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The rise of the social customer - will 2012 be the year of the social company?

31 Jan 2012

  • The social customer expects to engage online and not sit in a call centre queue
  • Social companies are empowering their staff to interact with customers online
  • Social customers can help companies increase their profits 

The modern social customer has little time or respect for traditional company structures and expects to interact with brands on their own terms on through their favoured platforms, according to new research published today. 

According to the new report, "The Future of Customer Service", commissioned by one of

the pioneers in the social arena for financial services, first direct , and authored by social media consultancy ItsOpen, 2011 was the tipping point where social media entered the main stream. Today's customer expects to be heard and respected by companies when they post about them online; they expect to be able to interact with companies via their smartphones and tablet computers; and most of all they expect a swift response. 

In essence, the social customer expects to interact with a company through a channel he or she chooses. Successful social companies need to be able to engage in their customers' conversations online.  The model of expecting someone to sit and listen to hold music on the phone while they wait to speak to your customer services team is starting to look outdated. 

The rise of the social customer has prompted the growth of the social company - the company that listens to its customers, interacts with them and asks them to contribute to and collaborate in future developments. The pioneer social companies are already seeing that the social customer is helping them to improve the bottom line. 

Arguably the pioneers of true modern day customer service following their launch 22 years ago, first direct , have started on the road to embracing the social customer. 

Natalie Cowen, Head of brand and communications at first direct , said: "We started to recognise some time ago that the tide was turning and a customer service revolution was taking place this time in social media.  Our early response was to introduce Talking Point and became the first bank to give customers their chance to say, live and unedited, how they felt about the bank.  

'This was swiftly followed with the launch of the firstdirect Lab, another first in the financial world and where crowd sourcing enables customers and prospects alike the opportunity to craft and tweak the banks products and services.  More recently our launch of firstdirecthelp@twitter truly sets us on the path of customer service in the social environment. 

'Whilst it has been a long and often difficult journey to get to where we are, it's fantastic to see the personality of first direct , and the essence of our service success, coming to life in the digital space." 

Justin Hunt, Founder of ItsOpen, said: "This report confirms what we have been hearing anecdotally over the last few months; the days of holding for ages to talk to a call centre adviser who can't make a decision are about to be left behind. Customers now expect to be interacting and collaborating online with the brands they choose to do business with. 

"2012 looks set to be the year of the social customer. It is up to companies to catch up, engage with these valuable brand advocates and make the most of the opportunities offered by social media. Companies are finally moving on from 20th century models of customer service" 

Dr Andrew Currah, the report's author, said: "There are some hurdles that companies need to overcome before they can start to make the most of the new breed of social customer. Company executives must embrace the potential of digital communication - social media isn't just something their children engage with. 

"When social media permeates an organisation and moves beyond the 'silos' that many companies put it in, it allows the social company to deliver high quality customer service and compelling products based on the insights its customers provide. Simply leaving social media to the PR or marketing department will never allow a company to engage in online customer conversations, react to issues and eventually turn customer relations channels into revenue earners in the way that the pioneer social companies already do. 

"Zappos, O2 and Tesco and first direct are blazing a trail. They are companies that understand the shift that social media has brought about and have redesigned their corporate structures to allow their customers to interact and engage through the channels that suit them." 

Importantly, the report also highlights the ways that newly social companies are reaping the financial benefits:

  • Customers who are 'served' online are far less likely to make use of expensive telephone-based customer service channels.
  • Companies that have opened up fully to social media have made customer data available to all relevant internal agents - making the resolution of customer enquiries less labour intensive and increasing opportunities for cross selling.
  • By fostering their own online communities, companies are able to encourage their customers to resolve each other's queries - eventually allowing the forward thinking company to reduce its own customer service presence.


- ENDS -


Media Contacts 

Media Contacts

For first direct :

Amanda Brown 01132766700

For ItsOpen:

Ben Davies     0845 0542299   


Notes to Editors

The new report, "The Future of Customer: The Rise of the Social Customer", written by Dr Andrew Currah on behalf of first direct and ItsOpen, is attached at the bottom of this release. 

Audio interviews with Natalie Cowen, Head of brand and communications at first direct , and Dr Andrew Currah, discussing the report's main findings and the implications for businesses can be downloaded from 

Andrew Currah, the report's author, Justin Hunt, the founder of ItsOpen and Lars Guthorm Kavli, the report's lead editor and partner at ItsOpen are all available for telephone interview on Tuesday 31 January. 

About first direct

first direct is recognised as one of the more advanced banks in the social customer revolution. As well as its Facebook page, first direct uses social media to engage with customers through sites like YouTube, Twitter and Flickr.  The bank has recently launched firstdirecthelp@twitter as an extension to it is customer service offering. The company has an award winning social media newsroom, its own customer social network, Little Black Book, and has won awards for individual social media campaigns such as 'Live', a campaign that aggregated what people were saying about the bank online.

About ItsOpen

ItsOpen is a strategic social media agency which helps you protect and build your organisation's reputation online.

The ItsOpen team includes online specialists, former new media journalists, PR professionals, internal comms managers, and analyst relations managers.

ItsOpen also runs The Social Media Leadership Forum which provides a platform for leading organisations to share case studies and insights into how they can best protect and build their reputations online.


About Dr Andrew Currah

Andrew is a technology and strategy consultant, photographer and former Oxford University lecturer. He is an award winning research analyst, best known for his work in digital media and the motion picture industry. He holds a first class BA (Hons), MPhil and PhD from the University of Cambridge.


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