So Why Aren't You Using Social Media for Customer Service?


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Are you trying to alienate customers, ruin your brand, and taint your reputation? If so, feel free to continue to think that marrying customer care with social media is some sort of short-lived shotgun wedding. This fad, too, will pass, right? While you may believe that your contact center systems and, maybe, if you're a bit more adventurous, a Web site, is enough to quell complaints and generate sales, 2014 is calling but it's stuck in your IVR.

Social networks have created nearly $300 billion of value in the last 10 years, according to research from Sprinklr, a social media management systems company. If you follow the thought that you should meet your customers where they are, you can find them on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, or other social sites, and that's where you should be too. According to research from The International Customer Management Institute (ICMI), 53 percent of consumers have used Facebook for customer support interactions. But Facebook, et al, isn't the only game in town.

"Consumers are using social channels for customer service that sometimes the brands themselves don't even consider to be a social channel, such as watching a product demonstration on YouTube," says Sarah Stealey Reed, former content director and senior analyst at ICMI, and currently senior manager for CallCenter at Deloitte Services. "Blogs are another form of social media. When companies blog, it can be an amazing customer service channel. It's an opportunity for marketing and support to blend seamlessly by providing content and something pertinent about customer support."

Is It Ignorance or Denial?

Current research finds that while you may be missing in action, your customers aren't. According to a new report from Sprinklr, 80 percent of companies think they offer superior customer experiences, but only 8 percent of customers agree. That huge divide makes sense when you consider that Sprinklr found that one in five brands say they rarely, if ever, respond to customer complaints made via social media, yet consumers who use social media expect a response from brands within one hour.

"As a consumer, these numbers weren't surprising, because we've all been on the receiving end of a bad experience," says Brian Kotlyar, area vice president for demand generation at Sprinklr. "In the business world, where you constantly hear every executive trumpeting how critical their relationship with customers is, it's pretty shocking that so many enterprises are behind the curve."

But is it reasonable for companies to provide customer support around the clock, and respond within a one-hour time frame?

"Technology constantly elevates consumer expectations for quality interactions with enterprises," Kotlyar says. "Social media puts that on steroids, with twenty-four-hour access to businesses, highly public interactions, and with the expectation that the company really ought to know more than they appear to with those interactions. They [consumers] expect you to show up within one hour, ready to rock and roll, and prepared to address their needs. The vast majority of enterprises are nowhere near ready."

Stealey Reed believes that responding to a customer service issue may not necessarily be reasonable, but companies do need to respond in some form, especially if it's on Twitter.

"Anytime a consumer tweets about your brand, there has to be some sort of response, particularly if it's a care-related [issue]," she says. "What we're seeing is those [companies] that don't, almost half of their customers [with issues] are going to call them. Now you not only have this unanswered question that's sitting out in social media, but you've also generated inbound calls."

Stealey Reed says that obviously, not every customer problem can be solved through social channels, but she believes that sometimes people need to vent, and social media is the perfect place for that.

"It's an opportunity to have their voice heard in a way that, as a consumer, they've never had before," she says. "Most of the time they're just looking for some sort of empathetic or even an entertaining response. They want to know, 'You've read what I wrote and you're responding in kind.' Customers don't want to feel like they're talking to a blank wall."

Meet the New Boss, Same as the Old Boss

Sprinklr found that 38 percent of consumers will "feel more negative about a brand that fails to meet their expectations" for timely social response; six in ten will "take unpleasant actions to express their dissatisfaction." Those sentiments and reactions are not new though. To be sure, attention is focused on more current customer service debacles, such as last year's British Airways lost luggage saga that was blasted on Twitter, and the more recent Comcast fiasco, which garnered millions of hits on audio site SoundHound and had the Twittersphere in an uproar. All those views, listens, and looks were generated by people who weren't just appalled at the companies' behaviors, but more importantly, could relate; they had found themselves or someone close to them in similar predicaments.

When you think about it, social media is not the new kid on the consumer block. If you step back in time, you may recall MySpace, AOL chat rooms, and even before public use of the Internet, Prodigy Services bulletin boards. Disgruntled customers have been using social media even before there was a name for it. Consider the following example of United Airlines and passenger David Carroll, a musician in the band Sons of Maxwell. This situation demonstrates that even though it was in its infancy, social media had the might to cause considerable damage to the reputations and pockets of companies that provided poor customer service.

Back in 2008, United Airlines employees destroyed a $3,500 guitar belonging to Carroll, who said that witnesses saw his guitar thrown around by the airlines' baggage handlers. After nine months of getting the runaround from the airlines regarding compensation, Carroll grew so frustrated that he produced a video and song called "United Breaks Guitars."

"[United] didn't deny the experience occurred, but for nine months, the various people I communicated with put the responsibility for dealing with the damage on everyone other than themselves, and finally said they would do nothing to compensate me for my loss," Carroll said on his Web site.

Released in 2009, "United Breaks Guitars" has garnered more than 14 million hits on YouTube to date. Carroll has subsequently written a book about poor customer service, is a paid speaker, and runs a complaint-resolution Web site. While Carroll seems to have made lemonade out of lemons, some news outlets reported that in the wake of the release of "United Breaks Guitars," the airline lost $180 million, or 10 percent of its share value at the time.

Don't Stay Stuck on Stupid

Another finding from Sprinklr backs up how costly poor customer service can be: because of "negative social comments," 11 percent of brands have lost revenue, 15 percent have lost customers, and 26 percent have tarnished reputations." Even with the latest and greatest social media technology at their disposal, some companies still haven't seemed to grasp that or absorb lessons learned from past mistakes.

Take British Airways. In 2013, the airline did not respond to a customer's compliant about lost baggage in what the customer thought was a timely fashion. The fallout from the disconnect turned out to be substantial. Frustrated at the lack of response, the man spent $1,000 buying promoted tweets to express his ire. The tweets included ones such as "British Airways is the worst airline ever. Lost my luggage & can't even track it down. Absolutely pathetic" went ignored by British Airways but not by millions who retweeted his complaints and attracted the attention of global media. Since it didn't monitor its Twitter account 24/7, the airline didn't discover its misstep until eight hours and millions of views later.

Fast- forward to June 2014. According to ABC News, British Airways lost 40,000 pieces of luggage due to a computer problem. Even after several attempts to find out what happened to her luggage, passenger Nora Low continued to strike out.

"Not only did their customer service stop taking phone calls; their voicemail filled up, and they weren't allowing you to leave a message," Low told a television news program. And like the disgruntled passenger last year, Low called out the airline on Twitter, and was joined by other passengers who had also lost luggage via British Airways.

"I just started tweeting," Low said. "That's when I started to realize that there were other people that were tweeting the same. And we formed a little army and just kept retweeting."

Even Low's tweets, such as, "British Airways threatened to not deliver my bag when I started asking questions about the fake tracking number they sent me," did not get the airline to budge. However, the tweets did attract the attention of ABC News, which contacted the airlines. Finally, British Airways issued an apology and compensated Low for the lost bags, albeit $1,750 short of her claim. "Next time I go across the pond, it will be Virgin Airlines," Low tweeted.

However, it doesn't have to take a news conglomerate and Twitter to cast a light on poor customer service.

"It's not just the big blows from when things go viral," Kotlyar points out. "You can die just as easily from a million paper cuts."

Do you really want that to be your customer service story too?