Customer services on social media – 5 challenges for local government to overcome in 2017 (and what to do next)

I can remember going to ask my Chief Executive if it was OK to create our first ever organisational Twitter account. It was 2008.

Now it’s fair to say that he wasn’t blown away with the prospect when I explained what Twitter was. Remember, this was 2008 and organisational Twitter accounts in the public sector were few and far between.

After a 15 minute chat I had been given the green light to proceed (although I was told that “if it went wrong it would be on me”) But credit to him for saying yes.

Local government has come a long way since then and many, many councils have sought to better engage with residents via social media. There has probably been more innovation by councils in this particular area of communications than any other in the past few years. There are some exemplar councils and individual accounts out there now and I think local government deserves credit for its innovation and experimentation here.

But yes, you guessed it, there is a *but* coming…

The *but* is this. Customer service demand on social media has been growing each year since yet the majority of local councils have not embedded social media into their main CRM solutions.

Why is this an issue?

It’s an issue for three reasons:

  1. If managed well, customer services on social media could help to reduce call centre volumes for inbound calls. That’s a potential win right there.
  2. If calls can be reduced by the smart use of social media then financial savings may be possible to achieve.
  3. Social media can provide a quicker solution for residents – and, importantly – on the channels they have chosen to contact you on

I have carried out strategic social media reviews of 15 local authorities now. It’s been fascinating work and I have been fortunate to get a birds-eye’s view of what happens across an organisation’s social media accounts, and shape resultant strategies for maximising benefits and returns on investment.

Many trends have emerged from this work but one of the things I have observed is that around half of the enquiries coming into councils on Twitter and Facebook are actually customer service enquiries.

It goes without saying that the very best people to deal with such enquiries are customer services. But these teams need the tools and technology to support them, and, in some cases, the training to use social media effectively too. In-house comms teams should be well placed to help with this training. It’s access to the tools and the tech which concerns me more.

Meeting of young business people in a modern office - Start up company, workers brainstorming

The five biggest challenges to local government using social media for effective customer services engagement

New industry research just released highlights the following:

  1. Demand is growing – inbound social media messages are up 78% in the past 12 months.
  2. The tech isn’t in place – 93% of local councils do not have their social media channels integrated into their main CRM platforms.
  3. Live chat can help – but 73% of councils don’t yet have it.
  4. Who has a handle on the metrics? Email is an important part of the customer services solution, yet 56% of surveyed councils didn’t know if their email enquiries from customers had increased in the past 12 months.
  5. Culture and investment are the two biggest barriers to reaching digital maturity.

The good news is that 64% of respondents said that their organisation’s investment in digital had increased – and 81% of them said that this investment has delivered positive outcomes in terms of transformation.

So getting the organisation in the right headspace for digital transformation is key, both in terms of understanding the cultural issues and finding ways to invest in digital.

Those local authorities who are doing this are taking a real lead on good practice use of social media to engage with their customers and help them use services better.

So we know the challenges – what are the solutions?

Each local authority is different in terms of its internal customer relationship management processes for managing incoming enquiries through telephone, email and face-to-face.

Many CRM solutions were procured at a time when social media wasn’t such a presence in the communications and engagement landscape. And whilst social media hasn’t become the number one preferred method for customer enquiries yet, its reach and use has grown to a point where organisations now need to more proactively manage the demand, the same as they do for other customer contact channels.

As is usually the case, one size fits all doesn’t work here. It’s important to understand what’s underneath the bonnet of each organisation in terms of dealing with their customers well.

council contact centre

What is clear, though, is that every council needs to map their work in this area and decide how best they will deliver this in the coming years because for sure we can expect customer demand for knowledge, information and help via social media to grow. And at a time of continued austerity in the sector that really is a challenge.

Close collaboration between customer services and communications teams, good use of available platforms and data, and the effective management of all organisational accounts is the secret to local authorities pulling this off.

Some questions to ask yourself…

Let’s assume that you’re a medium sized council running 30-40 social media accounts.

  • How are you ensuring that all of your customer services enquiries are being spotted?
  • Are you monitoring all of your social media accounts?
  • How quickly are you responding to customer enquiries here?
  • Do you have access to all of your account passwords to respond and help?
  • How many questions do your social media accounts receive in a week?
  • What are the most common issues and questions being asked?
  • Is the demand increasing? How has this changed over the past 12 months?

Councils have to find effective ways of managing this demand and provide a more professional service and offer across their accounts.

Using a social media management and monitoring platform can help. Some of these management platforms are beginning to offer new functionality which will allow organisations to embed, say Twitter, into their existing, internal CRM solutions. Now that’s a real step forward.

What should I do next?

This issue isn’t going to go away so now’s the time to agree your approach and tactics.

Click the image below and download the latest research, which will help establish where you sit on this digital journey, as well as signposting your next social media steps to engage more effectively with your customers in the future.

local government social media customer service


local government customer services social mediaAbout the Writer:
Darren Caveney is creator of comms2point0 and owner of creative communicators ltd. His 20-year career in communications marketing and PR includes 10 years as Head of Communications within local government, a director level role in the NHS and five years in private sector marketing. A multiple award-winner, and named in the prestigious ‘Digital Leaders 100’ in both 2014 and 2016, he hosts events across the UK, Europe and the Middle East, on integrating social media for business, building communications and engagement strategies, and communicating in a digital world.

If you’d like to connect on LinkedIn click here, or follow him on Twitter here.