Microsoft: Social media can enhance customer support

Use of social networks to engage customers is "blue ocean" opportunity for organizations, but legacy tools must first be replaced, says software giant, which has begun offering customer support on Facebook and Twitter.
Written by Liau Yun Qing, Contributor

Social media is a "blue ocean" opportunity for organizations to engage customers and is still an ongoing learning process, according to a Microsoft executive, who adds that this will require customer relationship management (CRM) tools to be modernized for organizations to stay competitive.

In the last three years, social media has become increasingly important to reach out to segments of customers that will become "potential influencers" in the future, said Wing-Dar Ker, Microsoft's customer service and support general manager for Asia-Pacific and Greater China region. In an e-mail interview, he said several large organizations have already invested resources to effectively engage customers on social networking platforms.

Organizations that still depend on legacy customer service tools will need to change if they want to stay competitive, said Ker, noting that traditional transaction-based customer service support tools do not allow the company to understand its users more holistically.

And while an organization may have amassed sufficient customer data, it would be difficult to make meaningful use of the information with legacy tools, he said.

To overcome this challenge, organizations must consider upgrading their CRM applications in order to have a 360-degree view of their client base and understand their needs and consumption behavior.

With such intelligence, organizations will then be able to generate product cross-sell opportunities, adding value to both their companies and customers.

Ker said: "It's all about making a business case for organizations to progress from legacy methods and technologies to more sophisticated support tools.

"Customers effectively drive this business case and eventually you will see the industry evolving as a whole, while those who are resistant to change risk falling behind in the competition very quickly."

He said Microsoft invests heavily in online support as customers are increasingly turning to the Web and peer support environments such as forums, noting that his team uses social media platforms to identify customer service support trends.

For example, Microsoft now provides support on Facebook and Twitter for its English-speaking customers. The U.S. company also started a pilot program in China targeting university students on the most popular social media site in the country, Renren.

In the past week, Microsoft has also posted information on a series of topics including new features in its Windows 7 platform, end-of-support lifecycle notification on Windows XP and Vista, as well as other news relevant to its customers.

Social media limitations
Despite its advantages, Ker noted that using social media to enhance customer service and support does have its limitations.

While social networks do allow answers to instantly reach target consumers who are less inclined to use traditional methods of support, the relationship between Microsoft and its customers on such platforms is non-personal, he said. It reduces the opportunity for the software company to build customer loyalty, he added.

However, he noted that organizations can extend interaction initiated on social media platforms by referring customers to e-mail or phone, so the issue can be more effectively discussed and solved.

But, unfavorable circumstances can still avalanche quickly and cause potential negative impact on product and corporate brands, if organizations are not careful about managing interactions on social networks.

Nestle, for instance, was recently embroiled in a public relations mess when its employees posted sarcastic remarks in response to user comments on the company's Facebook account.

These were eventually deleted from the message thread but are available on ZDNet Asia's sister site BNET, which took screencap featuring parts of the conversation.

Asked if Microsoft had social media guidelines in place to avoid the predicament Nestle faced, Ker responded in the affirmative. He added that such policies and processes are evaluated continuously due to the constant evolution of social networks.

"The reality is that you will not always be able to control the different engagement methods to your own satisfaction," he said.

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