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Home » CEB Customer Contact Blog, Sales & Service, Social Media » Social Media: Bright, Shiny Object? You decide.

Social Media: Bright, Shiny Object? You decide.

Posted on  15 June 11  by 

Comment (6)

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: 

  1. 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)
  2. 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:

  1. You’re right—it’s where customers interact with ONE ANOTHER.  Who says they want to interact with their companies?
  2. 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:

[poll id="6"]

Comments from the Network (6)

  1. Louise Mole
    on June 16, 2011

    Personally, I think we should embrace social media. What we do know is social media is used by millions of people worldwide. These people are customers of our brand. As our social environment changes we have a responsibility to evolve the way in which we enable customers to interact with us. Research has shown that “multi-channel” customers grow 16 times faster than single channel customers. As businesses we cannot control how customers choose to communicate about our brand. We do, however have the ability to “wow” customers and turn any negative comments about their customer experience into a positive experience where customers choose to return as a result of our actions. Subsequently customers will use social media to share their positive experience.

  2. keona jacobs
    on June 16, 2011

    Social media is here to stay. If it’s affecting our politics, our elections and has created an environment where people can come together quickly and easily to form political protests all over the world, then sorry to say, it’s not going anywhere. I agree it should be embraced and companies should not be afraid of it. You should learn from what your customers are saying and get it right the first time. Also, more companies should strongly consider using social media to re-evaluate their brand and mission and consider aligning it with a socially conscious or socially responsible business plan. Social media platforms will put pressure on companies not only to become better at serving their customers but also to be a more socially conscious and responsible corporate citizen.

  3. Preeti Wadhwani
    on June 16, 2011

    The way technology is moving forward, it’s slightly terrifying how easily one can become obsolete unless we have our finger on the pulse etc. I guess it’s similar to when when emails came into being – it was a bit late for India and I remember the year was 1999 when I created my very first email account. It was strange using email in the beginning and no one really knew what and how it all worked, and I remember I used snail mail to correspond with some friends back then. And suddenly, seemingly overnight, that stopped.

    Imagine what else will stop with Social Media here. There was an article recently of the 20-something Harvard graduates who do not have emails on their resumes. They only use facebook, twitter and various blogs and forums to communicate. And apprently it won’t be long when facebook will be the be all and end all of it all. Many online shopping sites and high street shops having begun to sell through the facebook platform rather than have their own sites. And the power of tweeting…it’s the 21st century ‘two cans with a string’ all over again.

  4. Max Murray
    on June 17, 2011

    This form of communicating with each other and customers is here to stay. What Facebook and Twitter has done is basically made available to every person and all industries the ability to meet their customer’s individual needs. Now as soon as someone thinks of something or says something about your product you know and you are able to react. It’s not left out there to fester for long time without any reaction from the involved parties. Its even worst if you should ignore what is said, these days. This technology has changed the expectations of the customer and it will be foolhardy for companies not to be engaged as much as the consumer is engaged.

  5. Cheryl Crowe
    on June 24, 2011

    Social media is here to stay on the consumer side: and, given that companies are now integrating social media into their product placement and advertising strategies, they’ve adopted it into their long-range goals as well. Technology integration and ease of use will dictate those tools most accepted by the public.

    As with earlier public forums, customer care professionals must develop means for mining the information and create strategies for satisfying customer needs under a global social media microscope. A challenge indeed, but with the ability to leverage goodwill and create brand loyalty with millions by one simple key-stroke, it’s a challenge that’s well worth it!

  6. Customer Service Buzz » Facebook and Twitter for Troubleshooting and Customer Engagement
    on July 19, 2011

    [...] a recent blog written by Pete and Lauren, 55% readers voted for Social Media being a viable, long term customer service option. Given the [...]

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