Debating the effectiveness of social customer service - with Conversocial's Joshua March

Jon Reed Profile picture for user jreed November 3, 2015
I've been debating the viability of social customer service with Conversocial CEO Joshua March for several years. But how is his company faring now that marketing suites are all the rage? During a recent trip to New York City, I found out.

Conversocial CEO Joshua March is a really good sport. In the early days of diginomica, March emailed me, expressing Conversocial's intent to make social customer service a reality - not just a marketing fantasy. I responded with skepticism. He diplomatically fielded my vented spleen when he could have pushed away. I never did a story on Conversocial; I guess my skepticism won out.

Then March fell off my radar screen. I found other outlets for my love/hate views on social service. But I started to wonder: how was Conversocial's best-of-breed approach faring against the marketing suites that dominate the slide decks?

During a recent trip to New York City, I paid a visit to March at Conversocial's NYC headquarters. We taped a podcast, Can social customer service ease our UX pain?, where I found out what happened to Conversocial.

Turns out, social customer service has evolved. March's views on social incident resolution surprised me. We also kicked around my latest social beefs, and explored a Conversocial customer story. Here's the highlights.

Jon Reed: I want to start with how you guys are doing. A few years ago, Conversocial was all the rage. You were a Gartner "Cool Vendor"...

Joshua March: We first got funding in mid-2011. At the time, no one else was talking about social customer service. In fact, social customer service wasn't even a phrase. We helped created that phrase, because we really believe that every company had to be delivering service to their customers through social and mobile channels. We spent a couple years beating the drum about it.

Reed: You guys were the fashion for awhile.

March: Exactly, but what's great is that now it's all about real business. This has become something that’s really serious.

Reed: What’s you’re customer count now?

March: A bit over 200 now, and growing quickly. We have Fortune 500 customers who literally have hundreds of agents, just doing social customer service... Companies realize that social needs to be a deeply integrated part of how they do customer service.

Can a best-of-breed like Conversocial compete against the marketing suites?

Reed: Since you guys faded a bit as the "fashionable" social service company, it became all about the suite. It all goes in cycles, right? Now, you hear "Our marketing suites will solve everything." Is that going to be an advantage for you Conversocial? Can you compete against that, or are the suites swallowing you up?

joshua march
March at Conversocial headquaters

March: Last year was the year of the suites. CMOs were being sold on this vision that they could buy one tool that would do everything social that they need. I think now the reality has come back to bite them a little bit. The truth is the needs of a marketing department are very different to the needs of a large enterprise contact center.

They're trying to build one vanilla social tool that does everything. It just hasn't worked. A lot of companies now realize that, and they've gone through some painful experiences trying to handle large scale service through tools that just aren't built for customer service.

Social service done right: forget about being nice - just solve my problem!

Reed: Before our podcast, I was going through a list of companies I'd harassed socially. I have too many service experiences where people are super polite and responsive - but they don't finish the conversation. I would take someone grouchy who could solve my problem. Where do you think we are now?

March: If you look at the social service market today, I’d split it into three camps. A third of companies still aren't doing anything. They still view social purely as a marketing tool, and they're publishing stuff out. They're not even really responding. A third of the market are doing what you just described. They have people trying to do service who are part of the marketing team, or interns. They're not able to resolve your issue.

Then there's a third of the market that have realized that this is a legitimate, important service channel and have real customer service agents in the contact center, plugged into their CRM systems, who are able not only to respond, but to fully resolve real issues.

Social service in action - Conversocial customer use cases

Reed: I wanted to dig further into some specifics with customers. Can you walk me through a story or two around customers that have contacted you with a problem, and how it played out?

March: No customer is the same. There are definitely a few patterns. One of the customers we signed up this year is a major hotel brand. They came in with a pretty typical scenario, which is that their marketing team had bought a social media management system that was trying to do the all-in-one thing.

It was great on the publishing side, and great on the marketing analytics side. It probably worked okay when they had five agents just trying to do their best, but by the time they got to 30, 40, 50 agents, the system was creaking. They didn't have any metrics around response times or efficiency. They had to do a completely manual triage. There was no kind of automated distribution or routing. They had agents whose job it was to see content as it came in, and then manually assign it out to different agents based on availability. There was a seven-step manual process before the service agent could look at the issue and respond.

Reed: Not very efficient.

March: They were wasting a massive amount of time before they could get back to customers, and wasting a number of full-time resources. When we started working with them, they moved away from all-in-one marketing suites. They put us in place for service. They actually put another company, Percolate, in place on the publishing and marketing side.

Reed: And?

March: They saw a pretty immediate change. We were able to bring in completely automated routine and distribution. Agents come in the morning, press play, and their content just starts coming to them. It arrives uniquely into into their queue, based on their skill sets and availability. There's no kind of manual triage needed. They were able to free up a number of full-time resources immediately. They could then redeploy these folks into standard agents, and decrease their overall service response times.

Reed: A quick ROI then, in terms of redeployment of service resources.

March: Yes, which is probably the biggest thing. That ROI also comes out in things like response times. Suddenly, something is just going straight to response, rather than going through a manual triage process. The supervisor now has real-time dashboards where he can track their SLA, and get notified if they're going beyond them. They're also starting to build up a real treasure trove of information, where they're matching their loyalty numbers with social IDs, which is down the road going to be powerful.

Reed: I think you had another customer to tell us about?

March: Yeah. I wanted to do a special mention of Sprint. Sprint probably has one of the largest social customer care teams and processes globally. I haven't seen any other company with the same scale and efficiency they have. Sprint has hundreds of agents dedicated just to delivering care through social media. They are fully committed to real resolution, as we spoke about earlier. They will solve any issue you have when you tweet at them. They'll respond very, very quickly.

They're great at what they do. They don't do big fanfare around it. They're not trying to be a snazzy crazy brand with social. They recognize that it's a super important service channel, and they're fully committed to delivering the same kind of customer experience you get through social as you would if you phoned them and spoke to an agent.

Reed: Interesting. I'm not a Sprint customer, so I can't vouch for that, but maybe some Sprint customers out there can say what they think about that… Maybe I'm being idealistic here, but I’d like to think a company would also get better at service, if they put in better processes - rather than playing whack-a-mole.

March: A key thing we help our customers do is look at how they can improve their own operational processes. On our platform, they can see these types of real issues, and how long it took agents to resolve. They can track the handling time for this issue, versus issue X. They can ask, “Why is it taking an agent twice as long to solve this issues?” They can dig into the back end processes, and get into that. Then they can make real changes to the business, which I think is fundamental.

Podcast: Can social service ease our CX pain?

You can also download the mp3 file of the Conversocial podcast here. This is the shorter version of the podcast - the short AND extended version of this podcast are available on my Busting the Omnichannel iTunes feed.

End note: March had strong words on why issue resolution must happen on the same channel it starts, and the future of customer service. I’ll get to those issues in a subsequent feature. This interview was slightly edited for clarity/brevity versus the podcast version; some sections were re-arranged.

Image credit: gesch‰ftsfrau ratlos © rico287 - Quick photo of Joshua March at Conversocial - Jon Reed.

Disclosure: Diginomica has no financial ties to Conversocial; I reached out to Joshua while in New York City as I find his story interesting.

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