An inside look at Hootsuite's social customer service operation

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In addition to becoming a major marketing platform, social media also serves as a rapid and efficient customer service channel for brands. As a social media management tool, Hootsuite is one of the few platforms that can serve both marketing and customer service functions on social media, two tasks that are often performed by the same people. 

We recently caught up with Jeanette Gibson, Hootsuite's VP of customer experience and education  at the ClickZ Live conference last week. Gibson works in close conjunction with Hootsuite's VP of marketing Dee Anna McPherson to make sure that no matter what part of the Hootsuite team is interacting with the customer, the brand voice and experience remains the same. 

In our conversation, she revealed some of her best practices for social media customer service, and how Hootsuite users can use the platform to implement them. (Surprise surprise, Hootsuite uses its own platform for both social media marketing and customer service...)

The setup:

Gibson has a team of 20 operators who are responsible for monitoring and solving all customer complaints and educating users on how to get the most out of the Hootsuite platform. There are several ways customers looking for support can get in touch with Hootsuite, the quickest way being directly tweeting at the @Hootsuite_Help handle. Hootsuite engages in nearly 14,000 customer support interactions a month on Twitter. Customers who tweet their complaints or questions here usually get a direct response from the Hootsuite team within 30 minutes. While Twitter might be the dominant customer support channel in the US, Gibson says Facebook is far more popular in emerging markets such as Latin America and Europe.

If  customer's issue can't be resolved on Twitter, it gets converted to a ticket which then gets processed through Zendesk, a customer service platform that integrates with Hootsuite and allows the issue to be tracked and sent to the right internal party for resolution. Gibson says the advantage of the Zendesk integration is that it records all the tweets and interactions between the company and the customer, providing a complete, serialized record of the case.

Other avenues for support include directly logging a complaint through the Help page on Hootsuite's website and asking for help on one of its community forums. Hootsuite's community forums are powered by Get Satisfaction and it is regularly monitored by Hootsuite brand ambassadors and engineers. Customers who ask technical support questions are either given a direct answer by them or sent a link to one of Hootsuite's helpdesk articles.

Hootsuite has also recently implemented a live chat feature on its website, powered by SnapEngage.

Proactive and reactive channels:

Gibson recommends that customer service teams set up two different types of streams to monitor on social media, one for proactive responses and another for reactive. The reactive stream is for responding to regular customer support problems or questions from customers, while the proactive stream is for actively finding customers who have problems but aren't contacting Hootsuite directly.

"These could be customers who are misspelling Hootsuite, or not necessarily tweeting at the account but still talking about their problems," says Gibson. "By using keyword searches, or different spellings, we can contact them proactively and try to solve their problem."

This goes a long way in building a brand's image online, says Gibson. She also recommends using a separate Twitter handle to provide customer support instead of doing everything from one account. "You can better manage the volume of customer interactions," says Gibson. "It also gives customers a clear identity for the team that can help them." 

Creating brand ambassadors:

In order to reach its large customer base in countries outside the US, Hootsuite also makes use of a team of brand ambassadors. These ambassadors are enthusiastic Hootsuite users who can sign up for the ambassador program, where they get trained and certified as experts in the platform for free. Hootsuite then uses the ambassadors to both evangelize the products within their online networks and communities, as well as help other users with technical issues. 

Gibson says that along with LinkedIn, Google+ is a very popular platform for hosting Hootsuite communities and forums, and ambassadors are given incentives to be the quickest to respond to user problems on these sites. While they don't get money, they can receive other prizes from Hootsuite such as company merchandise or an official LinkedIn recommendation.

Hootsuite also provides these ambassadors with a budget to host "Hoot-ups" or meetings among Hootsuite users where they can get together and discuss their experiences and exchange ideas for the platform.

Gibson says this is a much more dynamic way to build engagement in communities that the support team can't directly reach. 

Training multiple teams to respond

"Being in a B2B environment, it's usually only certain teams like the sales team or customer advocacy team that cultivate a social relationship with the customer," says Gibson. "It's very new to think anyone can tweet or talk to a customer." Although Hootsuite has designated teams for marketing and customer support, all the staff are trained to respond to all types of customer responses, and direct them to the right department. In this way, Gibson says the company can cultivate a culture of putting the customer first throughout the organization, and not just the sales and marketing teams.


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