Customer service takes a leap into social media through In the Chat

The next time a customer complains about poor service and then takes to Twitter to broadcast that complaint to the world, there may be a way to answer that issue quickly and resolve it – and do that outside the call centre.

Waterloo-based startup In The Chat Communications Inc. launched a new cloud-based platform today called ITC Express, designed to connect customers using Twitter with businesses who are monitoring their tweets. The platform searches for particular phrases through data analytics and text mining, giving businesses access to relevant social media posts that users have made publicly available. So far, the platform only works with Twitter.

This is In the Chat’s third user interface designed to help businesses link up with customers online, but it is the first one aimed at small to mid-sized businesses (SMBs).

While monitoring social media networks typically seems like a mainstay of the marketing department, ITC Express is mostly concerned with customer relationship management (customer relationship management), says John Huehn, the founder and CEO of In the Chat.

John Huehn, founder and CEO of In the Chat.
John Huehn, founder and CEO of In the Chat.

“I think [social media] is a brand-new communications channel for people to be able to share their thoughts and opinions,” he says, adding that nowadays, social media isn’t just the province of marketing, but also a great tool for CRM.

“We position ourselves very much as being a customer service solution or sales and service solution … What we actually have is real-live people at the other end of these systems and reaching out to consumers.”

For example, employees at Business X can buy access to a certain type of tweet from In the Chat, like tweets mentioning their business’ name. That way, they can monitor what people are saying about them on Twitter and respond to any customer queries or concerns, tweet by tweet.

But they can also subscribe to tweets about competitors. For example, if employees of Business X buy the ability to see tweets mentioning Business Y, they can see when Twitter users are complaining about the shoddy service they’ve received at Y. Then it’s up to Business X to swoop in, tweet at the user, and offer a similar service or a connection to a sales representative or customer service agent.

From the time a user tweets a complaint, to the time it takes for a customer service agent to act on the tweet, the whole process can take under two minutes, Huehn says.

And while not every Twitter user actually wants to talk with a customer service representative, many businesses are pleasantly surprised to see how many are willing to engage, he adds.

ITC Express' engagement platform.
ITC Express’ engagement platform.

While ITC Express only launched today, In the Chat rolled out a similar product aimed at enterprise six months ago. Their customers reported seeing about 60 per cent of Twitter users willing to hear about alternative services after venting online.

Pricing for ITC Express starts at $350 a month per brand-stream, meaning it is around $350 for access to tweets around a specific term, like the name of a business.

For SMBs looking for a way to interact with customers online, this also gives them a chance to level the playing field and compete with bigger companies, says Garrett Taylor, vice-president of sales and marketing for In the Chat.

“SMBs tend to have fewer people and financial resources. They don’t need a lot of people to manually go along these social posts, because we’re doing that for them,” he says. “They can offer alternatives that these consumers wouldn’t have found … We’re giving them a tool to compete with the Goliaths of the world.”

Ultimately, Huehn says he sees this kind of customer interaction as becoming the norm, rather than something unusual and more limited to the sidelines of social media.

For 12 years, he worked at Rogers Communications, starting as a frontline customer service representative and then moving up the ladder to become its vice-president of customer support. When he finally left the company in 2010 to build his startup, he says he knew right away that in the landscape of customer service, social media was the space to be watching.

In the future, Huehn envisions a customer service-oriented world where tech-savvy users can turn to social media to make customer complaints, and then allow companies to take over from there.

“When I launched In The Chat, I had a daughter who was three. She had more apps on my wife’s iPhone than my wife did,” he says. “So it’s very clear to me that this wasn’t going to be a kid who was going to grow up, get home from her job at six, seven, eight o’clock at night and wait half an hour on the phone for someone to try to take care of her problem. She wants to get her problem out into the world and make it truly the company’s problem, not hers.

“In traditional channels, the problem is yours as the consumer’s. I have a problem, I have to wait here until someone responds to me. Now with social media, I put it out to the world, and it’s the company’s problem if they want to keep my business.”

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Candice So
Candice So
Candice is a graduate of Carleton University and has worked in several newsrooms as a freelance reporter and intern, including the Edmonton Journal, the Ottawa Citizen, the Globe and Mail, and the Windsor Star. Candice is a dog lover and a coffee drinker.

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