11 Things A Public Sector Social Customer Services Should Have

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It’s always good to see slow burning success… and even more so when it comes for people who have worked hard on it.

John Fox spent a fair chunk of time at Sheffield City Council on a range of projects and working to get customer services engaged with the social web was one. I helped John wearing my comms2point0 had for a couple of days with this by showing what was possible. The baton has now been taken up after John’s departure which is good to see.

John has moved on to other things but Sheffield City Council has emerged on Twitter and has a dedicated customer services stream. It is early days but shows all the signs of being a success with a human voice.

It’s prompted me to re-blog the customer service post I made a while back and re-issue the reminder to comms teams to demonstrate their worth as a nit by making friends with this service and see how they can work better together – particularly on the social web.

11 things a public sector social customer services stream should have…

Have a dedicated customer services Twitter. Yes, I know your organisation probably has at least one already. But plan with scale in mind. You may be answering three or four a day now. But once your generic enquries email was doing that too. Just as you have different email accounts for different things you need different social accounts for different things too.

It should say when it’ll be monitored. 9am to 5pm Monday to Friday is fine so long as you make that clear. You’ll get more brownie points dealing with things out-of-hours but sometimes this just ain’t possible.

It should be staffed by real people. It should be authentic. Human. It should talk about the weather if it’s raining cats and dogs. That’s fine.

It should speak human. It should talk in a recognizably human way. Like real people do. It shouldn’t talk in jargon.

The actually doing it…

Start the day with a tweet from a real person. Close it the same way, too. Train operator London Midland do this beautifully.

Acknowledge the query. People don’t expect fully formed answers within the hour to complex problems. They know life isn’t always like that. But they do want to know you are on the case. The tweet that says: ‘Thanks for your tweet. Will find out for you’ is fine in the short term.

Get back in 24 hours or less. And make a point of saying this on your Twitter bio.

 Have a few people trained up. Not just one.

Never argue with an idiot, is what my Uncle Keith once told me. How right he was. How much of a web visionary he was, too. If you can help then help but if people shout, swear or troll you are probably better off spending your time answering other queries. Michael Grimes of the Citizenship Foundation’s seminal blogger engagement guide works well.

When in doubt think what you’d do if this conversation was taking place on the telephone. Which, when you think about it, is a lot more tricky than Twitter. You have to talk to people directly in real time. How tricky is that?

Use the channel as two way. Getting a flood of telephone calls about bin collections? Maybe a Twitter update and a piece on the website can help.

Creative commons credit

Help duck https://www.flickr.com/photos/16289690@N00/4040455314/

HELP 2.0: What good Twitter customer service looks like

4970060350_d31f172762_oThere’s a train company that went through a nightmare spell with cancelled trains and delayed services.

Talk to anyone who uses it and the answer is often the same. “Bloody London Midland. Late again. Only their @londonmidland has told me why. In a human voice. So I can’t quite bring myself to hate them.”

There are lessons there for all of us.

When local government started to use the social web it needed to buy into the idea that this was going to be two-way and a place where people ask questions. We can’t just tell people the latest announcement. People aren’t waiting for us to post them links to a press release. They want a place where they’ll be listened to about potholes, bin collections and things that matter to them, too. Maybe then they’ll wear some of the things we’d really love it if they listened to.

It’s a measure how things have become mainstream when questions via Twitter get plugged into customer services too.

Vodaphone UK emerged in a recent Socialbakers study as the most connected with almost of 80 per cent of incoming tweets answered.  When the channel was established it was primarily a customer services tool, the company say.

Jan Rezab, Socialbakers CEO, says Vodafone UK is particularly well set up for social customer service because it applied itself to the format early on by structuring up its internal trained team to handle queries.

Rezab says: “Brands should apply themselves, it’s more authentic when it’s a trained employee of the organisation answering your queries. Companies have to be ready – and it’s actually cheaper to reply to questions via Twitter than it is a phone call.”

That’s not to say that social should only be customer services. Or comms. If people are talking or asking questions then local government needs to be there too.

The ‘why bother?’ question

If you’re asking why bother have a customer services team at all you’re the absolute last person to think about the social customer services stream. If you think that people should be helped in the channel that works best for them you’re onto something. Once, all customer services used to happen by letter. Then the telephone was invented. And email. We responded to them because that’s where people wanted to be helped. 3973247231_74ecf13184_bIn short, we remembered that we are here to serve. Not the other way round. It’s been five years since local government started to use it. There’s at least 10 million UK users. It’s a good way to respond to issues in public to show that you are listening and also give out answers to a large audience that may need them too. In short you are being more responsive, more relevant and dammit, more helpful too.

The preparing to do it…

Have a dedicated customer services Twitter. Yes, I know your organisation probably has at least one already. But plan with scale in mind. You may be answering three or four a day now. But once your generic enquries email was doing that too. Just as you have different email accounts for different things you need different social accounts for different things too.

