Musings on Customer Support in a 140 Character World

It’s always nice when the company you ordered your brother’s birthday gift from includes a pre-printed return label in case you need to exchange the shirt for another size. Being able to buy movie tickets online, well before the lines amass for a Saturday night showing of the latest blockbuster, is also a great amenity.

Studies show that perks like these, which reduce customer effort, create customer loyalty.  This comes as no surprise to me. I know that the more Microsoft invests in online support resources that provide automated and personalized support, the stronger our customer relationships are.

Next week at SXSW, I’ll join my peers in the community support space to discuss what customer support looks like in a “140 character world.” Because social media allows us to reach people where they want to interact, being present on Twitter and other social sites shows a willingness to participate in communities where our customers already are. The fact of the matter is social media has radically changed the way companies support their customers, a phenomenon that presents extraordinary business opportunities, provided companies leverage social media resources in the right way.

Supporting customers through social media isn’t about amassing followers. It’s about creating dialogue, and if you communicate successfully with customers instead of simply talking at them, you’ll actually provide greater value in the end.

Furthermore, companies that execute social media support well, have a deeper understanding of who influences their products and can engage with them in ways that make these influencers more successful. For example, when a Microsoft Most Valuable Professional helps broadcast a technical solution developed by Microsoft, a new set of customers directly benefits from this increased awareness. The MVP also benefits from added exposure and thought leadership in their communities. In most instances, engaging community influencers is a win-win situation in this fast-growing social world.

It’s risky when businesses begin staffing up large social media support teams with the assumption that this investment will automatically address all support questions in only 140 characters. While this might work in some instances, by and large, Twitter and other character-limited resources should simply be conduits that channel customers to richer support experiences.

For instance, I’m really excited about our “@microsofthelps” Twitter handle that provides support to Windows 7 users. In many cases, it’s merely a starting point to open the door to solutions on our Answers forums that introduce customers to Microsoft support engineers and other customers with similar interests and connections.

As social media continues to evolve, companies will continue to grapple with how best to offer support in this 140 character world. New questions and issues arise each day; it’s an extremely exciting, and at times overwhelming, era for those of us in the customer service space.

I for one, though, am optimistic about the potential of social media technology to create stronger, more personal connections with our customers, and its ability to reduce customer effort in finding a solution to a problem. In the end, support in a 140 character world can benefit us all. 

I encourage you to check out this podcast to learn more about how Microsoft listens to and engages with the community.

Find me and my team on Twitter at @tobyrichards and @microsofthelps

Posted by Toby Richards
General Manager, Microsoft Community & Online Support