Who Should Lead the Customer Social Media Interaction?

Natalie L. Petouhoff, Ph.D. By Dr. Natalie Petouhoff

I've had a number of interesting debates on who should lead the customer social media interaction in the last few weeks. In part, this question comes up because a great deal of social media was initiated in the Marketing department via listening or brand sentiment programs. What we do know is that all departments benefit- marketing, sales, service, product dev, engineering from the voice of the customer information that results from deploying social media.


And while I know that not everyone will agree, after studying all the various departments that could lead social media, I'm still convinced customer service should lead the customer social media interaction. The reason is that while a sales social media strategy might help sell more products or services or a listening platform might help branding and marketing create more convertible leads, those departments are only interested in their objectives - i.e., more sales or more leads... And that is as it should be.


The issue is that someone needs to be the social media customer interaction brand ambassador. Customer service is really the only customer interaction department... the others don't really have a two-way relationship with customers. They push materials out... they do need the voice of the customer to do that better, but they (and the technology that supports their function) doesn't support a two-way interaction. (You could argue that social media now enables a two-way relationship, but as a technologist, I'm looking at the enterprise software - MRM or SFA types of applications - that sales and marketing use to do their jobs.) Customer service technology's only purpose is to interact with the customer. (It doesn't always create a great experience, but it is built to create that interaction.)


You might think that I feel that way because I cover customer service and the customer experience. I hope that I have a balanced approach and I'm able to assess things as they are and be objective. I do hear the arguments and reasons for other departments leading the initiative or for owning the customer relationship. Mary Beth Kemp, VP and Principal Analyst and I had a wonderful brainstorm about this topic. Laura Ramos, VP and Principal Analyst and I have engaged in this same discussion. Here's my thoughts:


Imagine if marketing professionals had to sit in the contact center and answer customer complaints about why their bill is so high or that their cell phone doesn't get service or that their kid just drank some cleaner and needs helps.... Or if sales people had to figure out why a customer's router isn't connecting their new lap top to their new DSL service or that a customer hit "send" on a website and it didn't seem like anything was happening so they hit it six more times and was charged for six airline tickets instead of one... Neither department's strong suit is those types of customer interactions -- nor do I think they would thrive if they spent their days and nites doing this types of activities.


The best strategy for a company is always to have everyone do what they do best. That's why the various functions departments got created. Customer service is best suited to be the leader of social media customer interactions because that's what they do, day in and day out. And with the business transformations that occur because of what social media reveals about a company, the things that don't make sense about how a company interacts with a customer change. Those changes are empowering customer service to finally have the budget, resources and positional power to do right by customers; to create WOW customer experiences and to engage and enroll customers through genuine, authentic and honest communications.


I just had a great inquiry with a VP Of Marketing, who is leading the social media customer initiative at his company. He saw my ROI of Social Media Customer Service research and was interested in it because he felt that the largest ROI for his company will be when customer service deploys it. As a company considers social media, who owns the social media intiative is one of many questions that must be answered.


So in honor of my fav news broadcaster, Walter Cronkite, "That's the way it is..." 


or it is at least my 2 cents for this saturday morning...


Love to hear your thoughts!


@drnatalie or npetouhoff@forrester.com


And thanks to @txglennross for his suggestion on changing the languaging from "own" to "lead" - I love that suggestion and changed my post because of his feedback.

Comments

re: Who Should Lead the Customer Social Media Interaction?

Great post, Dr Natalie. At Helpstream, we agree that Customer Service is the "onramp" for creating communities.We've seen hard metrics that show participation in these kinds of communities is much higher than the typical "rule of 10's" (e.g. 1% create new posts, 10% comment, and the rest just watch). So engagement is a lot higher.Also, anyone who has ever exposed prospects to happy customers at a user conference knows just how exciting it is to get the two talking.Best,Bob WarfieldCEO Helpstream

re: Who Should Lead the Customer Social Media Interaction?

