At the NewComm Forum this week, Zena Weist and Kevin Cobb, from the Brand Management team at Embarq walked the audience through a candid and detailed case study on how a large company successfully leveraged social media to solve a critical business problem – negative customer sentiment.
Moderated by Charlotte Ziems, Vice President at Tendo Communications and SNCR fellow, this was a highly interactive session with many questions from an engaged audience. The duo along with their customer service team manager, Linda O’Neill and team member, Joey Harper (on the phone) offered valuable insights for implementing a customer-oriented social media strategy in a large enterprise.
Headquartered in Kansas, Embarq is on the Fortune 500 list of America’s largest corporations company and offers local and long distance home phone service and high-speed Internet services to both residential and business customers in far-flung rural areas.
Problem: When the company spun off from Sprint in 2006, it had inherited a culture that was extremely conservative. Employees were under a “gag order” and weren’t permitted to interact with customers outside of the traditional communications/customer service channels. Symptomatic of these underlying cultural and legal issues was a high level of negative customer sentiment towards the company.
Their goal was to do a proactive outreach to customers and prospects on social media networks, typically within 24hrs, to resolve their issues, answer their questions, and change their perception of Embarq. They used pilots to test their theories before rolling out full-fledged programs, this helped in minimizing the risks, getting buy in, and ensured that their programs had higher likelihood of success.
Challenges:The Embarq team faced multiple challenges that they had to overcome in order to break away from their legacy of minimal engagement and reinvent their internal culture as they tried to meet their customer service and (re)branding objectives. Here are the 4 key challenges that social media marketing practitioners in large enterprises across industries are familiar with:
- Lack of Social Media Awareness
- Conservative Culture
- Technology Hurdle
Lack of Social Media Awareness:As in any other large enterprise, the lack of awareness and knowledge about the new media fuels fear of the unknown and Embarq was no different. In order to build awareness and reduce the fear of engagement as well as build internal support for their social media strategy, the tteam started by listening to customer conversations for over 6months. Going through this intensive listening process helped them to surface the issues and questions that their customers were asking. It also helped demonstrate the value of direct engagement as well as get buy in from the internal stakeholders including the executive management.
The team didn’t use any fancy tools or complex technologies for their listening process. They started off with some free tools and started using those to monitor social media conversations, some examples: – Google and Yahoo! Alerts – Google Blog Searches – BlogPulse – DSLReports.com – Complaint boards – Technorati Later on, they added more sophisticated monitoring tools, one of them being Radian6. Once the information started trickling in, the internal stakeholders started pushing for a response to the issues they were hearing.
Conservative Culture:The Embarq team started their social media cultural revolution with people within the company who were already participating in social media. They identified the champions across the organization and leveraged their knowledge to set the plan in motion. They identified about 10-15 people out there and invited them in to join their initiative. They made the individual the focus of the activities, which helped break down the traditional silos in the organization. They empowered the customer service team to reach out to the customers directly.
When asked about any friction between the traditional CS channel and the social media outreach efforts, the team explained how they made a clear differentiation between the #800 customer support team vs. what their team was tasked with. The outreach team was reaching out to customers who chose to vent on a public/social media forum such as Twitter or Face book where the traditional channel didn’t have a presence.
Technology Hurdles: The team started their listening and research by using very manual search and react processes. As they got going, the team started leveraging the existing communication and software tools without requiring many resources. Scaling their process while staying flexible was critical because they were regionally based and were engaging in fairly long-tail conversations. They tested several different pilots to see which ones would work before they rolled it out so that also minimized the investment and increase likelihood of success for the programs that were rolled out. The presenters said it was easier to implement social media outreach because it doesn’t cost that much and mainly required human resources. That’s primarily how they managed to eliminate and avoid any additional IT investment or involvement.
The ROI question invariably comes up in every enterprise social media/web 2.0 discussion and it is a fair question. The team used a two-pronged strategy where they combined short-term wins with long-term strategic initiatives.
The team kicked off their rebranding and education strategy with a with highly viral video contest “48 seconds” designed to create buzz around their high-speed internet service. The team invited video submissions from contestants, which was a hugely successful campaign that also got picked up by the news media.
The presenters emphasized how relevancy in messaging was the key to their success so the campaign wasn\’t just clever but also highlighted the benefits of using their offering.
They followed up on their short-term campaign by rolling out series of short but highly effective “how-to” videosthat addressed their top 10 customer service issues. This is where the team superbly demonstrates the value of listening to the customers by basing topics on information gathered from their online outreach and call center data. Not surprising, these videos became highly popular with their customer base and also demonstrated that the company was being responsive to their customer\’s needs.
They not only managed to meet their education objectives but also their branding objective of creating a presence in an online community where customer and prospects are already engaged. Over an one-year period, the team saw a 81% success rate (Dec 07 to Mar 09) on their social media outreach initiatives. They also found significant increase in the number of customers self-correcting their negative posts and subsequent increase in the number of customers likely to recommend their service.
Most importantly, they were able to connect their social media outreach efforts directly to orders placed. Overall, this was an excellent case study in how social media can be effectively used to drive business results and chockfull of insights for social media practitioners in other larger enterprises.
This was an outstanding example of innovation by breaking down organization silos and leveraging social media to drive business outcomes. Couple of things that stood out for me in this case study were: Listening played an important role in formulating the strategy, trials and pilots were used extensively, and clear definition of objectives, and tied it all back to the bottom line.
I want to close this post with an insightful quote from the presenters that highlights their practical, yet thoughtful approach to social media:
“It (social media outreach) doesn’t stop the telephones but it gives you an opportunity to resolve the situation and change their experience.”
You can look at the detailed slides from the Embarq presentation on the NewComm Forum site.