Social Support Only a Part of Bigger Customer Service Picture

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Being on the same wavelength with smart people gives me a visceral thrill. My thrill-o-meter went off earlier today as I read yet another interesting Web Strategy post by Jeremiah Owyang. In it, he makes a point that I wrote about back in March, that by making it appear as if broadcasting problems through social channels like Twitter is the quickest and easiest way to get them fixed, companies also tacitly encourage the behavior.


Companies that focus on providing customer service through social channels while neglecting more traditional avenues like company Web sites and call centers may drive themselves crazy trying to keep up with the growing numbers of channels, and it's ultimately a costly and inefficient way to address problems. Not only that, but you run a risk of further alienating customers if you don't respond quickly or empathetically enough or resolve situations to their satisfaction. It's annoying when a call center agent can't fix your problem; it may feel like a personal letdown when a Facebook "friend" can't do so.


Owyang offers three suggestions for companies to employ social channels to improve their overall customer service experience:

  • Bolster your traditional support channels. As he notes here and I noted in my post, customers don't generally resort to using social channels until they've become frustrated with the traditional ones. So you should be able to prevent at least some frustrated customers from social venting by improving existing support systems. I cited IT Business Edge blogger Loraine Lawson's resolution of her Internet connectivity problems -- but only after she posted a frustrated note on the corporate blog of her broadband provider. A more recent example came when well-known mommy blogger Heather Armstrong (Dooce) used Twitter to get Whirlpool to dispatch a repair person to fix her new washing machine.
  • Continue to offer support in your customers' channels of choice. As I mentioned above, this is going to become an increasing challenge as both the numbers of channels and people using them continue to grow. Owyang predicts companies will "grapple with outsourced crowd support in GetSatisfaction, UserVoice, Facebook Groups, Yahoo Answers, and community bulletin boards." An option used successfully by Intuit and some other companies is facilitating an environment in which their own customers provide support by helping peers with questions.
  • Take advantage of new (buzzword alert) social CRM tools like Salesforce.com's Service Cloud and Jive's Market EngagementYou'll soon have more from which to choose, writes Owyang: "Expect a rash of social CRM features, companies and solutions to appear that connect existing call systems, knowledge boards, and customer databases with the public Web -- closing the gap that was once the firewall."