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Social customer service: a must-have or a let-down?

by Molly Flatt on 23 January 2013

Customer service is one of the earliest and most tangible areas in which businesses have had social media success, partly because the contract between brand and customer is so clear: “we are using this channel to answer your questions and fix your problems, not to make you love us by sharing photos of our office pets.”

Best BuyKLM, EuRail and T-Mobile USA are some notorious pack leaders, and for a glimpse at how much effort your competitors are putting into this field, have a look at the Social Bakers’ Socially Devoted which ranks industry leaders for their social care.

But social care takes a hell of a lot of resources, training, listening, flexibility, inter-organisational communication and employee autonomy to really reap the results. It’s also true that many companies may be damaging their reputations by failing to deliver on their dedicated social presences.

So is social CS a must for 2013? or might you be better off channelling your efforts into transforming what you already do? I take a look at both sides of the argument below…


Looking at the examples above, many companies are understandably eager to futureproof their customer care by prioritising a social offering. One poll showed that by the end of 2012 80% of companies planned to use social media for customer service, while, in predicting trends for 2013 customer service, Forrester touts online proactivity, deployment via mobile, and personalised engagement as key discriminators for success. Enterasys Networks’ Vala Afshar is eloquent in his belief that “customer service is the new marketing”, explaining that brands need start looking way beyond Twitter and Facebook and consider how to use tools such as mobile video to produce service that truly chimes with how we live now.

Moreover, the longer brands stick at it, the more evidence they have that social CS really does affect their bottom line. The below infographic from Crowdsourcing.org gives some idea of how the figures add up.


However, there’s a big gap between expectations and execution. 55% of consumers expect a response the same day to an online complaint, while only 29% receive one.  A.T. Kearney conducted a study that found that 56% of the top 50 brands did not respond to a single customer comment on their Facebook Page in 2011. Maritz Research found that brands ignored 71% of their customer complaints on Twitter.  And last week’s experiment from Ashley Verrill verified that some of the biggest brands in the US are failing miserably to fulfil their social service offerings.

This is apparently a shituation shared around the world – two months ago, the Social Customer conference in Paris made some damning discoveries about how French consumers are being treated in social.

Finally, last month US cable company Charter Communications announced that they were shutting down their social service stream:

“We believe speaking directly with a customer is a more personal, effective and consistent way to answer questions, solve an issue or provide information, and we will focus our efforts on these means of communications. We’re committed to treating our customers with great care, and we believe that person-to-person interaction accomplishes that in a more meaningful way for more of our customers.”

Sure, it may well have been a nice-sounding cover-up for a cost-cutting exercise, but frankly it is also something of a breath of fresh air. Charter are making it clear that they think they can produce better and more conversational service on another channel (offline), and their openness has managed the expectations of their socially-savvy consumers. 


Social customer service may or may not be possible depending on your company’s resources and skills, but conversational customer service – whether over the phone, over Twitter, email or in-store, is an indisputable must. Check out Andrew McFarlane’s great post on why it is just as important to make your customer service memorable as it is to ensure it is quick and functional.

So depending on the nature of your business, you’ve got three main options for staying ahead in the customer service game.

1. If you already have the capacity to do social CS brilliantly, you really will reap the rewards, so put a clear, flexible process in place that empowers staff to respond quickly and effectively, and jump in. Now. The sooner you start building that community and reputation, the better.

2. If you’re OK for resources but you still feel you lack the skills or strategy to make social CS measurably work for you, now is the time to get some strategic help. A review of your operational strengths and challenges, followed by some specific skills training and a short period of hand-holding while you find your feet will help you embed social care for long-term success.

3. If you’re just not ready to handle the speed and volume of social media interaction, don’t feel pressured to create rubbish presences that will be a thorn in your side. Instead, plot out how you can make your existing channels as authentic, disruptive and conversational as possible – whether that’s training call-centre staff to be as amazing as the folk at Zappos or reviewing in-store body language à la Apple. When you’re ready, social channels will be waiting, but do what you currently do well and the word will still spread.

Inspired? Get in touch.

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