The Dangers Of Declaring Social Customer Service ‘Business as Usual’

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Two things happened today that brought a particular experience into sharp focus.

It was a shuddering fear that social customer service becomes nothing more than another channel.



In other words, the industry masters the challenges that social engagement offers by ‘taming’ it rather than allowing itself to be changed by it.

This is something I know Guy Stephens, one of UK’s earliest social customer service practitioners, feels strongly about. If you want to access his source of inspiration, grab a copy of Cluetrain Manifesto and read it. I’d describe it as ‘theology for a secular age’. Guy feels the ‘momentum’ that social engagement was involved in has already gone. It’s lost its mojo before even becoming mainstream.

Maybe he is right.

New versus Old Mindsets

One of the two triggers that I came across today was a brochure for a forthcoming event in New York. It was on social customer service or ‘social support’ as Americans prefer to call it. I can commend it as a well communicated marketing package. Obviously well researched, based on what potential attendees had said they wanted to learn.

But in spite of being full of new topics, the mindset and way in which the issues were laid out remained old school. For instance, the industry’s cost obsession comes through in this phrase ‘Learn how to support several customers online whilst maintaining a sense of personalisation, sympathy and help to your community’. There is so much at fault with that I won’t even get started!

Equally, the opportunity to engage socially was justified as a cross-sell and upsell opportunity. In other words, everything was being forced into old categories of interest we have heard forever and a day at contact centre conferences.

Mind you, if that was producing super differentiated service experiences which customers drooled over and Marketing pined for, I would of course zip it. But as we know, this is still an industry held in public low esteem and deservedly so. Outside some notable exceptions, we still refuse to radically readjust our priorities. Social customer service is a key to escape that reality which we are in danger of throwing away all too soon.

Is this me just whingeing? Probably, but hear me out.

That well debated issue of who owns social customer service is, at first glance, just an organisational matter with maybe an added splash of internal politics. However, for the brief period when social customer service was exclusively the preserve of social media and marketing colleagues, new stuff came through because they were not processing things with the same old mindset as their call centre colleagues.



If you wondered why ‘being human’ is so closely associated with this new form of customer service, it is because that very early generation of pioneers instinctively made authenticity their code of conduct and saw the brand value in being human. Something the incumbents were incapable of.

In that brief space of time, something new was sourced.

Please understand, it is not the focus on cost reduction I’m against. It is the way it is approached and the mainly unconscious assumption that there is only one way to run customer service that I’m pointing a finger at.

For instance, I was recently at Luke Brynley-Jonessocial CRM conference. It was a great occasion for Customer Service, Marketing and Social Media colleagues to mingle. I look forward to these types of event because I get to meet different people and hear new things.

One was the Marmarati story told by the digital marketing agency We Are Social. It’s about growing advocacy for Marmite, executed in a particularly brilliant way. Half way through, I had one of those ‘ah ha’ moments and tweeted this.

In other words, why don’t customer service heads think of picking up the phone and bring in an agency to drive an aspect of their service agenda? Of course the social twist in the Marmarati story was that customers became deeply involved in the ‘game’ that was created. We already know from peer-to-peer support that customers have the same motivation to contribute. So why not use a creative budget to boost that instinct? Maybe solve a really big service issue?

Do you see what I’m hinting at? We need to think outside the box, break the habit. Be original.

Marketing Is Finding This Challenge Just As Tough

We are not alone though in trying to break free from the gravitational pull of old habits. The second trigger for this post came from the creative pen of Mitch Joel. He is tops in digital marketing and writes a blog well worth subscribing to. His latest is entitled “The Depressing State Of Social Media Marketing”. I think he nails it. Here is a quote.

“What brands are missing, when it comes to social media is the true connection. The trust that is built out of real interactions between real human beings. And, quite frankly, they’re missing this point because social media marketing is simply seen as any other form of corporate marketing and communications. Brands aren’t internalizing the power of how to be social, so the act of social media is simply an extension of the communications and not a true connection between brand and consumer.”

From Mitch’s perspective it’s just more of the same. Even when using digital and social channels, it is still the same goal, same motivation. And guess what? The same impact. As consumers we remain unmoved by all the noise.



So the struggle to really embrace social interaction is not just a customer service issue. Silos, functional goals, old behaviours are common organisational barriers. That said, it does not let us off the hook.

Before we settle into another 1,000 year slumber, who amongst us has the spark to adapt instead of conform?

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