As Autodesk’s social media strategist, Jerome Pineau is no stranger to the inner workings of Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and the like — he leads the 3D design software maker’s efforts on all social channels. But why is social media so critical to the success of Autodesk and its service department? We spoke with Pineau about the use cases, benefits and future of social media in relation to service organizations.

Why would a service firm want to turn to social media? Isn’t it all just a big distraction from what’s actually important?

It depends how you define what’s actually “important.” If customers are important, well they’re all on social media channels already talking with other brands and more importantly, amongst themselves. And this is where buying decisions and recommendations are made today. So in that sense, social is not a distraction. Rather, it is the quintessential place to be if a business wants to listen and engage with its customers.

What benefits does social media offer a service organization?

An immediate one is a real-time pulse on customer satisfaction and sentiment, which are critical to a service firm due to high competitive pressures. Second, social can be used to schedule assistance in real time. And speed is key in this business. Third, social can help keep customers informed in real time on a service call – and live information is crucial to managing service expectations. Last but not least, social can be used to share valuable content and information with customers outside the immediate transactional context. Providing information that really improves customer lives, which is the new frontier for marketing.

Does it make sense for any business, small or large, to employ social channels for customer service? 

The answer to that question is simple. If your customers are present and active on social media networks, then of course it makes sense. Because those are the touchpoints you need to be active and attentive on. Because that’s where your customers live. It doesn’t matter what the size of the business is. Any size business must be where its customers are evolving, speaking, opinionating and exchanging information.

How is Autodesk using social channels to connect, engage with and respond to customers?

For customer service and support, my area of expertise, we have a three-pronged strategic approach to social media. The key drivers for us are external social channels, owned support communities, and content. We use social channels primarily for three things: real-time support, support content amplification to scale support to hundreds of millions, and to drive customers to their best support options, the top one being our extensive peer-to-peer community.

Any tips or best practices for service folks thinking about, or just starting to use, social media for their business?

Think customer first. Then business goals. And hire and train the right people. Look internally first. Your best social champs are likely people already deeply embedded in your organization. Do your homework, and listen on the networks carefully. Don’t assume it’s going to be cheap. Remember that the holy grail is about building a social business and not just “doing” social. And always secure executive support with good business cases and metrics.

What’s the future hold for social media as it relates to customer service?

We’ve moved from experimental to a “race to the top” and best practice modality in social for large corporate entities. It’s no longer an “if” question but a “how” one. Marketing, customer service, PR, HR, all these business units are now social. It’s important not to focus on social as a conduit for “complaints” – it is that, as well, but in fact so much more. Because it is how people communicate nowadays. And the bandwidth and opportunity for the service businesses is way larger than just “fielding complaints.” That’s just one part of it. It’s about building relationships and trust. No one knows what the future holds. But the present for social service is well established now.