Recently, my colleague Lauren and I had a, shall we say, “spirited” debate over the merits of social media as a long-term platform for service. While I’m not sure who “won” this debate (we’ll let you decide that), I know we can both agree that social media isn’t going away anytime soon, whether service executives like it, or not. Check out our debate below and let us know what you think … bright, shiny object or, a viable service channel for the long-term?
Pete: Blogs, Facebook and Twitter are here to stay. And not just for social purposes, but, as we’ve seen quite a bit in the past couple of years (here and here and here, just to show a few), as vehicles for customers to interact with companies and vice versa. Now you may not like it (I recently heard a service executive say “I hate Facebook”), but it’s not going anywhere anytime soon, so you’d better embrace it and learn how to operate in an environment that is the most unique arena for service I’ve ever seen.
Lauren: Although these channels might be here to stay, I think that their reach tends to be overestimated.
For example, everyone you know might have a blog, but how many people are actually reading them regularly? And contrary to popular belief…not everyone is on Twitter! In fact, Twitter users actually declined in the second half of 2009 by as much as 19%, and of the people on Twitter…only 24% are actually “engaged” regularly. So…why should service executives learn to embrace it? I say it’s a squeaky wheel that is simply getting a lot of media attention because it is a new thing.
Pete: Admittedly, folks are paying more attention to it because of the tremendous attention it’s received (heck, there was an Academy Award-winning movie written about one!), but there are more reasons than that to pay attention to it, namely:
- It’s where your customers interact with one another (i.e., word-of-mouth … which has the ability to change the recipient’s opinion by more than 70% when it’s negative WOM)
- It’s cheap
Unlike other mediums that still haven’t completely taken hold (and may never take hold … natural language IVR anyone? Web chat?), social media is out there and customers use it all the time. Plus, you don’t need to staff this with dedicated resources; it’s something we know many companies add to online support or email staff.
Lauren: I think it’s interesting to bring up natural language IVR and Web chat here…they represent a fundamental difference from social media channels in my mind: for IVR and chat–the customer comes to YOU, the company. For social media–YOU (the company) have to go TO the customer.
While proactive contact has its place, I don’t think that we should condition customers to complain in any channel they’d like and expect the company to respond (which begs the question–DO customers actually expect companies to respond, or is that just a corporate assumption?)
Regarding the two reasons why service executives should embrace social media:
- You’re right—it’s where customers interact with ONE ANOTHER. Who says they want to interact with their companies?
- The platform itself might be cheap, but resourcing for it is not. In almost any situation, the company will have to dedicate resources to train staff and develop analytics to monitor social media. Then there is the question of actually solving the complaints—which may require extraordinary measures (because if it were a simple problem, they probably wouldn’t have had to Tweet about it). Furthermore, don’t forget the hidden cost of channel switching—more often than not, service via social media enables customers to complain in public but then typically migrates to a private channel like e-mail or live phone to actually resolve the issue. That channel switching has a negative impact on loyalty.
Pete: Even though it’s not optimal to have to “chase down customers” proactively, the alternative (ignoring their publicly vented issue) is worse. And those who manage social media channels the best know how to position channel-switching as a way to better protect the customer’s personal information and ensure that the issue is fully resolved.
I think we can both agree that social media is here to stay, and while it may not be the optimal place to provide complete resolution to customers, if that’s where customers are talking about their issues we’d be silly to ignore them. Instead, we should do our best to respond to their issue and create a positive experience out of the situation.
Lauren: Yes, I think we can agree that social media is here to stay. But just because it’s here to stay does not outweigh the fact that it IS a less-than-ideal channel for issue resolution. So instead of giving in and catering to the changing winds of customer expectations, I say companies should see social media’s advent as added incentive to get service interactions right the FIRST time…and avoid giving customers a reason to blather in social media to begin with.
So there you have it fans … a nice little debate (that remains somewhat unsettled). Here’s your chance to weigh in: