The new social media frontier: transforming customer interactions into sales

communication and promotion in social media

Telecoms.com regularly invites opinion from the wider industry to help tackle problems being faced by the telecoms market. In this piece, Fabrice Etienne from Lithium Technologies addresses how customer expectations have evolved in recent years and how social media is of growing importance to telecoms operators.

Customer service is evolving significantly in the digital age. Telecom companies in particular are feeling this stress, with greater market competition, a growing customer base, as well as new technology and network requirements (4G).

In order to meet these growing customer demands, telecom providers need scalable customer service channels. Existing customer service channels, particularly call centre operations, are struggling to keep up with the sheer volume of customer service requests, and are no longer a viable solution.

As a result telecom providers have begun to explore social media as a customer engagement tool. Telcos that have already started to invest in social media are starting to see a direct improvement on customer service, as well as a reduction in costs associated with call centre support.

However, while telcos are focusing on social media as another customer service channel, these customer interactions on social media could also provide marketing opportunities and lead to the creation of an alternative sales channel.

Evolving customer expectations

Over the last ten years, customer expectations have grown alongside access to new technologies. Digital devices provide more touch points for brands, with customers now expecting to reach customer service agents not only by phone, but also via digital means, including social media.

Not only is the way in which customers expect to communicate with brands changing, but also the levels of service which they expect from those brands. A 2014 Harris Poll survey found that 82 per cent of senior business leaders believe customers have higher expectations compared to three years ago, while 78 per cent agree that the Internet and consumer app companies are responsible for a new benchmark for ‘customer experiences’.

Consumers have started to view social media as an access point to contact brands directly, rather than relying on forms of contact which usually have longer lead times for replies – for example, the traditional ‘reply within 24 hours’ form.

Online only telecoms company Giffgaff has taken on this approach, by putting its online communities at the forefront of its customer service operation. Giffgaff set up its community to allow existing members to support other users with problems, and by doing so, has created a self-sufficient environment, which is transforming existing customers into brand advocates. These brand advocates answer questions posted by others users, create knowledgebase content and even tutorial videos.

The biggest impact of this online community-first approach is to response times, with the average response time now just 90 seconds, well under the average of 11 minutes for call centre responses. The online Giffgaff community is able to answer queries in a matter of seconds, with the same response then circulated and seen by at least 50 other people within the space of a month. Giffgaff is saving an estimated £35m a year with this dedicated online community approach.

Putting your customer in the driver’s seat

Over the last financial year, Vodafone UK has changed its customer service paradigm from call agents and live chats, to online community rooms and forums. This approach is deflecting 2.2 million customers from assisted service channels, an increase of 2.4 per cent from the previous year.

Deflecting Vodafone customers from assisted service channels to a moderated online community empowers customers to seek out the answers to their queries directly from fellow users. This expedites the customer service process and allows customers to take control of the process.

Vodafone is making its digital channels more accessible, by creating new information geared towards driving discussion on products and services. Through interesting content and lively discussions, customers are able to gauge the benefits of specific products, as well as access feedback from individuals who have already accessed the same products.

Creating sales opportunities from increased engagement

With expert content and product reviews, Vodafone is able to move the discussion forward, with their online community a final stop before making a purchasing decision. In fact, during the last financial year, an average of 800 customers a month visited Vodafone UK’s online community on their way to checkout.

Customers are utilising these online communities to discuss products or services and troubleshoot issues they are experiencing. With this increased traffic, brands have an opportunity to cultivate long-lasting relationships with an already engaged community of customers, exposing warms leads for the sales team.

Brands can also enlist support directly from these communities, in the form of customer reviews or testimonials, as well as mediation of community discussions. The addition of this customer collateral not only drives discussions on a forum or community, but also helps to deflect customer queries from previously supported outlets, reducing the costs associated with running call centre support.

fabrice Etienne

Fabrice brings over 10 years of experience to Lithium Technologies as the Director of Marketing, EMEA, where he is responsible for developing the company’s go-to-market plans, nurturing key partnerships and business development initiatives, and accelerating market penetration in the region.Prior to Lithium Technologies, he held the role of Head of Marketing for RichRelevance, where he helped raise the company profile within the retail industry. Before that, he was the International Marketing Director at EA Interactive for 4 years, where he led global marketing for TETRIS, one of the company’s largest franchises.  Before EA, he worked in senior marketing roles within leading brands in the entertainment and mobile sectors, including Hasbro, Harry Potter, Orange, Vodafone and The Sims. Fabrice regularly speaks at industry events and has extensive experience driving business growth through successful marketing and business strategies, from global launches to accelerating content boundaries across mobile devices.

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