Social media is making the rounds through functional areas of companies.  Companies tweet HR updates to their employees, they send sales promotions to mobile devices, and they attempt to promote products via viral marketing on YouTube.  Despite publicity to the contrary, customer service is one area that should be left out of the maelstrom.

Using social media for some aspects of customer service is a train wreck waiting to happen because:

  • Social media is too broad and not targeted. Consumers who tweet complaints aren’t even complaining to the right people.  Their complaints bounce around the Twittersphere to their followers.  (I’ll bet there are a lot of readers who are unfamiliar with the Twittersphere because, let’s face it, if NASA couldn’t find it, how can we expect the public to know its whereabouts?  Novices should link here to learn more.)  Social media, like other forms of media, focuses on bad news.  After a while the issue becomes one of noise and perception.  Can your team answer each derogatory tweet one for one?  Retractions or corrections are given very little air time.  Do the people who trash you in public also praise you in public?  And even if they do, are those words likely to be spread around as much as the negatives?
  • Social media sets unrealistic expectations around speed and quality. Would customers like being supported via social media?  Possibly.  After all, the support is faster.  But the cost required to respond to each tweet would overwhelm the profitability of any business.  All you’d need was one dagger from a pseudo-celebrity and the resulting storm could swamp a company.  And just because the medium is fast doesn’t make it valuable.  Customers are already trained to use existing methods like email and phone calls.  Consumers have expectations around how quickly someone will answer their question, or refund their money, or assist them as they purchase a product.  Becoming fast is an admirable goal, but one that comes at too steep a cost.

Despite these objections (which I classify as the wrong tool for the job) social media can help in customer service:

  • Spotting Trends. Are there particular products or services that receive negative “press”?  My same comment about H-P printer cartridges, when gropued with other similar complaints is a good way for the company to distinguish between a systemic problem and a peeved customer.
  • Seeking Input on a Topic and Creating Communities of Interest. Where should we open our next store?  Opening a dialogue to get customers feedback is a valuable way to make smarter investments.  After all, a customer willing to pay for a feature is perfect market research.  One of the more noteworthy communities in the last 12 months has been the fund-raising efforts for Haitian disaster relief.

The pivot point is to ignore specific complaints and instead align your social media customer support strategy to spotting trends and open avenues of dialogue/discourse.  Then make course corrections to smooth the bumpy aspects of your products/services.

What role should social media play in customer service?

Social Media and Customer Service – Danger Ahead
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