Social media customer service is a failure

Will the social service center of the future resemble call centers of the past?
Will the social service center of the future resemble call centers of the past?
Image: B. Anthony Stewart
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By Frank Eliason

Citibank Senior Vice President of Social Media; “most famous customer service manager in the U.S., possibly the world” | @FrankEliason | frankeliason.com

As I look around the social web I see many interesting uses of social media from large and small businesses. It’s very exciting to see these new approaches to reach customers, but we are now moving in a direction that not all businesses may be aware of.

As SVP of Social Media for Citibank, I have had the privilege to see the impact social media can have on big businesses and look forward to watching this become regular practice. A few key observations I’ve had:

  • It all starts with trust
  • Stories are the most powerful way to create and reinforce change
  • Human connections are against the grain for many businesses, but imperative for social media success
  • Many people are trying to make money off business leaders who do not understand social media (and they are being successful at it)
  • We are so stuck on measurements, yet we are measuring the wrong things

In social media, many businesses are focusing on the wrong metrics and are not properly educating executives on the real story of social media. Building “likes,” fans, and followers will not provide companies with the data necessary to make better business decisions. And few companies tie the information they gather directly to their customers–through measurements such as the net promoter score of the social customer or what products they are buying. Most companies proclaim to be “listening” in the space, but very few have changed or implemented processes or products based on social listening. Huge ROI can be gained just by evaluating the changes that stem from listening. It’s sad to say, but the only changes I have seen are those due to large or threatening groundswells. And in my view, changes were only made to silence the noise.

This brings me to the failure of social service. Recently someone tweeted me asking about current costs of phone calls versus the cost per tweet for customer service. This is new media and businesses focusing on old metrics. The service world has been broken for years because of the emphasis on handle time or calls per hour. Companies do not want to talk to you, and it shows. The fact is most do not want to tweet with you either. Since they are worried about brand sentiment, they may appease you to shut you up.

Companies must care, and new metrics will need to be developed that place the customer back in customer service.

I do not get a sense, however, that much has changed in the way that businesses run, no matter how engaged in social media they are today. This is not because the scaling is not possible; for the most part you can queue up a tweet just as easily as you queue up a call. The trouble is the efforts are not leading to wholesale change in the way companies interact with their customers. If you are simply placating loud customers, all you are really doing is encouraging others to focus on the channels where they believe resolution awaits.

If you truly want to influence brand perception, companies must:

  • Empower employees (they are the lifeblood and the greatest ambassadors for your brand)
  • Improve the customer experience, not just through service, but the entire experience with your company (please note I did not limit that to products or departments because most businesses are one brand)
  • Be more nimble and not so stuck on processes that prevent change
  • Stop being afraid of your customer. If anyone is afraid to speak to a customer, you are doing the wrong things
  • Stop minimizing the value of your customer. They are more influential to you in the post-commerce phase than you can imagine

I personally love the customer; they are my passion and success. I represent them in everything I do. I use their stories to drive change. It is something you may want to do, too.

For more information on social media customer service read the whitepaper.

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