The Challenges of Using Social Media for Customer Support Initiatives


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The emergence of social media over the past decade has revolutionized the way businesses interact with their customers. And as enterprises have gradually discovered the general merits of a well-managed social media platform, many are attempting to tackle the broader challenge of applying it to customer service. In fact, according to the International Customer Management Institute, 67 percent of contact center executives believe social media is a necessary customer service communication channel. That is good news, since by the end of 2015, 80 percent of companies are expected to adopt social media to help address customer service needs, an Aberdeen Group study finds.

However, the current number of customers seeking help through social media has dropped significantly, according to a recent American Express survey. The obvious question is why.

The Facts

An astounding 35 percent of consumers responding to the American Express survey say they rarely or never receive an answer or have their complaint(s) resolved through social media.

  • Fifty-six percent of customer tweets to companies go ignored.
  • Thirty-two percent of respondents who have attempted to contact a company through social media for customer support expect a response within 30 minutes; 42 percent expect a response within 60 minutes.
  • Fifty-seven percent of consumers expect the same response time at night and on weekends as during normal business hours.
  • Forty-eight percent of consumers prefer live assistance when seeking help, versus 3 percent who prefer social media.

The Broader Issue

As newer forms of communication continue to slowly disrupt traditional channels, notably the phone, businesses are struggling to maintain consistent levels of service across all of them. And as customers continue to diversify the number of channels they use to communicate with a single company, with 47 percent using a combination of both digital and traditional communication services, the challenge is likely to continue.

Unfortunately, customers are unwilling to forgo their needs and expectations to give businesses time to catch up with the latest communication trends and preferences, giving root to the aptly named $1.6 trillion "switching economy," while driving the current global focus on customer service and experience. As it specifically relates to social media and its role, the ongoing difficulty is part technology and part business processes stemming from a much larger problem—companies lacking a consolidated voice of the business.

Where Business Processes Fail Social Media

The initial adoption of social media within the business arena has largely been driven by a dual mandate to promote and, at times, protect the brand image. But with its role generally designated to marketing or sales, one can quickly decipher why social media has commonly failed, in part, as a customer service tool—it is often not monitored or managed by customer service departments. Yet the struggle to effectively use social media to support customer service initiatives extends beyond departmental ownership and exposes the broader challenge businesses have yet to overcome—that of viewing all communications channels as unified and interchangeable rather than separate and task-specific.

More to the point, until organizations begin to consolidate customer service initiatives and communication channels under a single roof and support a more transparent view of both the business and its clients, the ability to deliver a seamless customer service experience will remain an elusive dream. So while 89 percent of companies continue to wrestle with how to engage their audience effectively through social media, many have yet to understand how to deliver superior customer service holistically with social media as one component.

Where Technology Fails Social Media

Of course, the ability to deliver a seamless customer experience is equally contingent on the technology being used to deliver it as on the processes dictating its use. If one considers the number of communication channels customers have to choose from, in addition to the numerous platforms organizations used to service those customers (CRM, ticketing, WFM, WFO, etc.), the task of managing it all is no small undertaking. But how are companies to effectively address the needs and voice of the customer if they have yet to be as technologically integrated as the people they serve?

In the case of social media, the current inability to address consumer needs is in part due to the lack of integration not only between departments but also between solutions. For example, if a customer service rep is to address a billing issue over social media without access to the billing departments database, will that be a failure of the social media platform or of the technology currently in place? The use cases defending the importance of integrating communication platforms with the customer data management systems are limitless and perhaps even obvious, but yet many organizations have yet to connect all the dots.

There is no doubt social media has a role to play in the customer service arena. However, its ability to deliver on customer expectations is currently at the mercy of how quickly companies adapt current business initiatives and technologies to meet the expectations of today's demanding consumer.  



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