To me it is the most logical answer. As we have seen click through rates on social media marketing has not been strong. Most PR people I know are terrific, but they usually do not understand Customer interactions. Service people do this day in and day out. In most cases they do it well. There is always a concern regarding messaging or legal stuff, but does PR, marketing or legal review every email, chat transcript or call with Customers? I do think social media is a partnership between each of these areas. At Comcast if my team notices a discussion that should be handled by PR, we forward it to them. This is the early stages of social media and we will find the right place for each of the functions, but most of the conversations are Customers in need of assistance. Doesn't it make sense to try to help?Great Post!Frank EliasonComcast

re: Who Should Lead the Customer Social Media Interaction?

Although Customer Service should lead the advance, other departments should be entrained.

re: Who Should Lead the Customer Social Media Interaction?

I agree that social media ownership should live within customer service, but a lot of CS depts with big corps that I deal with don't want it! There is an overall corporate score card goal to decrease (not increase) customer service interactions, everyone in the mgt. team gets compensated for reducing CS costs, not for increasing the quality and satisfaction of customer conversations. It takes a big change in mindset for most of them. I find that CustComm, and especially Interactive Communications, groups have a much better mindset and a more supportive compensation model.

re: Who Should Lead the Customer Social Media Interaction?

I think your article really neglects to consider small business owners. I just entered my 10th year of running a small web design and marketing firm, and I know that many of our clients (myself included) have to think about our social media marketing less in terms of "who does what" but rather "how will I do it all efficiently". A single person (owner or partner) is often in charge of being all "departments". I am now inspired to write about this on my site. I think it will be beneficial for our social media (small business) clients to see the list of things they must do (customer service being just one).Thanks for your piece - I appreciate the chance to think about social media marketing from different perspectives,Taa DixonOwner of 720MEDIA.com

re: Who Should Lead the Customer Social Media Interaction?

great feedback!!! I LOVE IT... We all agree on one thing... something has to change...! And the changes is here... we get to lead it... all of us, together! and help each other figure this out!!!

re: Who Should Lead the Customer Social Media Interaction?

Hi Owner of 720Media.com!Thanks for your thoughts. I just finished a case study on a company that sells marketing software for the SMB market - InfusionSoft.com and they found the real advantage for marketing, sales, service and product dev was when customer service lead the social media initiative. It may not be the same in all companies and you are right... in smaller companies it could be that marketing and customer service are tightly integrated!Thank you for your thoughts! I really appreciate that you took the time to share!It takes a village to create real change!

re: Who Should Lead the Customer Social Media Interaction?

Thanks for the response Dr. Natalie. I still don't think it's realistic for small business owners to think about leading social media marketing efforts by focusing on customer service, and I'm posting my further thoughts on this tomorrow on my site. Thanks for sparking some discussion and ideas - I do appreciate it!Also, do you have a link to the InfusionSoft.com case study you referenced? Would love to read that!Taa Dixon,Owner of 720MEDIA.com

re: Who Should Lead the Customer Social Media Interaction?

Dear Taa,I'm glad that the post is sparking ideas. That's really the point. I don't know that anyone really has the solutions. For me its more about hearing the various points of view, looking at best practices and determine what really works for a particular situation and company. Best practices are only "best" if they make sense for that particular company's goals and objectives.The case study is not completed, but if you email me at npetouhoff@forrester.com I can provide you with more of the details! The customer service manager there had looked to a compliant management system, but optd for a community -- the reasons for customer issues was that they needed help and education with the software... and the community provided a place to post videos, for customers to interact and learn from each other. That peer-to-peer interaction not only helped the customer service call volume, but helped in to increase marketing conversion rates and sales, because people "got" how powerful the software was and the issues it solved for customers.I think its that aspect of communities, that is the powerful aspect... i.e., a company might deploy a community to reduce call volume, but invariably it solves a cazillion other things, sometimes many of them unexpected...thanks for reaching out again! appreciate your time and your thoughts!natalie

re: Who Should Lead the Customer Social Media Interaction?

Glad you brought this up Dr. Nat. And, while I believe that customer service is the right place to start customer community interaction, I also believe that social media will alter the roles and behaviors of sales, marketing and service.The "bucket brigade" style of customer management from our CRM days—passing the customer from silo to silo, from channel to channel—needs to end. That specialized worker with a blinkered view of their department's master objective needs to give way to a new style of worker--a "social worker." "Social workers" will have the skills and knowledge to market to, sell to and service a customer in the social milieu.In fact, allowing marketing, sales and service departments to approach the customer community with separate objectives and strategies is a recipe for customer alienation. A coordinated and integrated customer experience strategy will help bring together these three departments to “serve” and “participate” in the customer community, and put aside old "outside-in" concepts like "target" and "penetrate."

re: Who Should Lead the Customer Social Media Interaction?

