Use Social Media to Augment, Not Avoid, Customer Service

Ann All

I wrote a post last week in which I asked if social sites would kill corporate websites. My conclusion: Not any time soon, but companies must stay on top of the growing importance of social channels in Web presence. Not many companies appear to be seriously considering jettisoning their websites, but some do seem to be jumping the gun when it comes to customer service.


Bruce Temkin shares a recent experience with cable operator Comcast, a social media darling that nonetheless fares poorly in customer-service surveys, on his Customer Experience Matters blog. He wrote a less-than-complementary post about a new Comcast product offering, tweeted it and then straightaway was contacted by a Comcast representative who tried to change his opinion. He wrote:

So Comcast reaches out to strangers on Twitter, but doesn't service customers very well when they contact Comcast. Something seems out of whack.

I've written about this before. My take from a post titled "Social Support Only a Part of Bigger Customer Service Picture":

Companies that focus on providing customer service through social channels while neglecting more traditional avenues like company websites 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.

Temkin gives this phenomenon a name I like, "social schizophrenia," and he defines it as "providing levels of service in social media that differ significantly from service levels in other channels." Compare Comcast to customer-service star Zappos. True, Zappos loves its Twitter. But Zappos employees provide the same exemplary customer service across every channel, including less sexy ones like the call center.


So, how do you know if your company suffers from social schizophrenia? Temkin offers a list of eight questions that may help yield a diagnosis:

  • Does your company have poor customer-service ratings and aggressive goals for social media?
  • Does your company treat people with "influential" social media voices better than it treats other people, even good customers?
  • Has your company invested more in social media outreach than it has invested in improving its traditional service organization?
  • Is it "cooler" in your company to be part of the social media team than it is to be a part of the customer-service organization?
  • Are employees reaching out in social media more empowered to solve customer problems than other customer-service agents?
  • Does your company's social media team have more headcount than its voice of the customer team?
  • Does your company have separate organizations handling social media complaints than it does handling complaints that flow through other channels?
  • Is more than 20 percent of your company's customer-experience strategy focused on social media?


Is there a cure? I shared several good tips from the Altimeter Group's Jeremiah Owyang in my Social Support post. And Temkin offers a nice, one-sentence summary: "Use social media to augment, not avoid, the delivery of great service."

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Add Comment      Leave a comment on this blog post
Aug 25, 2010 3:36 PM Garious Garious  says:

A lot of businesses these days forget that when it comes to customer service, it's human interaction that wins.  People need more than just a 140-character tweet to feel assured that their problems are being solved.  So, a smart mix of both traditional media and social media is the best recipe here.  Besides, if you're cutting down on the cost of hiring customer service rep who'll talk over the phone, you can always get yourself a live chat assistance.

Nov 3, 2010 5:12 PM Kristen Kristen  says: in response to Garious

I agree Garious. I recently had an issue with Proactiv Solutions.  This went on and on for 7 months and I just got confirmation yesterday that my money had been refunded. Of course that is the cost of the product, I am out almost $20 in S&H.  The call center is stocked with knowledgeable people that are capable of handling problems.  My biggest frustration was getting to the people.  I tried emailing customer service and I recieved the same blanket email from 3 different people after my aggressive approach at getting something more in writing.

Why offer email customer service if it is not effective?


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