TalkTalk interview: How to manage fast-paced customer engagement and expectations

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We’re living in an age of “extreme” customer expectations, with 66% expecting a same-day reply from a brand and 43% expecting a response in an hour or less, according to a Millward Brown study.

So just how can marketing teams keep up with the trend? As always, it’s best to ask those at the top. As such, MarketingTech spoke to TalkTalk’s senior online engagement and content manager Stephen Fell about what the business does to keep its consumers happy online.

What kind of tools does TalkTalk have?

Every good business will have some kind of a repository of customer service tools, whether they’re free (social media) or paid-for and expansive.

In TalkTalk’s case, Fell says it uses a variety of tools and ways of communicating with its customer base, including live chat and an automation offering.

“The support we offer via our digital channels is key,” he said, “Last year, we launched our live chat service using the Liveperson platform. Since then, we’ve seen massive uptake of the service and we’re seeing greater levels of customer satisfaction in this channel vs similar telephony channels."

The power of peer recommendations and support can have a positive impact on an upset customer

TalkTalk’s also had a forum since around 2007, but as demand grew it got harder to maintain the platform and support. “We started a search for a future-proof, scalable solution and after a long search, we decided on Lithium for both our strategic community platform and social engagement tool ‘Lithium Response’,” Fell explained

This curates the community’s user generated content and allows ‘super users’ to escalate members in need of help into Lithium Response where the dedicated team then helps. Fell claims the product has resulted in a three-fold increase in productivity of the support team

How do you encourage brand ambassadors?

TalkTalk’s mentioned their peer to peer community and ‘super users’, so we were curious to find out about a related group: brand ambassadors.

According to Fell, the company’s had a ‘super user’ scheme in the community for a number of years.

“Using the analytics tools available on the Lithium platform, we’re able to identify members in the community who are not just the most active but who add the most value with quality contributions. This information is also used to identify the ‘super users of tomorrow’ who are active, quality contributors but maybe not at quite at the level of our top contributors.

“Knowing who these guys are allows us to have a direct conversation with them, so we can better understand and get to know the person behind the avatar,” he said.

TalkTalk incentivises its brand ambassadors with ‘money-can’t-buy’ information and events and involves them in trials and beta schemes.

Handling upset customers online

One of the biggest issues brands face is negative feedback on an online, open public forum or social media.

Handling these can either make or break how you’re perceived as a company, but Fell tells MarketingTech it’s all about treating each one as a human, not a stat.

“Behind every upset customer is a real person. It can be difficult to see this at times, especially when dealing with a very upset customer but, more often than not, all that anger is born out of frustration which has no doubt been caused by your brand.

“First and foremost, it’s important to ensure they know you’re aware of their concerns and are working with them on a solution. However, in a public community environment, you have a secret weapon which is truly unique to communities and should be embraced rather than working as fast as you can to get the customer off-line and closed down,” he said.

In particular, Fell discusses the merits of having an active, peer to peer community where customers can share experiences and crowdsource solutions without too much interference from the brand.

“Unlike our support staff, our community is open 24/7, and in almost every situation where a customer is upset and posting, our loyal members will have responded to them before me. Customers believe other customers more than brands and the power of peer recommendations and support can have a positive impact on an upset customer. This can at the very least reassure and calm them down to a point that the actual interaction to resolve the issue becomes straightforward,” he explained.

Getting customers offline to mitigate damage to the brand isn’t always the best course of action, either. Staying public to prove you’re open and transparent can really work in your favour, Fell added.

How can brands turn negative experiences around?

As an example, TalkTalk suffered a data breach last year and its website was the subject of a criminal attack. This was a difficult time for the brand and its customers, according to Fell, who shared what the company did to mitigate it for all.

“We took a decision to be open and honest with our customers as soon as we were able to. We knew how important it was to keep them updated and to look after them as best we could, and the community was absolutely at the heart of this.

“Despite being a difficult time, our open, honest and transparent approach was the right thing to do and actually, we’re now seeing that our customers trust us more and are less likely to leave than they were before the criminal attack,” he explained.

So in all, TalkTalk is a company that has built an engaged online community, including 'super users' and has bounced back from what could have been a damaging brand experience.

Clearly, the company's doing something right when it comes to customer service - but we'd love to hear what your methods are for promoting a postitive customer experience? Comment below to share them.

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