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The Challenge of Social Media and Customer Service

16 April 2012COMMENTS

Having recently purchased home insurance with an online only insurance company (so all aspects of customer service are dealt with online), I thought my first blog post for Acknowledgement could explore social media customer service.

The great advantage of choosing an insurance company who run all their operations online is the low cost of the policy. The disadvantages? I don’t have a call centre on hand for my queries and complaints.  However as someone who spends practically every evening online and who has experienced one too many frustrating dealings with call centres, this trade off was an easy one.

Companies who offer their customer service experience solely through an online platform will surely attract a customer base made up of individuals who are confident and frequent web users. They are also likely to be an audience that expect brands to be responsive (in a short amount of time), engaging and helpful. This type of customer is set to grow - 20% of customers use social media to make complaints, and this figure increses to 36% for under 25 year olds. Yet Carolyn Blunt (Principle Consultant for Real Results Training) points out that the majority of social media customer service and monitoring is not handled in customer service and call centres, but is instead the responsibility of many of the PR and Marketing functions. Carolyn argues that as customers increasingly turn to social media to deal with queries, staff will have to be skilled and trained in this channel. The social media channel should therefore be deployed in a bigger way throughout the business and not just by marketing and PR teams.

For me, requesting help from my insurance company through a generic form on their website won't engage and pacify me in the same way that a direct and potentially instantaneous exchange via their Twitter account could do! Especially if they are able to show some personality and take ‘going the extra mile’ online (a nice example by Four Seasons). Offering little perks and personalised experiences can not only help a brand develop a personality online, but it can also instill loyalty as well as encourage customers to publicise their appreciation.

Whilst many companies are certainly embracing social media in this way, a recent study by Maritz Research claimed brands are failing to maximise the potential of social media channels. 85% of those surveyed had never been contacted by a brand after leaving positive or negative comments about it online.

Could it be effective for companies with solely online service propositions to champion their individual customer service employees on the online platform - presenting them as individuals rather than (at least initially) an anonymous assistant behind a generic email address or query form?

The advantages include the visibility and share-ability opportunities this present, for example Tweeting ‘Thanks for the rapid and great customer service John @BRANDNAME’.

Blackberry Twitter Page

Blackberry's Twitter Page

Blackberry offer support to their 75 million customers through a dedicated customer service presence at @BlackBerryHelp and have over 750,000+ followers. The account includes photos of the individuals advising and offering support on the account. They also offer private support through direct mail, whilst this doesn’t offer the visibility of a public tweet, the customer benefits to talking to one identified individual - as Vikki Chowney points out in her Econsultancy article, it’s personal.

Of course, a proportion of queries are too complex or sensitive to be dealt with online. There are also other considerations - a recent article on Econsultancy listed the 10 significant barriers to the adoption and effective use of social media for customer service, including the different type of training that is required for customer service staff working in the public environment that social media presents.  Luke Brynley-Jones, founder of Our Social Times, suspects the reluctance by companies to fully embrace social media as a customer service channel may be driven by a fear that simply by offering this channel to customers, they will attract thousands of queries and complaints. He argues that brands are making a mistake in doing so as regardless of this customers expect brands to be responsive, quoting an Immediate Futures paper on the business case for social media customer service  “In this multichannel world [customers] expect more support through channels that are convenient to them, not you”.

This last point is key, I increasingly feel frustrated by customer service response times that are anything but almost instantaneous- my expectations have been changed by social media. Whilst some companies have risen to meet these expectations many have not to the degree they could.



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Polon posted 19th April 2012
The Four Seasons example is incredible - I've never experienced customer service quite that good!

Our local train company, London Midland, has won an award for its use of social media for customer services. They do seem helpful, but for me it's the way they do it that really stands out. Their voice is genuinely human with a good sense of humour (you can see one example that caught my eye here:

Train companies don't exactly have a fantastic reputation for responsive customer service. So if they can use social media to do it better, surely more businesses could do the same?


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