Do Customers Expect Companies To Have Online Customer Service?


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I have been wondering lately if we have we reached the point where companies are expected to have an online customer service presence. Are companies being held accountable in new and different ways? If I, as a customer, post a message in a discussion forum about a company or a product, should I expect that company to answer me or weigh in on the discussion? What about on more public or ubiquitous social media sites like Twitter or Facebook – can I expect to be able to reach companies using those tools?

Where does a company’s social media accountability begin and end with their customers?

Here is a real example to illustrate my question. I am a B2B customer of AirTrain Airlines and I had a customer service need. After spending a long time on hold on the telephone, I naturally turned to the online channel to discover alternative ways to interact with AirTran. The must have a Twitter account. I thought. And sure enough, AirTran Airlines has quite a few Twitter accounts available:

Next I noticed that there was one deemed the “Official AirTran Twitter feed.” Hurray! I thought – that is great as now I don’t need to guess which one to use. And they have over 4,000 followers. Again, good news… until I noticed that since creating the account in 2009 they have only produce 1 tweet.

I think this example offers a study of missed opportunity. @AirTran represents just one example and they are definitely not alone. There are thousands of companies who have set up social media marketing or customer service accounts and have failed to define a social strategy or or used their accounts to service their customers online. I can’t help but wonder how much good will and revenue did they possible miss out on because of mismanaged expectations. Not to mention that a call center cost per call is far higher than an online transaction. Industry data suggests that an average call center call costs approximately $2-$5 per call while an online cost per incident hovers around $.25- $.40. Clearly it is just a matter of time before online customer care becomes an outsourced event – especially forB2C.

Social customer care represent a shift for many industries and can take time to make the operational changes. But, for many companies, change is necessary and can add to their customer care dimensions.

Too often companies taking the position of social media defense and don’t move forward from there. They spend time and team focus on protective policies and negative comment triage plans for social media management. This is important as a company should not enter the social playing field without corporate guidelines and rules. However, realizing that this is just the first step it is absolutely critical!

The second step is to define how they can and should interact with their customers in the online environment. Now this is not a small task to do well as it CHANGES many aspects of the customer centric operations.

  • What are the best channels online to reach engage and respond to customers?
  • What is your social customer strategy? Reactive, proactive, messaging only, responsive
  • Whose is going to do it? Marketing or customer service today – but what about long term?
  • And, the big question – what are you going to do with the information exchanged between your company and your customer? Will the data be captured and logged in your CRM (like phone calls are especially in the B2B world as customers represent larger purchases than with B2C) so you have a profile of your customer or will you leave the social channel un-integrated for now?

The seas are changing as customers increasingly adopt social media. Customers are online seeking to interact with your company. There will always be situations that are best handled by phone or in-person vs. via the social channel. Few would argue that social media will replace all forms of customer care. But, if companies were to focus their highly transactional exchanges to online there is a win-win for all: Potential cost reduction for the company and frustration reduction for the customer who now gets the information and interactions they want on their terms.

So to return to the original question, where does a company’s social media accountability begin and end with their customers? What do you think?

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Vanessa DiMauro
Vanessa DiMauro is CEO of Leader Networks, a research and strategy consulting company that helps organizations succeed in social business and B2B online community building. DiMauro is a popular speaker, researcher and author. She has founded numerous online communities, and has developed award winning social business strategies for some of the most influential organizations in the world. Her work is frequently covered by leading publications such as the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and Forbes.


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