In the branding world, no event hits harder than the Super Bowl. During this year’s game, I found myself thinking about our clients and their game plans for 2019. I thought about Super Bowl ads, how much brands sink into them, and how the short shelf-life is on that investment.

By March, do we even think about those ads anymore? Can brands get better consumer resonance for less, and longer? Absolutely. Our brands do, every day.

I’d kicked around the idea of starting a “From The Desk of the CRO” for a while and when this topic hit home for me, I figured this was a great place to start. I’m a big believer that companies need to connect every day, and engage and communicate in ways that resonate year-round, not just on Super Sunday. And here, in this letter, I hope to inspire our clients to make that happen.

Each month, I’ll write about strategies, controversies, bright ideas and industry news. Since we’re heading into Q2 coming up here at ICUC, I’d like to speak to social trends I see making big plays through the year ahead.

The biggest play of all, though, will be returning to customer service classics. Some things never go out of style, like good service, being attentive to needs, and performing unexpected kindnesses. By the end of this letter, I’ll address how to incorporate such service classics into the ever-changing trend-based world of social media. But, first, let’s talk about the original service classic – personal attention.

1. Engaging 1:1 is 100% the way to go.

During social media’s rise, the public saw it as a new, fun way to connect with each other, but brands mainly saw it as a loudspeaker, an extension of traditional media that could save them money by relying less on ad agencies. Things have changed. Today, social media gives brands the ability for one-on-one exchanges with consumers and would-be customers. But there’s another opportunity available for brands too – the chance to lose customers forever.

Depending whose stats you follow, as many as 45% of consumers now use social media as a primary contact when they have issues with a company or their product, and 60% will use it for asking brands questions. As many as 80% of social media queries either go unanswered or take too long to answer, which makes the reply moot anyhow. And when answers don’t come, a whopping 88% say they’d reconsider using that brand in the future. This brings me to my next point.

2. Social will become synonymous with service.

The savviest brands go the extra mile to give service on their social accounts. We’ve learned there’s a big difference in wait-tolerance between a telephone customer and a social customer. Every minute a customer waits on hold for their problem to be solved, their irritation increases. Meanwhile, on social, they don’t mind waiting a bit because they’ve got friends to look up, news to read, and other distractions. This, in turn, takes some pressure off those helping them.

But consumer patience is still limited, and excessive delays are costly. Take the example of a friend traveling for work when her laptop ceased connecting with WiFi. She contacted the laptop’s Twitter support Saturday morning and never heard back until late Monday. By then, she’d wiped and reinstalled the OS, losing hours of productivity. She says she won’t buy that computer again. In the end, the brand lost more money on a future purchase with just one customer than they might have paid for around-the-clock response over the weekend.

Even worse is a social account that’s completely wasted, lapsing into that “megaphone-itis” syndrome I dislike so much. Such accounts are of little to no use to existing consumers who already have a spending track record with that company. Recently, as my team were in Whistler, British Columbia for an off-site, I contacted a local restaurant through Twitter DM for a reservation and was told to phone instead. Had that restaurant’s team done just one minute of work to reserve me, they’d have won my business. And guess what? I found a restaurant elsewhere, one that could accompany by making a reservation through direct message courtesy of the little ol’ iPhone in my hand.

What’s the point of being on social if all you do is “brand broadcast,” and you fail to help those actively trying to spend money with you? And what about keeping existing clients, like my friend, who’ve already paid to play?

3. Execs are getting more focused on ROI with social.

Some execs can’t see the “value return” in providing customer service in social media when a phone line exists already. It’s too bad, because social media’s value spills over into several departments.

But I understand focusing on value return and ROI, whether it’s with customer service on Twitter or in other social platforms. Why wouldn’t you want transparency about the results social earns? With us, transparency is what you get. At ICUC, we’re driven to assess what our clients want to achieve and where they want to achieve it. If those aspirations change for any reason, we want to know, because your goal is our goal.

