The State of Social Media in B2B Support

In December 2013, I launched my first-ever survey focused solely on supporting customers via social media channels. While few companies would claim to have a mature program for social media support, clearly best practices are emerging, and the survey data answers the most frequently asked questions received from TSIA members around social staffing, performance levels, and SLAs. While enterprise support may not be embracing social media support as quickly as consumer support, there is a lot of momentum.

According to the survey, 46 percent of tech firms are now supporting customers via one or more social channels. An additional 14 percent of respondents said they planned to initiate social support in 2014.

When it comes to B2B support, it appears that few companies have executives who recognize the importance of social media in the overall customer experience. When asked how their social media support program began, only 13 percent of respondents said they were asked by executives to initiate support via social channels. Nearly a quarter of respondents, 24 percent, said the program started because social-savvy employees saw customer posts related to product issues and decided on their own to reach out to customers to solve their problems. This may be the first time in the history of customer support that a new interaction channel was initiated without input or permission from management. While I'm happy that these employees took the initiative to help struggling customers, it should be noted that if not handled correctly, social media support can wreak havoc for a brand. If you do not currently offer social media support, it may be worthwhile outlining the reasons why for your employees, and encourage them to come to you before responding to any customer via a new channel.

Another 27 percent of respondents reported that they only initiated support for customers via social channels because their marketing organization began using social media monitoring tools, and started forwarding them product-related posts. I'm sure this was a big surprise for many support managers, who woke up one day to find they had a new interaction channel for which they hadn't planned.

When asked which social channels companies were using to support customers, two channels tied for top adoption: Twitter and YouTube, both used by 44 percent of respondents. YouTube has been growing in popularity, with many TSIA members creating dedicated channels of videos on how to use and troubleshoot products.

Though comments may be posted by customers about the videos, YouTube tends not to create back-and-forth interactions. As for Twitter, volumes are typically low for B2B companies, as the usual use case for social media in the consumer world (customers complaining about a product or service issue) happens less frequently for enterprise tools. System administrators who take to Twitter to announce company-wide outages of tools probably don't retain their jobs very long, as such announcements can easily create negative press and even impact stock price for public firms.

Not only are today's customers paying attention to which social media channels their favorite technology providers maintain a presence in, but industry analysts are starting to monitor and measure social media support performance as well. In the last year, multiple analyst firms have begun monitoring product-related issues on Twitter, Facebook, and other channels to see how long it takes to get a response from the vendor, and what quality of response is received. Companies with no social media support program, poor response times, or other performance issues are scolded in public reports, with company executives called out as social albatrosses or technophobes—not a label anyone wants in 2014.

Knowing that the social world is watching, keep the following recommendations in mind for your social media support program.

Move the conversation out of the public eye. Don't try to solve product problems via Twitter or a Facebook thread. Move the conversation to direct messages or email, out of the public eye. You don't need the general population weighing in on each diagnostic step.

Close the issue out in the original public forum. Analyst firms monitoring how well you respond to issues assume that if the customer complained via a social media channel, they should be able to find out if the problem was solved via that same channel. Once you have resolved the customer's issue via email, direct message, phone, or whatever, be sure to go back to the original social media channel and post some basic information about the resolution, such as "John Q Public's problem is now resolved—a quick reinstall fixed the corrupted file."

Survey for satisfaction across all channels, including social media. If you are going to support customers via social media channels, you must survey them for satisfaction just as you do any assisted support channel. Be sure to capture the interaction channel as part of the survey metadata, so you can easily calculate satisfaction by channel. If social issues are not rated as highly as other channels, consider the amount of training and real-time monitoring you are doing for workers assigned to social channels; it's likely you need to beef it up.