This piece was originally posted on Focus.com, where they asked me to write a piece on ‘Social Media has Revolutionized Customer Service Forever’. I thought I’d share it with you here too as you may or may not have seen it, I quite liked it, I think it is an interesting debate and I’d like to get your opinion on it.
Anyway, to the piece…..
No one would dispute that customer service, whether good or bad, has received a lot of attention via different social media channels over the last few years. However, the question I would like to address is whether social media has revolutionized customer service forever.
Yes, it has.
On the one hand, social media has changed customer service forever. This has come through the increase in attention companies are receiving via the ability of digitally adept customers to:
- like on facebook,
- post on forums,
- blog about good or bad customer experiences,
- make Youtube videos about their most loved or hated brands and experiences
- etc etc.
Added to this is the fact that the web and social media is allowing large parts of what would have traditionally been the role of customer service to be decentralized away from the companies into the hands of the company’s customers and other people, via user groups and other forums, where anyone who is willing to help can. This is challenging the traditional business dynamic where power (and information) is held inside a company and is now moving to one that is away from the company into the hands of its customers and users.
A further disruptive influence is the rapid spread of smartphones and the introduction of new social media applications for the iPhone, Blackberry, and Android phones. These applications allow customers to post questions, comments or thoughts about, and to, companies and their customer service departments from anywhere in the world and at any time.
The influence of smartphones will only continue to grow over time. This was confirmed recently by Twitter CEO Dick Costolo, who was reported as saying that the number of Twitter users sending updates via smartphones exploded during 2010. He said that by the end of the year “40 percent of all tweets were sent from mobiles, rather than laptop or desktop computers” as compared to only 25 percent in 2009.
All of these elements, are challenging the way that we think about how we respond to our customers, how we organise our businesses, how we deliver customer service, how customers are seeking help and what we need to do, in future, to build better relationships with our customers and stakeholders.
No, it hasn’t.
On the other hand, no, it hasn’t ….not yet and may never do so. Why?
Well, if we look at the question again: has Social Media revolutionized customer service forever?
To revolutionize something you need to change it radically. Right now, although social media may be exerting pressure on traditional customer service functions, how it is viewed, its future role and make up, the function of customer service has not changed radically. Social media is only an additional channel which customers can use to connect with companies.
This was exemplified in a recent story I saw from Fortune called “Can I help you? On Twitter, the answer is no“. In the story, Anne VanderMey, the reporter, put to the test the various channels (Twitter, phone and the web) that companies like Microsoft, Bank of America, Zappos and Delta use to interact with their customers. As the article states, the results were surprising.
The results showed that whilst social media is a channel for contacting customer service in these companies, the most effective method is still the good old phone when it comes to solving our customer service problems.
Why is that?
Well, I believe there are a number of reasons:
- Social media users are still in the minority
- Not everyone is comfortable or will be comfortable with using social media to solve their problems or answer their questions
- Many customers prefer the personal touch that speaking to someone on the phone or face to face delivers
- Customers of different ages, income groups, geographies and industries will have different needs and the use of social media to solve those problems may not be appropriate
Therefore, I would suggest that we need to be careful when gauging the impact that social media has on customer service. The best answer to the question would seem to be: It depends.
Also, just because it exists and has made quite an impact does not mean that suddenly social media becomes the exclusive domain of customer service. It is simply another channel to add into the mix, alongside the other traditional channels. The key is still to understand our customers, how each channel works and works together, how customers use them, and understand which customer service related issue is best dealt with where.
However, social media is without a doubt challenging the way that we think about business as more and more people get comfortable with social and digital technology and its possibilities.
So, in conclusion, has social media revolutionized customer service forever?
- No, not yet
- But, it is currently challenging the way that we think about how we do business and is putting more control in the hands of the customer
Finally, let’s not be lead by technology and think about what possibly could happen but lets focus more on what probably will happen. Let’s listen to our customers, let them lead, all of them, and let’s not be lead by technology and the next new thing.
Let me know what is your take in the comments below.
This brief benefited from input and a great discussion with Guy Stephens. Guy is a champion of the use of social media for customer service. He is a Senior Consultant at Foviance, helping brands define their social media customer service strategy within a context of organisational change. He is an avid tweeter (@guy1067) and blogger (http://beingguy1067.com).
Thanks to Kalexanderson for the image.