It should say when it’ll be monitored. 9am to 5pm Monday to Friday is fine so long as you make that clear. You’ll get more brownie points dealing with things out-of-hours but sometimes this just ain’t possible.

It should be staffed by real people. It should be authentic. Human. It should talk about the weather if it’s raining cats and dogs. That’s fine.

It should speak human. It should talk in a recognizably human way. Like real people do. It shouldn’t talk in jargon.

The actually doing it…

Start the day with a tweet from a real person. Close it the same way, too. Train operator London Midland do this beautifully.

Acknowledge the query. People don’t expect fully formed answers within the hour to complex problems. They know life isn’t always like that. But they do want to know you are on the case. The tweet that says: ‘Thanks for your tweet. Will find out for you’ is fine in the short term.

Get back in 24 hours or less. And make a point of saying this on your Twitter bio.

 Have a few people trained up. Not just one.

Never argue with an idiot, is what my Uncle Keith once told me. How right he was. How much of a web visionary he was, too. If you can help then help but if people shout, swear or troll you are probably better off spending your time answering other queries. Michael Grimes of the Citizenship Foundation’s seminal blogger engagement guide works well.

When in doubt think what you’d do if this conversation was taking place on the telephone. Which, when you think about it, is a lot more tricky than Twitter. You have to talk to people directly in real time. How tricky is that?

Use the channel as two way. Getting a flood of telephone calls about bin collections? Maybe a Twitter update and a piece on the website can help.

The working out if you are doing it right…

In short, you’ll find this out if people are asking you questions.

But yes, you can evaluate it. Don’t bother too much with follower numbers although that’s always nice. Keep a log on how many queries you dealt with each week. Then work out how much they would have cost you to deal with using other routes. The SOCITM stats for avoidable contact can help with this.For face-to-face it’s £10.53, for telephone it is £3.39, while post costs £12.10 and web just 8p.

Report the stats and the successes back far and wide. A satisfied customer is worth shouting about.

Creative commons credits

Helping hand http://www.flickr.com/photos/9729909@N07/4970060350/

Help http://www.flickr.com/photos/41304165@N04/3973247231/

SOCIAL SURGERY: Building the Art of Good Listening

“Oh, so it wasn’t actually local government that won a prize for Social Media Surgeries?

“That’s a shame isn’t it?”

That’s more or less what someone from a local government organisation said to me. They weren’t really listening and it got me thinking.

What’s a social media surgery? It’s volunteers with digital know how being put together in a room with voluntary groups and charities who would like to know.

It’s about giving a voice to groups who really need a voice.

It’s an idea that emerged three or four years ago from the vibrant community of Birmingham bloggers.

Nick Booth of Podnosh has turned that idea into something truly remarkable that has outgrown the West Midlands (disclaimer: I just think Nick is great.)

Podnosh won a Big Society award for the project hence the conversation I start this blog with.

I’ve helped out at a handful social media surgeries. Not as many as I would have liked. But enough to know why people do it and enough to be applauding wildly those who truly deserve the award.

Is it sad local government didnt win this?

Not at all. Because this isn’t a local government idea. It’s a community one.

But it also got me thinking about local government’s role.

A lot of the early volunteers come from local government. Birmingham City Council’s Digital Birmingham arm recognised it’s worth quite early on and helped get volunteers, for example.

At the last Walsall Social Media surgeries, which is one of more than 80 registered, the majority of surgeons happened to be from local government too.

That’s more a yardstick of there being decent people at councils rather than some strategic thing.

But social media surgeries, from what I see, are built on far more than volunteers from local government and I wouldn’t want to overstate their role.

Social media is transforming council communications. Gritting updates now come via Twitter. Libraries have Facebook pages.

But local government is founded in Victorian Britain and can still act like it at times. Even the best Twitter stream unplugged into officers who don’t want to listen will ultimately fail.

Just recently, I’ve helped start a Facebook page to help regeneration officers understand how they can make Walsall a town where creative people will live and work.

It’s called ‘Can We Make Walsall A More Creative Place?’

It won’t change the world, but I’m gobsmacked at how if you plug into networks and listen they’ll crackle with electricity and they’ll tell you things. I’m a bit excited at how its playing out.

Just recently I spent a really inspiring hour or so at Shropshire Council with Nigel Bishop, Jon King and others. Part of what they are doing is looking at how to embed social media in every corner of the council and at every step of the way. Not just as the end stuck on as a megaphone to tell people. Jon writes about it here. In short, they’re after better listening as well as communicating. That’s quietly brilliant.

So, what can local government really get out of what’s built at social media surgeries?

They can be places to help build good listening.

That strikes me as being very important.

LINKS:

Andy Mabbett on Social Media Surgeries

Social Media Surgery Plus

10 Downing Street: The Social Media Surgery is the latest Big Society award winner

CREATIVE COMMONS CREDIT:

Chris and Mary http://www.flickr.com/photos/podnosh/3529022026/

Laughing at Dudley Social Media Surgery http://www.flickr.com/photos/gavinwray/5921616904/sizes/l/in/photostream/

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