Is Social Customer Service a – Fantasy or Reality?
January 01, 2010

It never ceases to amaze me how the world can suddenly catch on to a new fad and declare that the “world has changed” and everyone needs to get on board or they are doomed to failure. Now there is absolutely no doubt that social media sites are here, and the likes of Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter have hundreds of millions of people and our research firm posts daily insights to reach a larger community of people. It is also true that not all these users are the “young generation” and that indeed many companies, including Ventana Research, have gone down the route of creating their own social media sites so they can interact with their customers. But I think a large slice of reality is required before everyone declares that using social media is the “be all and end all” of customer service going forward.

For example, I finished a benchmark research project into customer experience management (CEM) and the responses from over 300 companies clearly show the use of these sites is very much in its infancy and no-one is quite sure how customers use these sites, how companies should respond, or indeed how what percentage of interactions are likely to happen through these channels as opposed to the more traditional channels of the phone, e-mail, chat and mobile text messaging. But that said, customers are starting to use these channels and companies need to be cognizant of this and take appropriate actions.

The first obvious activity that customers are doing on social media sites is voicing their complaints in Internet places like Yelp and Twitter, quite often about the poor service they received through other channels. Instead of ignoring these or regarding it as negative, the most innovative companies are harvesting this information and using it to improve their overall customer service processes. Companies do this by capturing the text from these sites and using text analytics to uncover customer issues and the root cause behind these issues. The outcome form this analysis is used to raise alerts or workflow items to ensure someone takes appropriate action, which might well include responding through the same channel.

This process touches on something which has been named “crowdsourcing”. The basic idea is that companies collect information from a large group of customers simply by collecting information being created spontaneously by users of a social media sites (e.g. complaints about a certain product) or by directly soliciting information, for example about an intended product development. The latter is probably only for the most innovative companies but collecting customer complaints and potential solutions from social media sites is a great way for companies to tap into a wider number of their customers. The results can then not only be used to respond to the original complaints, but it can be added as an frequently asked question (FAQ) on the customer portal and to the knowledge based used by the contact center and knowledge workers to answer customer interactions. This technique is also being applied inside the enterprise across a workforce as my colleague recently discussed (See: “Who Knew the Risk? Everyone But You“).

These two relatively simple steps will allow companies to take the first steps to embracing social media. As these channels mature, companies can then expand their usage after seeing how customers respond to these first deployments.

Let me know your thoughtsor come and collaborate with me on Facebook,LinkedInand Twitter. 


Richard Snow – VP & Research Director


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