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How to balance speed and quality customer service


It’s not enough to resolve issues quickly anymore. Businesses need to meet their customers with the personalized service they’re accustomed to on other channels. Like how the barista at your neighborhood coffee shop asks you “the usual?” when you walk in the door.

A chart from The Sprout Social Index™ that reads: How quickly consumers expect a response from brands on social. The bar graph compares 2022 data to 2023, which reveals more consumers expect a response with hours or even minutes.

In the early days of social media customer care, speed was the most critical performance metric. In 2022, 77% of consumers reported expecting a response from brands within 24 hours—with 13% expecting a response in mere minutes, according to The Sprout Social Index™. Our latest Index report suggests consumers still want swiftness, but are more concerned than ever about quality customer service: 70% expect companies to provide personalized responses to customer service needs.

But departmental silos, limited understanding of the value of social customer care and clunky tech stacks hinder businesses from delivering best-in-class service. Leaders who don’t invest in solving some of these issues will be leaving money on the table and putting their customers’ loyalty up for grabs.

What customers expect from your service: quality and speed

In a world where social DMs have become a form of texting in their own right, brands replying quickly to customers is table stakes. Consumers want more than a fast response, they want the right response. One that means they don’t have to reach out again or deal with another issue a few weeks later. They want to feel like their problem is your first priority.

Take this stat from our latest Index report: A majority of consumers (76%) place equal value on brands that respond quickly to customer needs and brands that prioritize customer support.

Unfortunately, most consumers don’t believe they’re getting high quality care. According to Zendesk CX Trends Research, 62% of consumers believe businesses could be doing more to provide personalized service. As only 30% of brands have implemented customer care processes and tools to actively engage with customers on social, this isn’t a major surprise.

But that doesn’t mean consumers are making concessions or lowering their standards. The same Zendesk report highlighted that 70% of consumers expect anyone they interact with to have full context surrounding their customer service inquiries. What good is meeting your response time service-level agreements (SLAs) if you’re not actually resolving customers’ issues or leaving a mediocre impression?

Read more about how top brands provide exceptional customer service and support.

Common roadblocks to delivering high quality customer service

Though 88% of business leaders agree social media is a critical tool in providing customer care and service, there are still knowledge gaps that prevent teams from accessing the tools and resources they need, and gaining stakeholder buy-in.

Here’s how social media marketers and care teams describe their greatest challenges to delivering exceptional customer care and experiences:

A chart that reads: Common roadblocks to delivering high quality customer service. 1. The pressure to be always on. 2. Departmental and technological silos. 3. Lack of training and education. 4. Not having the right tools.

The pressure to be “always on”

According to a Q3 2023 Sprout Pulse Survey, 63% of customer care professionals said a high volume of customer care requests is their most prominent obstacle. As one member of The Arboretum, Sprout’s online community for social professionals, put it, “The most significant challenge I face when managing customer care on social media is the expectation to be available to answer questions 24/7. Plus, pressure to make sure each answer is 100% correct and can’t be misinterpreted in any way that could reflect poorly on the business.”

Another added, “Social platforms have become essential for customer support. However, it can quickly become overwhelming for businesses due to the sheer number of inquiries they receive and the expectation for quick responses from a real person.”

In an era where customers want to be able to connect with a service agent the moment they need help, it’s critical to have agents available at all hours. But without proper staffing and handoff, this can stretch social and service teams thin and lead to burnout, on top of dissatisfied customers who don’t feel prioritized or like they’re getting an authentic response.

Departmental and technological silos

When it comes to ownership of customer care in 2024, only 8% of customer service teams plan to own this function exclusively. Shared ownership requires reimagining your teams’ entire approach to collaboration. From your tech stack to your internal workflows, pressure test each stage of your social customer care process to find out where silos are slowing service down, and where there’s too much strain on one team.

A graph from The Sprout Social Index™ that reads: Who will own social customer care in 2024. The circle graph reveals 36% of marketing and service teams will co-share this responsibility, and only 8% of customer service teams will exclusively own it.

