Mapping Your Social Customer Service Ecosystem


Share on LinkedIn

There are two key differences between mainstream and social customer service.

First is the switch from private to public engagement.

Organisations and customers are still waking up to the consequential upsides and downsides.

The second is that your channel mix for social customer service is now a decision driven by your customers. Moreover they often expect you to find them. This article explores the implications of this second point and recommends how organisations should plan for this.

Unlike traditional customer service in which the organisation controls both channel mix and service wrapper, the dynamics of social customer service are reversed. We as customers discovered social networks long before the business world cottoned on. We still set the pace in how they can be used. Individuals such as Dave Carroll (United Breaks Guitars) and Hasan Syed (BA Loses Luggage) teach the rest of us how to leverage social networks in the cause of publicising poor service.

It is most important in this volatile environment that organisations recognise some home truths.

  • First they are playing catch up. This experience is not likely to go away anytime soon. Social networks are in the centre of the whole Digital Disruption trend: a transformation only just underway. The lesson is that rapid evolution remains the norm
  • Thinking you can understand social customer needs through traditional listening techniques such as post interaction surveys is the equivalent of trying to watch a Hollywood blockbuster through a pinhole. Keeping up has to be tackled in an altogether more fundamental way

Acting on these insights will lead forward thinking organisations to map and monitor their own social customer service ecosystem. Those who have been involved in the P&Q campaign will recognise this approach to integrated planning.

In terms of planning assumptions, the first thing to recognise is that your customers’ social habits are unique. Maybe not in terms of being on the ‘big’ social networks of the day; many of them will be. But what about the less obvious places? They use all manner of forums and online resources as part of their digital lifestyle. The topic of your organisation can be mentioned anywhere.

For this you need a scalable solution for listening. Social media monitoring can quickly plot where your organisation is mentioned. Obviously not all ‘mentions’ are going to be service related. Nor necessarily will they originate from customers for that matter.

This leads to a key planning activity that I’m simply going to mention within the confines of this article. How proactive do you intend to be? Some would argue every mention merits a response. Others decline through limited bandwidth. You and your Marketing colleagues will need a common plan of action to answer this. One which both teams should anticipate will change over time.

Visualising The Ecosystem

As I said earlier, it is easier to recognise demand for traditional customer service because the customer has to use the channels on offer which are directly plumbed into your service environment. You can use traffic reports to track and forecast. However demand from ‘social customers’ is not nearly as obvious or explicit.

Therefore it helps to visualise where that demand sits and how you intend to build your social channel mix. There is no set way to do this. Indeed most organisations don’t do it as such. However mapping a territory helps you understand it.

The following approach is one way to layout your map.

ecosystem with copyright

Start by working from the centre outwards. Map the social universe in terms of your relative ability to influence. I’ve visualised this as three circles of declining influence.

Let’s start within the first circle (darkest green) Here, social interactions built into your own web site as a self help community are certainly within your direct influence. You can moderate discussions, determine how they are laid out and functionally operate. Of course that does not mean you can entirely control the conversation even though you can set house rules around communication etiquette. If you mess up big time still expect the community to let you know in no uncertain terms.

The second ‘circle of influence’ operates at a deeper orbit. These are the large social networking sites that your customers are already familiar with in their own personal context. In this sense you are joining them even if you offer your own Facebook or Twitter facility for customer service. Also from a strictly legal perspective you are operating within the terms and conditions of each site: a piece of due diligence that is still often ignored. Moreover you have to communicate within the design and functional parameters of each site which can change without notice.

It is now common practice to treat these platforms as ‘honeypots’ to attract social customers before then systematically transferring them via direct or private messaging to private channels. Customer journeys now move back and forth between social and traditional channels. Amongst other things, this raises a key infrastructure issue.

As we know cross channel is not the same as multi-channel. One maintains the service context while the more common version requires customer to make extra effort and re-explain their situation. It is a shame so few organisations have mastered this. Bear in mind that a significant proportion of your social traffic exists because traditional customer service failed. So you are already on the back foot before adding to customer effort.

From a planning point of view, cross skilling becomes much more important. For instance moving between Twitter and Chat should be seamless, maintaining context and advisor until completion.

You might consider the final outer ‘circle of influence’ to be ‘deep space’. This is the place where you have little ability to set up your customer service store other than to participate in the discussion. These could be forums, blogs or community sites you don’t own. To date, organisations have preferred to maintain a watching brief in these situations. They are content to track conversational trends which might then break out onto the more mainstream networks.

However some have been more proactive and directly engaged in discussion. They might feel that facts are being distorted or that a ‘person in need’ deserves outreach even if they might not be directly requesting it.

Research shows this has a mixed impact on customers. When an intervention is unexpected, it can deliver that ‘wow’ factor and generate subsequent positive word of mouth. This is central to a modern Marketing agenda and so is not to be sniffed at.

As we know sometimes organisations get lucky and ‘wow’ someone with a celebrity level of followers. However customers remain contrary. We want to be left alone in privacy when it suits us but also recognised when we need help. Maybe we just want it on our own terms. This is a tricky balance for organisations.

But this much is certain. Interventions in ‘deep space’ can either end up as a ‘wow’ or as an invasion. So give extra consideration before venturing this far in your proactive engagement agenda.


I’ve briefly described how your social customer service ecosystem can be visualised. Social monitoring allows you to identify and map where your customer engage from. Evolving customer expectations and internal capacity influence your engagement policy.

The value of doing this is that it helps you understand what is happening and share that insight with colleagues. It will of course keep changing as customer habits evolve and the popularity of customer networks come and go (at an alarming pace).

This phase of planning should be updated on a regular basis to ensure you remain close to where your customers interact online. Without it your service responsiveness will suffer and the risk of missing the incoming situation-that-can-turn-into-a-crisis greatly increased.

This article is based on Martin Hill-Wilson’s latest book ‘Delivering Effective Social Customer Service‘ which is now available from Amazon.

Photo Credit: seanrnicholson via Compfight cc

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Martin Hill-Wilson, Hill-Wilson
Customer Service, CX & AI Engagement Strategist - Chair, Keynotes & Masterclasses. Brainfood is an advisory and education service. Advice in terms of co-designing practical engagement strategies that balance customer and business needs. These are orchestrated from a blend of live assistance, self service and proactive contact using whatever optimised mix of voice, text and video works best across realigned customer journeys.


Please use comments to add value to the discussion. Maximum one link to an educational blog post or article. We will NOT PUBLISH brief comments like "good post," comments that mainly promote links, or comments with links to companies, products, or services.

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here