As social media evolves, travellers demand joined-up customer serviceNews / Technology | OnlineBy Nick Vivion | March 15, 2017Share This article was originally published on Customer service has always been one of the most challenging areas of any service-based business.This is especially acute in travel, where there is far more emotion and expectation attached than in a typical retail transaction.Families traveling together, business travelers headed to meetings, people starting vacations - each trip has its own motivation. Once all those motivations come together in the travel cauldron, it only takes a quick stir to bubble up tension.The emergence of “social care” is one of the greatest evolutions for customer service in the history of travel. The inevitable invasion of social networks by brands created a brand-new expectation that they will be available to customers at any time.After all, the platform is always-on so why wouldn’t a business be able to respond instantly? This fundamentally shifted the nature of customers service from passive to active.And actually, this move was a mutually beneficial one. Customers can now get help faster than ever, without getting lost in frustrating phone trees.And when done well, social care saves brands a lot of money by increasing the productivity and impact of customer service agents.By quickly addressing issues, brands create more loyal customers. And by helping customers through purchase problems, brands lose fewer sales.By quickly addressing issues, brands create more loyal customers. And by helping customers through purchase problems, brands lose fewer sales.Rather than customer ‘service,’ it’s really about customer ‘care.’ It’s about deeper engagement thanks to technology, not in spite of it.Defining ‘social care’ in the shadow of customer serviceThe very concept of ‘social care’ suggests that previous iterations of customer service were not quite up to par.The opposite of social care would be anti-social care. Or unsocial care. Whatever the counterpoint, the truth is that most people have been unsatisfied with the evolution of customer service over the years. This applies even more so in travel, where disruptions can lead to a visceral (and very visible) reaction from the inconvenienced traveler.The nature of customer service in travel is that it’s often urgent. Customers don’t have patience to wait a long time for answers, especially if they are stranded in an airport. And with the always-on, real-time nature of social media, there is an expectation of near-immediate response times.Delayed response times are no longer acceptable. We now measure response times in minutes rather than days!In his bold article “The traditional customer journey will cease to exist,” author and entrepreneur Steven van Belleghem underlines just how technology has rewired the way many experience time: The rise of digital technology and social media means that for many industries, real time is quickly becoming the expected standard for customer service. f you take airlines, for example, their customer service departments can no longer boast that they deal with customer enquiries and complaints the same day or even within the hour, because to the customer in an airport, an hour feels like an eternity.Share this quote All brands clearly have a role to play when engaging with consumers on social media. Even if your brand is not directly consumer-facing, there will always be people online asking questions and expecting responses.Brands that leave those people hanging come across as aloof, impersonal and cold. These are not generally desirable brand attributes!Social care is not just “customer service on social media.” It’s the evolution of customer service to be a two-way conversation that empowers consumers to pursue resolution through whichever channel is most convenient.How to succeed at social care: Go self-serve and omni-channelThis convenience factor is a win for today’s customers. For brands, this is a loss of control that eliminates the traditional funnel-based approach of pushing consumers into a pre-defined customer service queue.Now that consumers can contact brands through a multitude of channels - often about the same issue - the core of social care today is omni-channel.Traditionally, customer service has been a one-way channel. The customer has an issue and contacts the brand for resolution.Today, social care is about managing multiple touch points across social, email, phone and in-person. The customer expects the business to have a single stream aggregating all interactions.In Microsoft’s 2016 State of Global Customer Service report, the omni-channel expectation is clear: the average consumer interacts with a brand across four different channels.And for younger consumers aged 18-34, this increased to five channels.For travel brands, especially airlines, this emphasizes the value of a single CRM that focuses on the individual. Social care becomes less about just being responsible on social, and more about being able to address each traveler’s experience - no matter how they choose to engage with your brand.It’s not easy to engage across so many channels effectively. Brands might see this complexity and actually spend more money than before trying to manage it.That’s why an omni-channel customer care strategy only truly works with a focus on self-service. Customer care reps should contribute to an FAQ to help customers answer their own questions.Social media requests should also count towards the First Contact Resolution rate.If the customer’s requests can be resolved within the first contact, your customer service staff have more time to devote to truly pressing customer are issues.And if consumers can resolve their own requests, then not only are the consumers happier, but brands can reserve resources for the most time-intensive issues.Through self-service and a systemized omni-channel customer care operation, great gains in productivity and customer satisfaction are achievable.The bar is higher than everIn this environment of increased expectations, there’s really only one way to survive: meet or exceed those expectations. Technology might be an easy scapegoat to blame for this new reality. But the truth is that travelers have always had high expectations.Now the technology exists for them to self-serve their way to a better experience.Brands that leverage that same technology to deliver on that expectation will snag more loyal customers and out-differentiate the competition.