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Social customer care describes the trend of delivering customer service via social media channels. Recent research by Social Bakers reveals not only an increase in consumers reverting to social channels for seeking customer advise, but also an average reduction in time it takes the industry to respond (Social Bakers 2013).

Industry is moving towards social customer care

Top innovating firms in the travel and tourism sector have recognised this trend, and started embracing the capabilities and reach that social media channels offers. Fully initiated during the ash-cloud crisis in April 2011, firms have noticed how using social media for crisis communication was the most effective way of spreading vital information and updates in real-time to a vast amount of consumers. From thereon social customer established itself progressively as 1) an average agent at a call centre can not deal with as many requests on the phone as s/he could on social media in the same time; and 2) a public responses to frequently reoccurring questions can be read by many people who have the same request, thereby effectively reducing the number of people contacting the customer service department.

Changing customer behaviour

Customers are quickly embracing this trend, as they get tired of calling expensive help-lines, being put on hold, or waiting for up to 24hrs for emails to be answered. Given the fast paced nature of social media, consumers have increased expectations of what is an acceptable response time. In fact, the number of questions posted on brand presences in social media networks has increased significantly in the recent past. For instance Social bakers reports a growth of 85% in service requests on Facebook pages of consumer brands over the past 12 months.

The industry response

Popular travel brands start to respond to this trend by accepting that social media is a valid customer service channel that needs to be managed and maintained. At the forefront of this development is the airline industry. Social Baker reports that while in 2012 only 55% of requests posted on social media channels received a response, this number rose to a staggering 79% in 2013. In particular the Dutch airline KLM is setting a best practice example in this field. Their response rate for 2013 amounted to an incredible 97%, with an average response time of only 45 minutes. In order to achieve nearly full coverage the airline implemented a social media hub, which operates in three languages around the clock (KLM).

An opportunity for SME’s

In turn the move towards social customer care adoption is propelled. That is customers expectations rise, as the more resources are dedicated towards social customer care, more consumers find success getting service requests answered quicker on social channels. While big cooperations have resources available to implement such extensive customer care strategies, SME’s often perceive it as a struggle to serve ‘yet another service channel’. However big budgets and extensive man-power is not a necessary prerequisite for harnessing the power of social customer care. Free social media monitoring tools such as Hootsuite, Tweetdeck or Google Alerts allow small companies to keep an eye on their social media channels and receive alerts whenever customers post digital request. Embracing these tools and increasing customer satisfaction by serving your guests through the channel of their choice can provide SME’s sustainable and strategic competitive advantages.

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