For example, social teams are often not equipped to handle complex customer service needs, but they’re often asked to do so anyway. As one member of The Arboretum described, “A social media manager doesn’t have the resources to resolve every customer complaint. Customers use social more and more for issue resolution, but there’s a solid wall between customer care (which leverages traditional communication channels) and social media engagement.”

Others agreed that collaboration between teams at their org is lackluster. “Our team’s inability to provide quick and effective customer care is due to the lack of timely interdepartmental communication,” says one social marketer.

Lack of training and education

Social customer care is a new domain, with most teams struggling to keep up with best practices. According to a Q3 2023 Sprout Pulse survey, 35% of businesses plan to hire additional agents and host additional training to improve the quality of customer interactions on social.

But these gaps are often the product of social customer care being thought of as an ancillary duty rather than a business-wide priority. As one member posted in The Arboretum, “There is a lack of recognition that social media ‘counts’ as customer service and care. Engaging with customers and your audience through comments and DMs doesn’t get the same respect or regard that dealing with customers through email, phone or in-person channels often does.”

While social professionals and service teams understand that social customer care is key to resolving issues on channels where customers provide open, honest—and very public—feedback, internal education to other departments is needed to help others see its impact. Enable key stakeholders and senior leadership to see how the ability to interject, navigate and even control the conversation can help retain customers and build the bottom line. Ensure training and education is happening org-wide, not just for the marketing and service teams.

Not having the right tools

Many social and service teams don’t have the tools needed to provide both quality and speedy customer care. With disjointed tech stacks and disparate communication channels, the work of customer care becomes like shoveling snow with a teaspoon—cumbersome and inefficient.

Our Q3 2023 Sprout Pulse Survey reveals many organizations’ most prominent challenges stem from technology breakdowns—48% are left with manual tasks that take up significant time, 41% with gaps in available customer care intel for agents to reference when handling requests and 26% cite a lack of technological resources. The lack of investment in customer care processes and tools to actively engage on social is a major hurdle to developing a sophisticated strategy.

An Arboretum member describes how not having the right tools impedes quality: “Customers appreciate personalized responses that address their specific concerns. However, doing this effectively on social media, where conversations can be disjointed and context may be lost, can be difficult.”

According to the Index, 50% of marketers plan to implement advanced social media management software to streamline workflow efficiency, which suggests leaders are aware technological investments are crucial to crafting a cohesive customer experience. More brands see the potential of social media management software—not just for posting and reporting, but as the central hub for social customer care functions.

How to provide high quality customer service, fast

What it takes to deliver memorable and positive customer experiences is changing. As customer expectations evolve, so too should the best practices your teams follow and the processes and tools you use.

These are actionable steps to overcome the challenges and meet customers where they are.

A flowchart that reads: How to provide high quality, efficient customer service. The first step is to use AI and automation for support. The next step is to personalize the experience. The final step is to use listening and social data.

Use AI and automation for support

Social care teams are hesitant to use AI, fearful that it could damage the relationships they’ve built with customers and make interactions seem less human. Nearly half of marketers (49%) say their top concern in regards to AI is job displacement or reduced human involvement in social media management, according to the Index.

But the reality is by thoughtfully tagging in AI to handle customer care tasks like answering frequently asked questions, marketers and service agents will have more time to allocate to their most meaningful work. The Index highlights that 81% of marketers say AI has already positively impacted their work, citing benefits like more time for creativity (78%) and increased efficiency (73%). Another 47% say they will begin using AI in 2024 to handle basic customer inquiries and asks. It may sound counterintuitive, but emerging technologies can reallocate care teams’ time and help them meet consumers’ demands for authenticity and human connection.

For example, in the Sprout Social platform, our Case Management solution enables your team to automatically create Cases for each social message that needs a reply—and route them to the right team or individual based on custom criteria and rules.

Each team in Sprout has access to a distinct queue, where they can see all incoming messages assigned to them and key details about each Case. Teams can access Cases via a specific pane in the primary navigation menu.

