We’re constantly inspired by London’s entrepreneurs, who are transforming the city into a cutting-edge business hub. In our latest entrepreneur interview, we sat down with Josh March, the co-founder and CEO of Conversocial. Read on to find out more.
A customer service-based platform designed to help businesses interact with consumers on social media channels, Conversocial is a brilliant new tool for companies. We caught up with Josh to discuss Conversocial’s history, what it’s like to be a young CEO, and his three favourite East End spots.
You started iPlatform and then Conversocial when you were in the beginning stages of your career. What’s it like being a young CEO? Have there been any unique challenges?
I actually started my first company before then, while still at university. I failed, and made a lot of painful mistakes - which actually helped me phenomenally when it came to launching iPlatform and then Conversocial. Most start-ups are trying to do something new - a new product, a new market, a new type of customer. So approaching it with completely fresh eyes can be extremely useful. But I've definitely learned the value of experience, and now benefit hugely from surrounding myself with smart advisors, an experienced board, and talented staff and management.
What was it about social media that first inspired you to work within the industry, first with iPlatform and then with Conversocial?
After failing at my first business (which was in e-commerce), I became extremely interested in online marketing, and spent all of my hours studying it. When Facebook launched their application platform in 2007, I was hugely excited by the potential for brands to start engaging with their customers through social networks in a way that had never been possible before, and immediately delved into the world of social apps - leading quickly to the launch of iPlatform, which became the first official preferred developer for Facebook in the UK, delivering Facebook applications for hundreds of major brands and agencies.
However, I always believed that social was more important than just individual marketing campaigns and applications. I saw that communication was moving away from anonymous, private, 1-to-1 channels (from a phone or desktop computer) toward public, social channels, that are linked to real identity, and always on (and in your pocket). I realized that this shift was fundamentally going to change how companies were communicating with their customers - and that this shift would forever change the face of customer service. This belief led me to launch Conversocial as a software platform to help companies establish social media as an official customer service channel.
What do you think lies at the heart of good customer service?
Good customer service is always putting the customer first. Your customers will be happy when you genuinely care and take the time to help them. It shouldn't be a burden to help your customers - you want to provide them with the help they need, to not only continue supporting your brand, but also to actually enjoy their experience.
Good customer service is all about recognizing the needs of your customer and doing everything you can to meet them, as transparently as possible. Ideally this would mean preventing issues before they even come up. But it also means meeting your customer at their point of need when inevitable issues arise - so if someone is tweeting for help, you should be resolving the issue and tweeting them back, not asking them to call customer service or email someone else.
You’ve attracted some really high-level brands to Conversocial, including everyone from Barclaycard and Tesco to Ben Sherman and Hertz. What’s the number one concern your clients have when it comes to social media interactions?
Social media is now at the stage where ignoring a customer who is tweeting at you or writing on your Facebook page is like ignoring a phone call. It will seriously upset the customer - but in a public sphere, with the world watching. Publicly upsetting your customers can cause major brand damage, whereas helping them quickly and effectively can create brand advocates, with huge benefits. Our customers have all realized that delivering the best possible social customer service they can is best for them as well as their customers.
Beyond Facebook and Twitter, do you envisage Conversocial expanding into burgeoning social networks, like Instagram and Pinterest? Or is it less applicable on those platforms?
The vast majority of social customer service issues and conversational engagement with companies is happening on Facebook and Twitter— it's the natural place for a customer to reach out to a brand. That said, we’re constantly monitoring potential use cases on other networks, some of which we plan to announce in the near future.
Indulge us with some trend forecasting. How do you think both consumers and businesses will be using social media in five years’ time?
In five years time, you might have changed your phone number. You could have moved house. Your email might be different. But you'll almost certainly have the exact same Facebook ID (which stays the same even if you change your name). This always on, real identity will form the backbone of how you interact with businesses online, and even in real life. For example, e-commerce websites will recognize you straight away as you; and if you walk into a store from the same brand they'll be able to recognize you from Facebook on your phone and give you the same personalized service. The rise of wearable computing will also push social communication more and more into the background - sharing photos, interacting with your friends, and interacting with businesses will all become more automated, and more streamlined.
You work between Conversocial’s New York and London offices. Do you spend equal time in both cities? What do you miss about London when you’re away – any favourite restaurants, museums or other venues?
I spent a long time doing half/half (two weeks in New York, two weeks in London). I am now primarily in New York, but still get back to London a few days a month. I miss strolling down the Southbank on a Sunday. And then popping into the Tate Modern. And I miss how happy everyone gets when the sun (finally) shines.
What is it about London that makes the city a hospitable environment for entrepreneurs? Is there anything the capital needs to improve on?
The tech community in London has evolved phenomenally in the past six years. When I first came to London there was just the embryo of an ecosystem, which has now blossomed. The government's EIS and Seed EIS schemes have caused a huge increase in early stage angel funding, and the backing the government, press and major corporations have put behind Tech City have had practical benefits in terms of making more people consider start-ups a serious career route, increasing the talent pool and making hiring easier. London's also a great hub - there's investors, proximity to great universities, easy access to Europe, and a similar language and culture to the US.
What are your favourite daytrips to take outside of London? Give us your dream itinerary.
Getting down to Brighton to see the sea is always a great trip. [See our blog post on a Brighton getaway.] It's close enough to pop down in the morning, have a great day out, eat at one of the many interesting restaurants down there and be back in the evening. Otherwise, if I'm leaving London I'll usually make a whole weekend of it!
Conversocial’s London offices are located near to Old Street. It’s quite the nexus for London tech companies. What are some of your favourite neighbourhood highlights?
Ozone on Leonard Street does great hot chocolates - try the chilli one. I bump into someone from the tech community there every time. Shoreditch House is one of the best places to hang out in London. And now the Ace Hotel - one of the coolest hotels in NYC - is opening on Shoreditch High St. Shoreditch is a great draw for young people who'd rather work and live somewhere fun than out in some dreary corporate office park.
Over to you - have you used Conversocial, or a similar social media tool? What are your predictions for social media in 5 years' time?
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