Customer Service in the Social Media Age
April 09, 2010

Just about everyone is jumping on the social media bandwagon, and so we hear everything from how it is the marketer’s newest dream to how it will boost sales. There is also plenty of talk about how to exploit social media Web sites to provide customer service as I outlined as a priority in 2010 (See:”Essential Priorities for Optimizing the Business Value of Customer Interactions in 2010”). There is no doubt that the use of these sites has risen dramatically, and some high-profile events have given even more prominence to their use. However, at a recent event I attended, the customer service director of a well-known airline posed an interesting question, which was essentially “why now?”  His point was that there has been collaboration on Web sites for several years, so he wondered what happened to suddenly draw everyone’s attention to them.

I think it is a convergence of events:

• Broadband to the home is now much more affordable, and the growth of Wi-Fi sites has made accessing the Internet much easier.
• People have changed their communication habits, with more people preferring to communicate and shop electronically rather than talking to each other by phone or in person.
• Smart phones and higher-powered cellular networks make accessing the Internet on the move as easy as the touch of a screen or push of a button.
• People have gotten fed up with bad customer service and have realized that social media sites gives them an opportunity to vent their feelings to the world, not just their immediate family and friends.
These changes have a serious impact on how companies provide customer service:
• They can’t afford to get it wrong because the world is likely to hear about their mistakes very quickly.
• Not only is the customer likely to stop doing business after a bad experience, but as has happened in some cases (most famously in the case of United Airlines), the company’s brand image can be seriously damaged, and the fallout could even effect the share price.
• Old-fashioned, hard-to-use customer portals no longer satisfy customers used to things like mash-ups and iPhone applications that are very easy and intuitive to use.
• Companies are going to have to develop efficient multichannel customer service strategies as customers will expect the same high level of customer experience and the same information no matter what channel they use or what business unit they contact.
• Companies will have to adapt to changing economic circumstances and the lifestyle preferences of their agents and support more agents working from remote locations while still providing excellent customer service.
All of this makes a very daunting prospect for most companies. My recent research into customer experience management  showed that only half (51%) of companies think they are totally satisfying their customers. So the big questions are where to start – marketing, sales or customer service; what processes need updating; what new training and coaching is needed; how to integrate a myriad of customer data so everyone has a consistent, accurate source of customer information to work from; and what new systems are available to help enable all this change. This is part of the industry transformation to support what is being discussed as social CRM to meet a new generation of customer service challenges. The fight to retain customers and win new ones means this is a “now” issue, so I would be interested to hear your thoughts and what action your company is taking.

Let me know your thoughts or come and collaborate with me on Facebook,  LinkedIn and Twitter.

Richard Snow – Global VP & Research Director


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