Social media public relations. .why is it more important in today’s environment.

Spotting trends in customer expectations

By Joan Ng Monday, 15 October 2012

IN May this year, a little-known Malaysian mall received a lot of unwanted publicity. Paradigm Mall, a neighbourhood mall in Petaling Jaya operated by Malaysia-listed engineering and construction firm WCT, became a poster child for poor social media relations after the administrator of its Facebook page told an unhappy customer who complained about the faulty elevators to use his “magic” to repair them. The mall’s management should have got some pointers on social media usage from Nicola Millard.

Millard is a customer experience futurologist at British Telecom Global Services. Her job is to spot patterns and trends in how customers are changing and what they expect of the companies they deal with going forward. One trend Millard has identified is the increasing use of Facebook as a way for companies to interface with their customers. While this has its advantages, she cautions that it may not always be the best way forward. “People are making complaints over social [media] largely to embarrass companies into action. But essentially, what they are doing is complaining about primary channels and trying to bypass them.”

Logically, when customers complain in public over a social media channel, the knee-jerk reaction of the company is to respond swiftly. But that might send out the wrong message. “If customers can get better service by going on to social, is that the behaviour you want? Do you want them to air all your dirty linen in public or do you want them to concentrate on your primary channels and get it right there? That’s a real big strategic question.”

Millard does not advocate that companies withdraw their social media presence entirely. After all, her research shows that 64% of customers use social media more than two times a week. What they need to do, instead, is to make sure that customers can reach them and get the help or service they need. The following are her three tips:

Make contact easier. According to a BT study in collaboration with contact centre solutions provider Avaya, 77% of Singapore customers say they buy more from companies that are easy to do business with. Despite the digital age, Millard says most consumers still prefer to use the phone. Their biggest pain point, however, is being placed on hold. Given that one in two customers says they never have enough time, it’s important for companies to make phone contact easier. The survey found that 63% of customers wanted organisations to offer to call back if there is a long wait on the phone.

Integrate service across several channels. While the phone remains a popular method of contact, Millard says this won’t be the case in future. In particular, the Millenial generation — typically defined as those born between the early 1980s and early 2000s — is more comfortable with online chat. “If I were a betting woman, my bet would be that the major growth channel is going to be web chat.” Also, the BT-Avaya study found that 65% of customers continually change their minds on how they want to contact an organisation. So, Millard recommends that companies begin training their employees on how to deal with customers using different channels. “Talking on a phone is a different skill set to typing on a web chat,” she points out. The first might involve good speaking skills, while the second would involve spelling.

Have experts on hand. A startling 70% of customers that BT and Avaya surveyed said they often knew more about a product or problem than the agent in the organisation’s call centre. This is a problem that Millard says many call centres are facing. Because there is so much information available on the Internet, most customers only reach for the phone when they have a problem they can’t solve on their own, she explains. That means the issues they face are complex. “We found that 89% of these customers are saying ‘I want to talk to an expert’.” For businesses, this change in customer behaviour means they either have to improve the training of call agents or get their employees who are experts to take calls from customers.

This story appeared in The Edge Singapore on Oct 8, 2012.

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