A screenshot of the Case Management Solution in the Sprout Social platform. In the image, you can see a red box highlighting the teams' unassigned cases, which are tagged for AI, product support and product marketing issues.

The Case Management solution is a part of the Smart Inbox, where all incoming messages from across social channels are visible in one single stream. The inbox also includes other tools that empower your team to resolve issues faster, with AI-enhanced agent replies that make replying fast and easy, tags that allow for efficient sorting and filtering, and bulk actions to quickly manage Cases.

A screenshot of the Smart Inbox in the Sprout Social platform. In the screenshot, you can see all incoming messages and mentions aggregated into a single stream. You can also see which agents are currently working on each reply, which helps prevent collisions.

Here’s an example of how chatbots can be set up to help automate repetitive conversational tasks (like gathering information), resolve customer issues at a faster rate and provide 24/7 service, even when no agents are available.

A screenshot of Sprout Social's chatbot building tool. In the screenshot, you can see prompts for inputting how the bot will greet network users and how it will respond to their messages. There is also a preview of what the bot will look like once it's set up.

Personalize the experience

Using name-only-personalization has been the extent of personalization for most of modern marketing (email, direct mail, etc). While using a customer’s name is a tried-and-true best practice, true personalization goes deeper. Consumers don’t want to be thought of as one of thousands (or millions) of people who receive the same canned response, they want to be seen as a VIP who deserves an experience that meets their unique needs.

Truly resolving customers issues starts with data, and finding meaningful data requires integrating social with other business intelligence software like your CRM. By having a centralized, 360-degree view of your customers, you will increase the quality of service you provide and break down departmental silos. This data will deliver key insights about your customers, from the first time they sent you a DM to the last time they made a purchase. Our Q3 Pulse Survey data reveals about 38% of customer care leaders indicated consolidating agent and customer data to guide business decisions was already at the top of their wishlist.

Sprout enriches your Salesforce CRM records with social data to provide a comprehensive view that enables your team to engage in real time with the right context. Notice how the sidebar is populated with Salesforce Service Cloud data in this example of an agent responding to a customer via the Smart Inbox.

A screenshot of an agent replying to a customer on social in the Sprout platform. In the image, you can see all available Salesforce customer information in the right panel.

Sprout’s Tableau Business Intelligence Connector takes it a step further by combining social data in an omnichannel view with other marketing data. By harnessing this intel, customer care and marketing leaders can work together to align on the business value of social customer care and elevate it into strategic planning conversations.

A screenshot of a Tableau dashboard with data from Sprout Social incorporated.

Use listening and social data to understand what your customers care about

The best customer care is proactive. Understanding what your customers care about, the common issues they’re having and how they feel about your brand will shape your brand’s care strategy. According to our Pulse Survey, 23% of customer care leaders count an inability to make data-driven decisions among their most pressing challenges, and another 37% are eager to adopt social media management tools that increase the value and business impact of customer care.

By using a social media listening solution like Sprout Social, you can leverage AI to uncover critical customer insights. With Sprout’s suite of Listening tools, you can automatically sift through billions of data points to zero in on trends and key learnings you need to guide future strategy. For example, you can find out how your customers are reacting to your latest product launch through the Sentiment Analysis tool, and use that data to train your team and inform future product development.

A screenshot of a Listening Performance Sentiment Summary in Sprout. It depicts the percentage of positive sentiment and changes in sentiment trends over time.

Be an example of high quality customer service

In this new generation of customer care, speed is no longer the only king. Responses don’t just need to be fast, they need to be thoughtful and tailored to an audience of one. As the volume of messages and mentions you receive rises, so too will customer expectations of your business on social. To stand out from the competition, you need to invest in the right training, processes and tools to propel your business forward.

Audit the tools and processes your organization currently uses to find gaps and redundancies. Build the case for shared ownership of customer care and access to social data. Identify the new skills you and your team need to lead a robust social care strategy. For help getting started, read the latest edition of The Sprout Social Index™, and dive into the latest data about creating customer experiences that drive business value.

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