We started at Rackspace Hosting when someone decided that we needed to figure out this Twitter thing. Our customers were starting to show up there and although there wasn’t a clear plan of what to do yet, it was without question that someone needed to be there to offer help if a customer requested it. Fast forward a few years, and “figuring out this Twitter thing” had turned into the Rackspace Social Media team which had grown to 4 people, all of which were responsible for providing Fanatical Support to anyone mentioning our name online.
The unique thing about our team was that no one was from the marketing department. We were all technical people with the simple desire to help customers when they needed it. We didn’t care about how many Likes we got on our Facebook page or how often someone retweeted our latest blog post or any of the other engagement metrics out there. In fact, on many occasions, when pressed for metrics on how we judged the success or failure of our team, our Director, Rob La Gesse (@kr8tr), would simply say, “The only metric we care about is the number of customer smiles we can create every day.” He would follow that by explaining how our entire strategy for social media was exactly two words: “Be Helpful.” If it wasn’t helpful to someone following us, we wouldn’t do it. Customer service, being helpful, was the one and only focus.
During this time frame, businesses were starting to understand the huge value of marketing in social media and everyone was trying to figure out how to make it work. This lead to a boom of social media engagement applications designed for marketing teams to push their messages and engage with users. Our social media team continued to add people as more customers became active and soon it became very apparent that we needed a better set of tools to function as a team. So, we set out on a course to choose a social engagement tool that would make it easier to stay coordinated while providing fast support for our customers.
Like most social media teams operating today, we tried using just about every engagement tool out there. We demoed new tools constantly for more than a year and then we worked on ideas of combining multiple tools together when we realized there wasn’t just one tool that would do it all. We spoke with what seemed like hundreds of sales teams and learned about everything from sentiment algorithms to multi-social-channel engagement reporting. We just couldn’t find anything that did the job of customer service well, or that would make us a better support team.
The problem wasn’t the lack of good engagement tools – there were many out there (even more today). The issue was that every tool we found was designed for marketing purposes – not customer service, which is still very much the same today. From the built in reporting to the engagement features, it was obvious that the developers were selling to a marketing crowd, not a customer service team. Eventually, our conclusion was that we could either try and force some marketing tools to work for customer service and hope something better would come along later, or we could try to build our own tool and design it specifically for our social customer support needs. As is the typical choice of a team of engineers at Rackspace, we chose to go the latter route and build our own.
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 very 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 all the keywords and phrases we cared about. As we watched the 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 information…” or “We need a better way to do…” and so on and so on. Our tool slowly began to take shape based on every interaction we had with a customer.
Our development of the tool was slow going and our team was quickly getting larger and busier. Periodically, we would reach out to see if there was anything new that we could just buy and start using right then. Each time, we were drawn back to our own code that was slowly taking shape.
After many months of playing around with the code, we finally got serious about where we were headed with the tool. We started discussing the development strategy, which pieces were a higher priority than others, system stability, bug tracking, analytics and reporting. Before we long, we were working on an API, had a prioritized list of features to be built, were receiving push notifications on our iOS app and had a new vision for social customer service at Rackspace.
So, here we are a few years later with a clear vision of where we’re headed with the tool, armed with the personal knowledge and experience of what it means for customers and for 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 our team did when searching for a good social customer care tool – there are just too few options out there designed with a customer service focus. We’ve decided to continue the development of our tool with a goal of sharing our experience with every business and offer the opportunity to use a social engagement app that’s designed for a single purpose: being helpful to customers.
We’re calling our new vision HelpSocial. We’re creating an entirely new organization separate from Rackspace, but born from the same Fanatical Support culture and driven by our proven belief that the best business strategies are rooted in customer support.
Our development continues today and we’re looking for some businesses to give us a little feedback. Early access to review the platform is available now. 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, head over to helpsocial.com and click the sign up link. We’re excited about the opportunity ahead and can’t wait to start helping other businesses with their own social customer service strategies.