Here’s an example of tracking our performance. One of our clients, a Canadian restaurant chain, wanted to improve their responsiveness to online reviews. So, we did. How’d that turn out? We took them from a 6% response rate in 2016 up to 96% in 2018. That spurred a 182% increase in search frequency on Google and Google Maps (from 39 million up to 110 million). Let’s say those numbers morph into just five more guests spending an average of $21 a visit per location per month. That’s $105 more a month for each of their 382 locations, for $481,320 increase over a year. And that’s a conservative estimate. What if it’s 10 guests? Maybe 15? 20? Now that’s a return on investment.

4. Brands will stop waiting for the Super Bowl to make their big play.

In 2013, another of our brands scored huge points when the Super Bowl was delayed over 30 minutes by a power outage. One tweet stole the game – “you can still dunk in the dark.” It was the talk around the watercooler the next day. Have you dunked in the dark?

But it’s 2019 now, and with increasing 1:1 social engagement by brands, we believe thinking smaller will make a bigger impact.

Every day, our clients make small, meaningful gestures that resonate, all inspired by social engagement. In one of my favorite stories, a British policewoman was staying at EPIC Kimpton Hotel for a conference when she tweeted her intent to duck out and read a hit UK book, Fabulous Finn, the Brave Police Dog, legendary for tugging on heartstrings. Our team spotted the tweet when the officer announced her resignation to a night of teary-eyed sniffles. We let the hotel know, and staff took two boxes of tissues to her room, for her sentimental reading night. It’s a small gesture that only cost pennies for EPIC, but it’ll be a story she tells – mentioning the hotel by name – for the rest of her life.

5. Everything old will be new again: Remembering the classics.

That EPIC encounter is why I fell in love with in social media and made it my career – for its ability to connect us and give us shared moments and experiences. Somewhere along the way, we lost that, and we let social media become merely an extension of traditional media.

That’s changing. It’s thrilling to see consumers and brands alike reminiscing on social media’s early appeal while using it to build better relationships.

By focusing on one-to-one engagements in social media, brands are discovering their service reputations can improve dramatically. They’re creating loyalty. And they’re even discovering social can improve employee job satisfaction too. Social media teams can take the load off customer service departments so those experts can focus on solving bigger problems in timely fashion.

Social media teams handle many inquiries with safer, easier engagement compared to doing it on calls, leading to lower tensions on both sides. Staff can gather their thoughts and focus, while consumers get solutions and promises made in black-and-white, rather than through hazy, easily-misremembered phone conversations.

Social has so much more potential than most brands realize.

Our job at ICUC is to help bring those dynamics to life. That means generating sales leads while dealing with more routine customer service issues, so in-house pros can tackle the tough stuff. It means building community and keeping brand chatter alive. It means marketing and advocacy. All these areas affect revenue performance day after day – just look at Boston Pizza and how well the mere act of replying to reviews has improved their reputation and built brand loyalty.

Even better than all this, though, is that these can, in part, be achieved through customer service bots and other artificial intelligence.

6. Bots will make game-changing big plays.

But not without humans.

I love the idea of using bots to help scale your business – absolutely love it. We use it here at ICUC through our own website, and we’re helping clients do just the same; however, bots will continue to need human support in 2019. Without this, without a human at the helm, users are going to be so turned off by bots, they will go out of their way to find another medium.

We’re doing something different here at ICUC. We’re setting up bots for our clients, using AI to get smarter over time, though having a 24/7 human behind the scenes when, inevitably, the bot fails.

Will this change over time? Yes. Bots will get smarter, humans will not be needed to help answer the most rudimentary of questions, though not without a human still at the helm in some capacity.  

In the end, 2019 will be the year that artificial intelligence does what most people least expect it to do – bring us back to the basics of good business. It’ll be the year AI took simple questions and routine inquiries out of the game with their surprisingly personal touch, letting bigger plays get made by human-led teams of service experts. It’ll be the year we made good on combining our humanity with technology to improve messaging, build new relationships, increase sales and revenues, and bolster existing loyalties.

It’s exciting to me that, in a way, we’re returning to everything I always loved about social media community management. My career really began with rousing my local hockey team’s fans, giving them a voice in cheering for the team they loved. It may be a decade later, but that’s still what social media is all about – community, connections, and caring. Brands that understand those three key ingredients will see their social side driving sales and profits while improving their team’s job satisfaction.  

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