How social media customer service strategy improved British Gas customer experience

This case study outlines the social media customer service strategy developed and implemented by Outside Line for British Gas.

Executive SummaryOutside Line has worked with British Gas, the UK's leading utility provider, since 2009 to define and establish their social media presence, securing their position as the only energy company to feature in the top 100 social brands of 2010.The British Gas Facebook, Twitter, Youtube and Blog are all crucial in supporting the various areas of the vast business. They provide active customer service by allowing customers to engage in real debate around issues that matter to them, showing British Gas is a brand willing to listen to people's concerns.Background to Project/campaign2010 provided British Gas with unfamiliar territory from a public relations and customer service perspective. Increased commodity markets and shareholder pressure forced British Gas into two sensitive price announcements within 8 months. Combined with the coldest winter on record, the company had to consistently prepare for increased tension from the market. Together with extremely high pressure from the media, consumers were generating conversation and content across social networks about British Gas at higher levels than ever before. Therefore, creating the ability to react to the social conversation through social channels had become a clear objective in terms of customer service and improving brand perception using these methods of communication. Outside Line created Active Customer Service for British Gas, establishing social media as a vital tool for communicating with and responding to customers.These channels became significant avenues for consumers in terms of customer service issues and discussing the brand in general. Client ObjectivesOutside Line were given the brief of establishing social media as an active customer service tool for British Gas.In order to achieve this the agency needed to fulfil the following objectives:
  1. Establish social platforms for British Gas
  2. Integrate these platforms into the portfolio as key channels for Active Customer Service
  3. Continue to ensure that ACS is used to respond to customers as a way of controlling negative sentiment and allowing customers’ concerns to be heard
Strategy for achieving the above objectivesSocial Presence Outside Line had to first build social profile for the brand by establishing credibility through creating relevant and interesting conversation. Creating a social media strategy for the UK’s leading utility provider (with over 15 million homes), British Gas presented a range of challenges due to issues surrounding gas prices, customer service in general and the lack of positive social currency around the brand. Social media enabled us to highlight to customers the company’s commitment to sustainability, innovation, British Swimming and community projects by harnessing the significant amount of positive work and content the company has access to. We created the British Gas Newsroom to host this content, and used this as the destination to drive to from our wider social engagement on Twitter, YouTube and Facebook. Additionally, the Newsroom enables British Gas to tackle any topical issues which may affect the energy market and also the broader brand activities and values. This service has become crucial in allowing customers to engage in real debate around issues that matter to them, showing British Gas is a brand willing to listen to people’s concerns. Active Customer ServiceYear on year, since 2009, the use of social media to talk about British Gas has increased by 500%. Outside Line launched Active Customer Service to support customer service by out-reaching to genuine complaints and mentions about BG. We worked with the Customer Service team to establish Twitter as a channel, which is just as important as a call or email to the contact center. On an average day there are 300-500 tweets related to British Gas, many with negative sentiment attached. Through active out-reach British Gas are able to respond and action complaints immediately, creating a positive interaction with the company socially by generating new customer interaction.If a customer complains about an engineer being late, or having a cold shower due to a boiler issue, these people would be contacted immediately. Also, this strategy was further implemented during the winter period of 2010, considering people simply seeking advice through the channel. For example, we seeded out the ‘thawing a pipe’ video to relevant complaints on YouTube and received 45,000 views during the winter of 2010.Continuing Management of Active Customer ServiceWhenever British Gas has an increase in prices, this has a huge impact on social media. The average number of tweets increases significantly in one day and becomes a trending topic on Twitter as the news breaks. Thousands of people react to the news so we use Active Customer Service to help minimise the impact and control negative sentiment surrounding the announcement. Through Buzz Monitoring we make sure we are constantly immersed in dialogue surrounding the brand. We report and monitor conversations within blogs, mainstream news websites, forums, image/video sharing sites and Twitter focusing on key topic areas. We monitor each of these in terms of buzz (share and levels), sentiment and share of media, ensuring we have a detailed insight into general communications around the brand. ResultsWe are prepared for tackling issues as and when they arise, implementing the best possible active customer service through our management of social media channels.In the 7% price increase in November 2010 we outreached to people complaining or looking for more information about the announcement and directed them to targeted video explanations from the Managing Director of British Gas, Phil Bentley. We were able to demonstrate that British Gas was listening to its customers who were upset and confused by the information, whilst also providing additional information about the news. This outreach process allowed us to provide additional support and service to customers in a controlled environment, minimising the negative sentiment and any further damaging implications for the brand. After the coldest winter on record, British Gas announced profits of close to £1Billion pounds in February 2011. Following the price announcement only 3 months earlier, the initial reaction again produced negative sentiment and an increase in twitter producing another trending topic.Developing our Active Customer Service from December, on this occasion we performed out-reach to any constructive tweets and invited them to come and directly raise their concern for the Managing Director. Later that day Ian Peters personally answered as many questions as possible by video in the forum to explain the benefits of a profit for a British Company. BG Newsroom
  • Visits: 162,939
  • Page Views: 295,196
BG YouTube
  • Videos: 60 all directed at customer communication
  • Total Views: 297,055
  • Frozen Pipe Vid Views: 43,877 during the winter of 2010 (We seeded out the ‘thawing a pipe’ video to relevant complaints on YouTube)
BG Facebook
  • Likes: 6,909
  • Post Views: 269,774 (From Jan 2011 - to date)
Client TestimonialsLaura Price, social media manager at British Gas, has highlighted the importance of the British Gas newsroom as a tool for being transparent about complicated matters, improving customer service and turning negative responses around.“We need to be as transparent as we can be. It is not easy to understand where profit is spent and it is not easy to understand why a price rise has to happen. But this way we can respond to people in real time. We took what we learnt from the previous price rise announcement and created the platform to allow people to ask direct questions,” said Price.Online conversation spiked most when an interview was given to Sky News, highlighting the importance of Twitter as a tool for listening to customers.“On Sky News we mentioned that we still give all customers free insulation and had our biggest spike on Twitter as a result of that. This shows that all communications need to be considered in conjunction to carry on this type of approach, being pro-active and showing customers we’re open about what’s going on,” said Price.This case study was awarded a Nomination in the category of Best Social Media Customer Service Strategy at the 2011 Social Buzz Awards

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