Social customer service

Last week’s Shift Happens post strongly hinted at a follow up post from the customer services Digital Access Team at Leeds City Council. Well, true to form, they have provided the following update on how they have found adding social interaction to the customer service offer.

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Our team now manage web chat, social media enquiries and emails and we’ve had to find the right approach, language and tone to respond via these different channels.  It’s been good to see how members of our team add their own personal touch and how well received our approach appears to have been with our customers.

We know that using social media as a customer service channel can mean taking a risk, so it’s fair to say there were some nerves in taking on that responsibility. If we get something wrong we are open and honest about it and customers seem to respect and accept that.  But it’s also a fantastic opportunity to reach many people collectively who may have the same enquiry.

These are some thoughts from our team:

“I have found social media a quick and effective way to help people personally, whilst showing a wider audience how we deal with enquiries and resolve them. Hopefully giving them a bit of insight into how we operate on a daily basis.”

“Handling customer service enquiries on Social Media can be challenging, as anything you say is open to scrutiny, but by providing accurate information in a friendly, relaxed tone it can resolve a potentially damaging situation. I think that we’ve become adept at this, often generating positive feedback or at least an acknowledgement that we have helped the customer.”

We have used our social media accounts to share information with customers successfully, such as promoting road shows or recently advising of Christmas bin collection dates, reducing some contact via other channels.

A really popular feature over the winter months has been a daily update about the weather and gritting, getting up to 1000 views daily which shows that customers want to know about this service. Our customer contact centre receives enquiries about gritter movements so this has been a productive way of sharing information.

Customer interaction has been positive in many respects even though we can be dealing with emotive subjects which a lot of people feel strongly about. We’ve seen customers use social media as a platform to air on-going grievances in public in the hope it will prompt action. In responding to customer enquiries or criticisms we have acknowledged customer’s concerns, provided advice and shown others looking at the post that we have acted whilst informing them at the same time.

We intersperse occasionally dry information with upbeat posts about events in Leeds to keep people interested and encourage interaction. We have seen a noticeable increase in likes and follows since we started this.

We have introduced themed LCC hash tags, including:

#mustdomondays – advertising up and coming events

#wellbeingwednesdays – healthy options on activities in Leeds

#throwbackthursdays – old photos from the archives for followers to guess what, where and when in Leeds

#funfactfriday – fun and interesting fact about Leeds for a Friday afternoon

#leedsgoodnewsfeed – this has proved to be the most popular and receives the most ‘likes’

Sometimes customers reply to us with light hearted comments and we respond. We respect sensitivities when it comes to handling customer concerns or complaints but sometimes being human and engaging in a bit of humour can make a difference. #fishgate was one example with one customer which developed a following and many ‘likes’ weeks before the more well-known one went viral. Our support via social media has generated many positive comments from customers, including:

“Hello people. Thanks for giving me this chance to have direct contact with you. Your help will be great!”

“Great to see a council prepared to interact in this way. Well done Leeds!”

In our experience, introducing social media to our customer service offer has made a difference, providing a more personal interaction. We hope you think the same.

Digital access team


About Phil Jewitt

Comms guy and meaning maker, living in that place between personal and professional. Home is Leeds, Yorkshire. I work in communications for Leeds City Council, the 2nd largest council - with a lot to talk about and a lot to listen to.
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10 Responses to Social customer service

  1. Quick, effective and direct personal contact. Any organisation that doesn’t want to offer that or benefit from its responses leaves me stunned. Sadly, they’re lurking out there, dino-fashion. You’re doing great stuff for Leeds.

  2. I am delighted that you have taken the time to write about how you manage your social customer services. It is fascinating to see how another local authority is going about this. Here in Bradford we have been taking steps into social customer services over the past few months as well.

    One thing I am particularly interested in as regards Leeds Council, is how you manage the two Twitter accounts: Help and News. Are both of these Twitter accounts managed by the digital access team?

    • Phil Jewitt says:

      Good question Albert. The two accounts grew separately, one was created by the web team and one by the press and media team. In some dashboards they appeared to be the same account as they had the same username; somewhat confusing. They originally had slightly different functions, though both were mostly ‘promotional’.

      So about six months ago, the account run by the web team was handed over to customer services team that were piloting the use of web chat as it seemed a logical development. That team became the Digital Access Team. That Twitter account became the Help account and now primarily deals with customer enquiries and, as the team mentioned in the blog, includes the odd link to things going on.

      The News account has now been opened up to the wider communications team and is used for promoting various events and campaigns, and things that might be useful for people to know about.

      • I see, and I wouldn’t have guessed that history. So, Help is managed by the Digital Access Team, and News is managed by the comms team. What do you do about enquiries that come to one which are more appropriate for the other? My hunch is that both accounts sit inside social media management software so the two teams can easily assign enquiries between one and another.

        One thing I’ve wondered quite a lot recently is whether social media in a local authority is more customer services or more communications. So, the fact that you have accounts managed by each resolves that, and highlights the fact that is no more one than it is the other.

  3. leeds citizen says:

    As Albert says, it’s an interesting story about how the ‘help’ and ‘news’ accounts came to reflect the organisational structure of the council. From a customer/follower/ viewpoint, though, is there a case to be made for merging them?

    It feels a bit odd that one (the ‘help’) has a personality and is interactive, while the other (‘news’) is a straight promo/broadcasting tool. It would be interesting to know if the 18,000 followers on ‘news’ and the 15,000 on ‘help’ are by and large the same people. If they’re not, a merger might increase the council’s social media reach at a stroke.

    • Phil Jewitt says:

      Thanks for the feedback. We are trying to get away from reflecting organisational structure as it sometimes doesn’t mean anything to people and can get in the way. When we made the changes to the accounts, we discussed the purpose of having two perceived corporate Twitter accounts as well as many service accounts. We also questioned should they be merged.

      It was agreed to keep both whilst the ‘help’ account was being developed into a more responsive and engaging customer services type account and to seek feedback on how that was received. It seems people generally like that approach and whilst contact through social media at the moment is relatively low, it will no doubt increase. We also agreed to look at the many other accounts and to make sure they were properly supported and able to respond in line with expectations of a social network.

      There may well still be some overlap in content and purpose but followers on both ‘help’ and ‘news’ accounts are increasing at a greater rate than before we made the recent changes and there are still some slight differences in purpose. That’s not to say that the news account shouldn’t show more personality, I’m sure colleagues using that account are watching how colleagues on the help account are doing and I’ll point them in the direction of this feedback, and maybe pull their legs a bit too.

      As Albert also mentioned, in some situations customer services is communications and vice versa so we will continue to see how things develop and make changes where required and especially where it reduces confusion and increases reach.

      What both accounts and platforms like this blog do provide that weren’t available before (and I’m meaning for customers) is the chance to have conversations about how things are going and to get feedback. Thanks once again for yours.

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