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Social Media Isn’t the Place for Customer Service

Twitter and Facebook have their place. It’s just not in your customer-service strategy.
COLLABORATORS PV Kannan, Cynthia Boris
Social media customer service
photo by Brian Kopp

“There is actually no proof customers want to engage through social media; it’s just that existing channels suck.”

That’s the finding of customer-interaction monitoring firm [24]7, as relayed by CEO PV Kannan to ZDNet. And it runs right in line with data released earlier this year by Twitter, that shows customer service ranks dead last among the reasons consumers follow brands.

Questions also linger about whether social media service is effective. A study, cited by consultant Cynthia Boris (@Cynthialil) on the Marketing Pilgrim blog, shows that only 13 percent of Twitter messages from brand’s followers ever get a response, and even when companies do reply 37 percent take up to 10 hours in the process.

Boris sums up the problem with social customer service:

“[Companies] say they do it because it benefits their customers, but to me it always feels like a PR moment,” she writes. “HandyDandy tweets that his cable is out. The cable company responds moments later, saying they’re actively working on the problem and the whole world can see the exchange. . . .

“There’s really only one response to a problem: ‘We’ll look into it.’ Companies can’t do much more than that in public. They can’t solve your outage, refund your money, or track a missing package unless the consumer forwards more information through a private channel.”

So, if social media — a place with unprecedented capacity for consumer and brand interaction — isn’t fit for customer service, what is?

Customer service is an investment that growing companies are often loathe to make. Indeed, recent data shows that few companies have any interest in spending money to improve their systems. That’s despite two-thirds of customers saying they would pay more for better customer service.

Pointing to his firm’s finding that customers turn to social media for service as a last resort, Kannan (@pvkannan), suggests perfecting the basics first, at least before trying to supplement them with social media. That means establishing efficient and effective online portals and call centers — exactly the kinds of expenditures you probably hoped social media would render unnecessary.

But customer service on any platform is an investment of time and effort. Just ask Charter, the fourth-largest cable operator in the United States, which no longer addresses customer-service issues over social media. And a Wegmans grocery store in Northborough, Mass., shut down its local Facebook page because staff felt stretched too thin to respond to customer- service inquiries from its 8,000 fans.

While the Wegman’s example may take things a step too far — the benefits of social media extend well beyond a company’s ability to respond to customer service inquiries — the point stands that customer service wasn’t made any easier by social media in either example.

And when you consider that consumers aren’t really interested in getting help via social media in the first place, directing your customer- service energies elsewhere may be the wiser bet.

#buildservice

THE PLUS

So, if Twitter followers aren’t following brands for customer service, what are their primary interests? The same sorts of things that have driven marketing forever, it turns out. According to the company’s data, the No. 1 and 2 reasons are: “to receive discounts and promotions” and “to get updates on upcoming sales.”

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Social Media Isn’t the Place for Customer Service

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