer service than other social media


SPOKESPERSON: George Todd, Operations Executive at Merchants

Online forums have more influence on customer service than other social media

Don’t mix marketing and customer service when implementing a social media channel

Many organisations make the mistake of thinking that Facebook and Twitter are the only types of social media on which they should focus most of their marketing or customer service attention. In fact, online forums can be far more influential interaction channels.


So says George Todd, Operations Executive for Merchants, South Africa’s leading business process outsourcing and customer experience provider. “Online forums have been around far longer than Facebook and Twitter and, for many of the people who use them, have become their ‘traditional’ channel for customer service.


“These users would far rather log on to their forum to ask a question about a product or service than pick up a phone and call a company’s contact centre. The credibility of the forum is high. It’s why users join and participate. So, users tend to believe their peers in a forum before they will take the word of an employee of an organisation whom they believe to be paid to say good things about the product or service he represents.


“Organisations absolutely should take all social media seriously. But it’s critical that they understand that Facebook and Twitter tend to be last resorts for customers. Mostly, people will post a negative comment only after becoming frustrated by a lack of an adequate response from the company via its contact centre or branch or shop employees. It’s rare for customers to use Facebook and Twitter as a primary contact channel with an organisation.


“Online forums, on the other hand, are used by people who see the Internet as a primary communication channel – and are extremely skilled, focused, and deliberate in their use of it.”


For this reason, Todd believes that, apart from having a dedicated person in customer service tracking the more obvious social media for positive or negative comments, organisations should pro-actively search online forums for opportunities to provide support and service to their existing and potential customers.


“IT companies understood this early and become very good at working through online forums to offer advice about product activation, use, repair, and replacement. In many cases, they’ve become respected members of forums. In the process, they’ve created a positive image for their brand.”


However, Todd is adamant that organisations make social media the responsibility of their customer service rather than their marketing department.


“When you enter someone’s social circle, you must expect them to respond in a social way – by voicing opinions. If you put a marketing message out to a Facebook or Twitter community, it’s inevitable that someone will post a negative opinion.


“Marketing departments aren’t usually geared to respond to criticism. Customer service departments are. So, if you’re considering a social media channel, then go with customer service before marketing.”


Again, Todd has a caveat. “Delivering customer service in a social media environment calls for top skills, because all the customer interactions take place in public. There’s no room for error. Even your very best customer service agents will need to be trained to most effectively tap into the way social communication works – in order to make it work for you.”


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