Don't delete the bad stuff, and other social media advice

NZ Post and Eventfinda discuss how they manage social media channels

How does a large organisation deal with social media and how should you respond if the conversation about your company is negative? NZ Post and Eventfinda spoke to Ulrika Hedquist in part two of Computerworld's special feature on social media.

Chat on the increase

Chat is the fastest growing digital channel for NZ Post. The organisation has seen a threefold increase of chat conversations over the year, says Russell Stephens, head of channels, customer solutions and services at NZ Post.

“In December 2011, we were doing about 12,000 chats a month. A year later, in December 2012, we were doing 36,000 a month,” he says.

This is partly driven by the launch of YouShop last year, he adds. YouShop is a service that provides customers with a US delivery address for items bought online there, allowing customers to send them on to New Zealand. NZ Post made the decision that online chat on its website would be one of the main ways to service YouShop customers, he says.

Twitter has also been growing, whereas the number of phone calls has reduced from about 80,000 to 70,000 a month.

NZ Post doesn’t use Facebook as a social media channel at the moment, says Stephens, but the organisation is working on a strategy on how it wants to use Facebook.

“Taking a measured approach to how you are going to use social media is one of the key things organisations need to do. The minute you jump in you have got to do stuff, because that is what customers expect. We are taking a step-by-step approach.”

The organisation uses Oracle’s RightNow social monitor cloud service for a unified view of Twitter, chat, phone calls and email, he says.

“Having a view of channels as opposed to having a view of call centre and online in different silos is really important to us.”

Russell Stephens

The tool enables the organisation to view conversations consumers are having about its products and services, and then the team can decide whether or not to respond, Stephens says. Recently a customer was chatting to NZ Post at the same time as he was tweeting.

“We could see him tweeting and chatting to us, live. So we were able to go to him [on Twitter] and say: ‘The agent that you are currently chatting to can deal with your problem’.”

RightNow has been in place for just over year and NZ Post is about to upgrade to the latest version.

Receiving and managing customer feedback is one of the top benefits of monitoring social media channels, he says. While NZ Post doesn’t use social media for marketing, the platform is useful for getting a message out to a lot of customers, says Stephens.

“You don’t need to tell, say, four thousand customers individually. You post a Twitter message and the followers get an update.”

It’s also good for updating people on large-scale service affecting issues, such as snowstorms.

Another benefit is that is gets customers talking to each other, he says. They might share their experience and make recommendations to each other.

The big trend that Stephens is seeing is the shift to mobile.

“We’ve seen a 70 percent increase in traffic to our mobile site over the year.”

So, naturally NZ Post is focusing on mobile and new ways to interact with customers in this space. The company is currently recruiting for two dedicated mobile developers, he says.

If you are about to dive into social media, a potential challenge is upskilling your team that deals with social media interaction, Stephens says.

“We’ve found that there are some members of the team that are really good on the phone, but when you move them into a different space they are not as confident and don’t enjoy interacting with customers in that space.”

“It’s been interesting for us to realise that you get to a point where it isn’t a matter of just switching people over into that channel,” he continues. “You have got to train them and make sure they feel comfortable in that channel.”

For an agent, to convert two or three minutes on the phone to the same message in 140 characters is a challenge. “That is a skill,” Stephens says.

Another consideration is around cost, he says. Traditionally, there has been a perception that social media channels are lower cost than using a call centre, but this is not necessarily true, he says. The average handling time for a customer call is 220 seconds, whereas an average chat is around 6 minutes. However, if an agent is dealing with three chats simultaneously, it becomes more efficient.

“You have got to get up to that operating pace before it does become a cheaper channel,” he says. “We are pushing these channels obviously to become as profitable as we can be, but also because the customer experience is better when you don’t need to get off the website and go phone someone.”

Better to be involved

Monitoring social media is critical, says James McGlinn, CEO of online events calendar and events management platform Eventfinda.

“These days, people will contact you through whatever channels they want to contact you from,” he says.

There are going to be conversations about your company on, for example, Twitter and Facebook. Some organisations consider social media risky because you don’t have control over what is being said, but those conversations are going to take place anyway, whether you like it or not, McGlinn says.

“It’s certainly better to be involved and proactively across those conversations as opposed to not even being aware that they are going on. For any business, it’s hugely important that you are at least consciously aware.”

Eventfinda uses social media monitoring tools from web-based helpdesk software Zendesk. The company started using Zendesk as a support system – as a replacement for an internal one built in-house, he says. The main reason was to leverage Zendesk’s SaaS platform and not have to worry about building and maintaining the system, he says. The social media monitoring component of it grabs all mentions of Eventfinda on for example Twitter or in Facebook messages, and imports them into the support system. McGlinn and his team can then manage them alongside all of the other support requests that come in via other channels.

“We know that the moment someone posts a message on one of those social media channels it will automatically be captured. It saves us a lot of time,” he says.

James McGlinn

One of the worst things you could possibly do on social media is deleting posts, comments and conversations that aren’t complimentary, he says.

“There is a certain etiquette that goes with social media and deleting comments because you don’t like them crosses the line. This is something we are aware of and make sure all our staff are aware of.”

Eventfinda also has offices in Australia, Singapore, Austria and the US, and the company interacts with customers on social media in different ways for each market. Facebook is the dominant channel in New Zealand, says McGlinn.

There is a small but very vocal contingent of Twitter users, but it’s nothing compared to the US. Twitter and Tumblr are huge in the US, he says. The company also uses Pinterest overseas but hardly at all in New Zealand.

Read part one of this special feature on social media: Taking part in the social media conversation.

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