Customer response is why we at Attensity believe it is so important to combine a listening platform with a response management platform.A listening platform should provide insights to many different departments on the issues and sentiment expressed in social media, along with information from internal sources like CRM and surveys.A response management platform should enable a CS team to respond to tweets and social media in the same interface as they respond to emails and other inquiries. All social media CS interactions should be able to be tagged and tracked, just like any other CS response.For more information, visit www.attensity.com.

re: Who Should Lead the Customer Social Media Interaction?

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re: Who Should Lead the Customer Social Media Interaction?

Great post which has stimulated lots of discussion. I am the Online Help Manager at Carphone Warehouse providing customer service via Twitter (@guyatcarphone) predominantly, as well as other platforms such as Facebook, YouTube, blogs, 3rd party feedback/complaint sites etc.My take on the whole ownership issue is broadly that it needs a cross-functional team executing social media initiatives within the overall business strategy. In my mind social media is more an execution channel, than a strategy. To have a specific social media strategy is potentially to silo it off as an addition to a company's business strategy; it should simply be part of the overall business plan.Ownership should be shared across customer service, marketing, sales, PR, brand etc. Each has its rightful place alongside the other. Social media potentially cuts across all teams and all channels. It requires collaborative working practices and shared thinking towards common goals, involving not just the company itself, but ideally its customers and suppliers alike.Social media, by its very nature, is forcing companies to not only look inwards at their processes and how they operate, but also externally to see how they engage with customers, not only on their own terms but increasingly on customers' terms. The whole concept of ownership within this evolving paradigm is changing also. The rise of co-creation and shared value chains attests to this fact. From a customer service perspective the fact that customers are helping each other more and more, bypassing the company itself, is forcing companies to re-evaluate how they provide customer service; they no longer own the entire process. In fact, customers can now caomplain on third party sites. What are the implications of this devolved ownership for companies?Exciting times for all...

re: Who Should Lead the Customer Social Media Interaction?

Nice post Dr. Natalie - on your Saturday no less! Your objectives-based logic in 2nd para is helpful for framing a social media mindset. What functions gain value from social media and how? And then... where is this value centered? Most certainly around customers, so customer service pros as ambassadors is a strong argument; although in many businesses I believe we're seeing whatever function/dept that first generates social media benefits be given the leadership role.All departments / functions now have open two-way conversation potential with customers thanks to the social Web. While this resonates most closely around customer service everyone has greater accountability for creating and maintaining customer experiences.I couldn't agree more with "having everybody do what they do best." The challenge is blending everyone's talents into the social media interaction stream. From my media and analyst relations point of view, social media is finally bringing customers directly into the mix. There's much to learn to perfect a wide-open engagement model, but I suspect core business tenets, from customer service and corporate communications among others, will have a strong hand in guiding the way. Thanks for pointing us in the right direction. I'm looking forward to mixing it up!

re: Who Should Lead the Customer Social Media Interaction?

Hi Dr Nat. Love your questions as they always generate sparkling debate. I echo what Guy Stephens has written. Guy works for me and we decided last year that as no-one was managing our online reputation, we'd do it. My team is responsible for providing help content for the customers, stores and advisors so it seemed natural to us to take this online too.We work in customer service - that's our job. We didn't ask permission and simply set up two Twitter accounts - one for customer support @guyatcarphone - deliberately personal yet representing our company - and one corporate -@carphoneware -deliberately not personal, for talking about results, policy, corporate strategy but supported by my profile - taking accountability for what's posted. We tracked all online mentions of Carphone and responded accordingly. It felt and feels right.@guyatcarphone gets right into it. Guy is free to say 'Looks like we got it wrong. Let me see if I can sort things out' and has very quickly built up Carphone's reputation for listening and doing something about it. We don't worry if there person has one or ten thousand followers. Each one matters and we contact each and every one. Some people do nothing - they just wanted a voice - many others take up Guy's offer of support and then Tweet back saying good things about us, retracting whatever it was that upset them in the first place. They cared that we've listened.The result of our quiet yet consistent monitoring of our online reputation is that we are now leading the way for Carphone. Our work is 'above the line'. The Brand and PR people have come to us and quite naturally ask us to lead the way. We now have our PR people tweeting stuff via @shaneatcarphone but PR still want me to 'own' the corporate account. They trust us with our corporate reputation because we cared enough to go after it when no-one else was thinking about it.I've had directors running up to me and thanking me for setting this up 'without telling anyone' because they've been told by our advertising agencies and journalists 'what a great job Carphone is doing in the social media space'. Those very directors now have their own accounts and use them to thank their teams out in the field. Maybe only a few people read those tweets to begin with but the directors now understand the power of sharing - it opens so many unforeseen possibilities.So, Dr Nat. I truly believe that Customer Service should lead on this. We have and we are and it's been an amazing and constantly engaging journey. Happy to share our experiences with anyone who'd like to discuss it with us.

