When customer service goes beyond the conversational catch-all : the Société Générale case

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Summary :the future of customer relationship will be on the web. Quite logical when we see the number of customers using mobile devices and the proliferation of social plans that aim at increasing exchanges between customers and businesses. But believing that starting a conversational approach to customer relationship is enough is a mistake. Customers are looking for tangible results, not only for conversations, and, facing a large scope of needs, businesses need to provide a lot of specialized services while respecting the choice of the customer who chooses his own path through the customer service channel. It prefigures the end of the social and conversational catch-all and the emergence of more specialized plans that included both offline and online interactions, conversations and transactions while not mixing everything in a inefficient approach.

Since we’ve been told it for years, I think it’s clear for anyone that the future of customer relationship is social. Yes but what does it mean. In fact this notion is a large bag in which lots of different things have been put to such an extent that by emphasizing a global view of the social approach many businesses forgot to pay attention to all of its components taken individually. So, by social, we should understand :

– that internauts can take a stand and shout at businesses on the web, individually or collectively (in this case we often call them communities). So businesses should be ready to listen and answer.

– that customers use more and more mobile technologies so a multichannel system to support relationships is needed. This is a revival of an old but more relevant than ever acronym : ATAWAD (Any Time AnyWhere Any Device)

So it’s about different channels, individual and collective relationships, information and service. It’s easy to understand that these needs have to be managed with fineness because they include a wide array of situations and needs. But nevertheless…

The renewal of customer relationship on the web started with a massive use of new social media for relational and conversational purposes. Since what matters is conversations and closeness, so let’s be conversational and close to customers. What lead (and is still leading) to situations that are quite funny if you observe them from a distance, worrying if you look at them with the customer or the professional eye. Example of twitter conversations we’ve seen too often :

“@enterprise : hello dear customers ! Did you see our new offer ? Please RT !

@averagecustomer : @enterprise the only thing I want is to make the product I bought 10 days ago work !!

@enterprise : @averagecustomer : I understand you deception…but my job is to spread messages and be cool (1/2)

@enterprise : @averagecustomer : to complain, please contact our customer service : http://bit.ly/shouthere (2/2)

@average customer : but I already contacted them 10 days ago !!! #fail

@enterprise : @averagecustomer : oh ! Weird… Sorry but I can’t help you more. Sorry.

@averagecustomer : @enterprise : #fail #epicfail #uberfail !!!!”

This used to happen “before”. Now, the young marketing intern is being replaced by a service professional or someone able to go further than social conversations. That lead to some organizational transformations (a good reason to read “Empowered” again). But that was only a first step…a least for those who decided to go further.

But the huge conversational catch-all made of twitter and Facebook does not meet all needs becahsue :

customers are not always looking for a good relationship but for results

– for efficiency reasons, it’s sometimes better to provide customers with the tool to help themselves than allow them to contact someone who does the job instead of them.

not everything is about communities : most conversations are about individual issues that need an individual answer and management.

– customers don’t value contact but results, what makes a problem in some industries. When one has a problem while traveling, calling @deltaassist or @airfrancefr is enough,when  one has troubles using a product bought at Best Buy, contacting @twelpforce should solve the problem. If I have a question for my bank and I’m a Société Générale customer I can ask @sg_etvous (SG and you). But the bank industry is also special : in many cases the person who can help me is not “someone from the bank” but my account manager. What makes things different.

So customer relationship on the web is not a wide conversational magma going through a multi-device catch-all. Businesses need more specific strategies that take into account every specific need and address it through relevant services and the right channel, fitting the need, the situation (mobility or not), media (web or not) or device.

Example with the new approach started by french bank “Société Générale”.

Facts first :

Mobile lifestyle : 42,8% of french people use their mobile phone to use internet

• 48,1 are registered on at least one social networking site

• in 2011 79% of all incoming contacts at Société Générale were digital

• traffic on Société Générale websites grew by 11% in a year but, most of all, mobile usages grew by 200% in four months. Considering mobile and internet together, that’s 33M monthly connections in February 2012.

• but there’s a paradox : 79% of contacts are digital but for 80% of customers what matters is the relationship with their account manager (NB : we all know that bank account managers are the least available people in the world on digital channels…and the last who were provided with a personal business email address).

• The more what’s at stake in the contact is important, the more the account manager is needed in key moments, whatever the channel.

Hence a strategic choice : make Société Générale become “THE relational bank”. The idea was to provide customers with the tools they need and put them in touch with whom they need, when they need, whatever channel they choose to contact the bank (email, call center etc…). So it’s a comprehensive and structured system that allows customers to choose their way inside the system.

That comes with the launch of new services which articulation allows to address any need through any customer path inside the system.

• A secured email app to contact one’s account manager with a mobile phone. More, it kept archives of post conversations. So it’s now possible to have a secured digital relationship with account managers.

• An application to manage accounts on the web and on mobile phones (that also allows atomatic categorization and filing of expenses)

• A website called “SG et vous” which is a conversational space where customers (and non-customers) can submit ideas, vote, ask general purpose questions about the bank and the way it works. That’s about transparency, communities and co-creation between the bank and its current and future customers. Some services that will be launched in a near future are the result of customer’s ideas.

• For real time interactions, the twitter @sg_etvous team as been reinforced and the team can suggest product/process improvement following the customer cases they faced.

In the end comes the concept of “Direct branch” that mixes the closeness and know how of a “real” branch and the flexibility and responsiveness of a call center or a web-based structure. The whole being accessible through a multichannel system.

That clearly shows the limits of community management alone and general public tools to deliver a high level customer experience. Each need needs its own tool that provides the right functionalities and / or people, the whole being accessible whatever the way the customer chose to contact the enterprise. In other words, referring to trendy topics, social CRM is not the future of customer relationship but a part of it. It seems that Société Générale clearly understood that social and online should not blind them but that a comprehensive approach that includes both traditional and advanced interactions is needed.

French speaking people (or those who trust online translation tools) should have a look at a post by the Orange Business Services team, titled “the end of the multi-channel self-service model“.

That’s all for Société Générale but it seems that more similar cases are coming. Stay tuned !