A few years ago when Twitter was still “twttr,” we found people talking about hosting with us. Before long, they were actively reaching out to us for help. We recognized that Fanatical Support shouldn’t just exist inside our customer portals or telephone lines, so we decided to build a team to figure out how to bring our support to social media.
In the beginning, things were simple. We started with Twitter, because that’s where our customers engaged us. We used free apps (Tweetdeck, Boxcar, Tweetie, etc.) for monitoring mentions. Our sole reason for being there was to help our customers. No one required social metrics and we never tried to figure out the dollar value of a follower – we didn’t care (and still don’t). Our strategy was simple, but firm: Be Helpful. Whatever we did in social media, it needed to be helpful to our audience or we wouldn’t do it.
Many thousands of customer mentions later, our team had grown in headcount and we found ourselves crazy busy. We were also uncoordinated. We gave our best efforts to stay in sync with each other, but embarrassing double-replies happened too often and we wasted time chasing down customer issues that someone else on the team had already resolved. We tried to keep track of social mentions and all the pieces of work that they resulted in, but without any real process or system to tie it all together, we were just too inefficient and the workload wasn’t scaling well.
We had far outgrown our free tools. The different push notifications apps we went through on our mobiles ultimately couldn’t keep up with our traffic so we missed a lot of mentions. On the desktop, we didn’t have a way to keep track of who we were talking to. Someone would tweet, and if we recognized them, we might remember what we were talking about last time, but we almost never remembered their account information. We needed a social engagement tool for customer service.
With a budget in-hand, we started an incredibly frustrating search for the perfect social tool for our support work. We demoed and tested everything. When we realized there wasn’t just one tool that could do it all, we worked to combine multiple tools. But that started becoming too complex and no two apps really worked well together. We spoke with seemingly hundreds of sales teams and learned about everything from sentiment algorithms to multi-social-channel engagement reporting. We couldn’t find anything we were really happy with.
The problem wasn’t the lack of good social engagement tools – there were many out there (even more today). The issue was every tool we found was designed for marketing purposes – not customer service, which is still very much the same today. From the built-in metric reports to the engagement features, it was obvious the creators were selling to a marketing crowd (most stated that directly), not to a customer service team.
Eventually, we concluded we could either try and force marketing tools to work for customer service and just deal with their inadequacies, or we could build our own tool and design it specifically for our support needs. We referred back to our strategy: Be Helpful. We started building our own tool.
We started building our tool for us. Only us. We built it, refusing to accept that the only way businesses should interact with their customers in social media is through the lens of a marketing campaign. That said, to say that our tool had a well thought out plan or design at the beginning would be misleading. All we really knew is that we wanted to be able to help customers without stepping on each other’s toes, and we wanted something that would help us support a customer faster.
So, we started with a stream of tweets containing the keywords and phrases we cared about. As we watched tweets fly down the page, we would say, “Wouldn’t it be cool if we could do this…?” or “I wish we could see this…” or “We need a better way to…” and so on. Our tool slowly began to take shape as a result of every interaction we had with a customer.
About two years of slow development later, we had built a tool unlike anything else on the market, along with an iOS app with push notifications. We came up with ways to provide immediate context to the person monitoring Twitter traffic. Notes on what we discussed in the past now immediately appear when a customer tweets. Twitter handles are linked to customer numbers in our CRM for quick reference. Visual cues prevent double replies keeping our team in sync. No more waiting for batches of tweets to appear and be dealt with all at once – it streams in real-time. We discovered a reliability issue with the way apps get tweets from Twitter and worked with them to build a new system that completely solves the problem. Beyond all of this, we think the best part is the API. We can push data from the app to any system and/or pull data from any system into the app. The possibilities of what we can do with customer service and social media are now completely dependent on our willingness to get it done – not on the lack of a good tool to make it work.
Here we are a few years later with a clear vision of where we’re headed with the tool and armed with the personal knowledge and experience of what it can do for customers and the businesses that serve them. Our development began with the goal of building something only for Rackspace, but that vision has changed. Many organizations have come to the same realization that we did when searching for a good social engagement tool – there are just too few options out there designed with a customer service focus. We’ve decided to share our experience with every business while offering them the opportunity to use a social engagement tool designed for a single purpose: being helpful to customers.
We call our new vision HelpSocial. We’re creating an entirely new company around it, separate from Rackspace, but born from the same Fanatical Support values and driven by our proven belief that the best business strategies are rooted in customer service.
Our development continues today and we’re looking for businesses to join us in our early access program. That program is available now at https://www.helpsocial.com/. We think you’ll like where we’re headed, and we’d love for you to be a part of the journey. If this sounds interesting, sign up at https://helpsocial.com and tweet us at @mwilbanks and @rcollazo. We would love to learn more about your organization’s social customer service strategy and get your thoughts on where things are headed.
We’re also going to demo the tool at SXSW from the Rackspace booth in the convention center. Here’s a link to the schedule http://bit.ly/1jImdvD. Want to meet up at SXSW for a personal look at what we’ve built? Tweet us at @HelpSocial and check us out at https://www.helpsocial.com/blog/.