re: Who Should Lead the Customer Social Media Interaction?

I very much was intrigued by this line "The issue is that someone needs to be the social media customer interaction brand ambassador". My CEO allowed us to remove the social networking block in our firewall after we explained that every employee is in sales and marketing whenever they interact with people. On the clock, or after hours, we all need to be an ambassador for our company. Who should be the lead is going to be that person with the most interest in employee morale. I constantly work at improving the morale of our staff by asking them what they need to be happier and therefore more productive. I explained to the CEO that everyone will socially network while on the clock and we should not try to block their ability. If you do not trust an employee to do their work, they should not be on your payroll. In fact, you should enable them to be happier with their job by making their workspace more conducive to working. Lighting, cleanliness, supplies, support and trust go a long way towards improving productivity and most of all, deterring turnover. Turnover is the enemy of any companies wellness. Thank you for this discussion...I'll be working on my new business card "Social Media-Customer Interaction-Brand Ambassador"

re: Who Should Lead the Customer Social Media Interaction?

I could not disagree more. Sales is what makes the world go around. We have this battle all the time in my company. Our social marketing person follows the mainstream here.I love asking how they are going to pay for one of their projects. Good sales is good service. Taking revenue leadership out of the information stream is damaging to your bottom line. A true sales or marketing professional will pass on every day items or issues.There is an unspoken division between sales people and production people. When I worked as a marketing director for a publishing house it was a war.I think many comments here reflect a true divide in personality types. Taking social media leadership from people most skilled in human interaction is bad business.

re: Who Should Lead the Customer Social Media Interaction?

Hi Bill,Thanks for your thoughts. In my experience- the range of ability to be the "frontline" responders to customers does vary from company to company. In some companies- while sales might be used to selling to customers and possess the "gift of gab" many are not interested in solving customer issues or listening to problems. They want to close deals.In other cases, if the customer service group has not been empowered with the right resources, staff or budgt- that "lack" can create a poor attitude and capability to be the first line responders.Part of what I wanted to see was the range of people's opinions and what people really thought about this topic... Someone has to leader the customer conversations... I guess is my point... and alot of them take place in customer service - many also take place in sales. What our research has shown is that customer service is the "new" sales in that you can't sell to someone without first resolving a past issue...I appreciate your passion and the time you took to comment! THANK YOU! keep writing- its the crowd that helps define the direction of the future! thanks for your contribution!@drnatalie

re: Who Should Lead the Customer Social Media Interaction?

Interesting article and comments. I understand that as social media is something very new, not only in companies but also in countries, I have seen that often companies that do have a presence in SM entrust this function to someone from their staff who has already a personal presence in SM.It happens that often this person is someone working in marketing, sales, communications, advertising, customer relations. Why? because working in these functions makes people more attentive to reactions of others.As SM becomes slowly an integral part of corporate communications, it looks like that the function will be the responsibility of Communications or Marketing. However, this depends on the structure of companies, since some smaller ones include communications in marketing or in general management, or combine marketing with customers relations.

re: Who Should Lead the Customer Social Media Interaction?

Does Dr. Petouhoff or any one elseo have experience on who is or who should be responsible for SM in NP organisations? Usually, this type of organisations have a very lean structure and are led by volunteer boards. Should this be the responsibility of the Chair, a Board Member or of someone knowledgeable in the organisation?