Like many traditional brands, Hertz for years communicated with its customers and sales agents via the phone and email. But as social channels became a force to be reckoned with, that system left a lot to be desired. “It was an inefficient process and we were looking to streamline things to provide the best possible customer service,” says Lemore Hecht, manager of communications and social media at Hertz. Responding to customer queries via the phone and email required the company’s communications team to play “middleman” and direct each individual query to the proper corporate department, which, of course, could be frustrating for consumers.
That changed late last summer, when the car rental company rolled out a new dashboard that integrates its social channels into customer service. In the last several months Hertz has gradually made the dashboard available for its customer service agents located at the company’s offices in Oklahoma City, as well as six European markets.
Hertz says it is the first car-rental company to integrate social customer service into its business, enabling the company to offer its customers “in-channel resolutions” to their inquiries and/or complaints.
The software, which is provided by Conversocial, helps Hertz to manage each customer inquiry as it comes in via Facebook or Twitter.
“We know our customers are asking questions on social media and we’re choosing to communicate with them on channels they’re using more frequently,” she says. “It’s really looking at our overall needs as a company and providing [consumers] with the fastest, easiest and most valued experience when renting cars through Hertz.”
Since integrating social into customer service Hertz has seen an approximately 30% bump in positive interactions with its customers, according to Hecht. She says that the new program has helped Hertz’s overall communications in the following ways:
1. Demand: The companynow has a better read on the types of services that are in demand at a particular time, such as the kinds of cars that business travelers want during busy times of the year.
2. Buy-in: Consumers are more engaged with the brand because they know that the company is trying to get them an answer as soon as possible, rather than having them jump through corporate hoops.
3. Brand advocacy: Consumers who get a speedy resolution to their inquiries are more apt to share the experience with their friends via social channels.
THE BUSINESS OF SOCIAL
As social platforms started to go mainstream in the mid- to-late 2000s, PR execs scrambled to integrate such channels into their marketing and communications programs.
But as social channels mature, communicators now have to play a more active role in aligning social media to their company’s business goals and financial objectives. And that means breaking down the silos and working more closely with customer-service efforts.
It’s an opportunity for PR pros to not only align communications to the top and bottom lines, but also demonstrate the overall value of public relations, says Steve Halsey, principal and managing director, business consulting practice for Gibbs & Soell Business Communications.
“PR execs need to look at [what Hertz is doing] as an opportunity to have a greater impact on the business,” Halsey says. “There are new ways for PR to deliver metrics by working with—or co-opting—departments that PR has not traditionally worked with, such as customer service.”
He adds that for socially savvy brands, there’s a growing onus for communicators to work hand-in-glove with other departments. “It can’t be ad hoc,” Halsey says. In harnessing social channels to other departments, “PR has to talk with sales, marketing and even R&D, and set parameters on how the company responds” to consumer queries and complaints.
PR’s NEW BFF
When you consider the growing clout of social platforms, perhaps customer service should be PR’s new BFF. Barring that, PR pros certainly needs to change their mindset when it comes to interfacing with customer-service reps. If PR execs fail to collaborate with their customer-service counterparts, it could cost their company dearly.
According to a study conducted last year by Conversocial and New York University, 78% of the respondents believe that social media platforms would either soon entirely replace other means of customer service altogether or become a major vehicle for consumers to communicate with corporations.
The study, which garnered 513 responses, also found that 88% of consumers are less likely to buy from companies when they learn that the companies ignore customer complaints online; of those respondents who have communicated with companies on social media sites, nearly a third (32%) were either neglected or altogether ignored.
SWIM OR SINK
“It’s scary for companies to have a real, public conversation,” says Joshua March, CEO of Conversocial, which, in addition to Hertz, works with American Greetings, Go Daddy and Hudson Bay on merging their social channels with customer service.
He adds: “But companies are realizing that it’s far worse to leave a negative comment alone rather than engaging with customers and trying to help them.”
As social channels start to converge with customer service, PR pros should be careful not to forfeit their responsibilities, but reinforce them, March says. “It’s not about handing it over, but working together,” he says. “One-on-one conversations can he handled by customer service but reputational issues comes back to PR.” PRN
Lemore Hecht, firstname.lastname@example.org; Steve Halsey, email@example.com; Joshua March, firstname.lastname@example.org.