Mixing Social Media and Customer Service? Skate to Where the Puck Is…

I was listening to a pretty darn good (if you remove the “look at what we do” part of the presentations) webinar from CRM Magazine talking about how to do Social Media and Customer Service well.  There were some interesting discussions of different things to do, with different vendors, when I heard from Gregg McMullen from West Interactive (in case you don’t know West Interactive, they do Customer Service outsourcing) something that stopped me in my tracks .

He said, and I am paraphrasing here, that they found out that 60% of the volume of Social Media information users put in blogs, not Twitter or Facebook.  What?  60%?  That seems like a pretty darn big number.  Thankfully, I know Gregg and we exchanged emails.  I asked him for the  source and he told me it was based on research they have done for their customers, who essentially asked the same question we are all asking: should I go on Facebook  and Twitter for Customer Service?  They found where most of the conversations that would matter to their clients were happening and found that 60% (give or take a few ) were happening in blogs – with just abount 10-15% each in Twitter or Facebook.

That got me thinking… I said before (as recent as this past week) that when organizations moved to Twitter or Facebook to offer Customer Service they found little or no traffic, and limited value to what they could there.  Does that mean that they were going to (and pardon the sports mention) where the puck was?

Or were they, in the words of Wayne Gretzky’s dad, skating to where the puck was going to be?

In my world, 60% is a far higher chance of being the place where the puck is going to be… right?

18 Replies to “Mixing Social Media and Customer Service? Skate to Where the Puck Is…”

  1. Hi Esteban,

    In my experience Twitter/Facebook is a poor platform for Customer Service conversations. Dealing with Customer Service issues often requires exchange of (very) private information. Not even Customers want to be that transparent. That’s why Customer complaints or real problems are dealt with via other channels, like the phone (yes Call Centers are far from dead..you know this, but am #justsaying for the record here ;).

    I do think though Twitter (not Facebook) is where most convo’s come together in a sense that it is the signal post.. It is the real-time search/pull/push platform that allows a company to connect to Customers that face problems with their products/service. Twitter does those “jobs” better than any other platform (or playing field / arena to stay in the sports-vocabulary)..

    The conversation can better take place elsewhere. Thus: players need to be where the puck can be expected. Twitter is one of those places. Other members of the team need to be in other places, where the conversation takes place..

    The challenge, imho, is to let them all operate as a team..

    Thx for the conversation starter.. Let me know what you think.



    1. Wim, makes a very good point about call centers, I’m an impatient guy when it comes to getting a direct problem solved, in every case I’ve encountered where I needed problem solved it was dealt with through Customer Service call centeres, I am center of attention and it’s specific oriented.

      To be honest I’m not quite sure how blogs fit in the realm of customer service unless it’s blog topics that have been written to manage the variance of specifics of problem solving that a company has had and seems to be recurring. That i can understand.

      As far as Twitter this is pro social customer a complete keen person active on finding this out, but yet again when it comes to actuall customer support it’s lags imo for servicing a problem.

      Wim is absolutely correct about team effort and most importantly to be where the conversation is taking place.

      Quick story the other day, i wanted to find out about some features on my digital cable box, the first thing i did was do a google search, of which always surfaces blogs, so that is why i think blogs are important, but when my attempt to find some conclusion and did not find the answer through that channel, i called customer support up and asked them specifically, i didn’t even ask the question on twitter or facebook, reason being i don’t want conversation on the answer, i want an answer 🙂


      1. Spiro,

        Thanks for the comment. From my perspective, blogs serve two purposes: they generate knowledge and feedback for the organization, and they become the “squeaky wheel” that alerts us to potential problems. We are not good, or actually doing much, for either of those purposes. We need to figure out properly what we are going to do about blogs and how, we need to make them an integral part of the customer service experience – both for solving problems as well as for capturing knowledge and identifying SME (subject matter experts) that become part of the KM Nirvana (that is another post, we are dealing with the squeaky wheel situation here – at least that was the intention of my post).

        Thanks for the read!


    2. I agree with most everything that you said, twitter and facebook are onboarding platforms for customer service – at best.

      My concern, and the data I was quoting in the post, is about blogs – if 2/3 (rougly) or complaints and information happens on blogs – why are we spending tiime in twitter and facebook? I hate to be the one to break the news to those of us that spent a little bit more time on facebook and twitter, but lots of people that have blogs and publish periodically don’t use twitter or facebook to advertise them — shouldn’t we have similar tools aimed at blogs as we do for twitter and facebook?

      I know that SMM tools can do that for marketing – but are they being used for customer service? Shouldn’t Customer Service “onboarding” or solving processes be created and implemented to deal with Blogs? If so, where are the examples?

      That’s what I’d like to hear and see…


  2. I think the question here is that you need to anticipate expectations about service delivery channels. The survey deals with where the puck is, not where it is going to be. Has there been a shift in volume between one and the other? How about overall voulme increase/decrease?

    One of the issues I see that such studies would tend to focus on social media, and not the full picture. How many of the service request come thru other touchpoints, like your traditional contact center? Or in-store exchanges that you don’t capture?

    Another question I’d have is what is counted under ‘volume’? If it is wordcount, blogposts by their very nature will take up more volume, but shouldn’t we be looking at the equivalent of ‘service tickets’ created? ‘Social Media information’ is too imprecise. If customer then move to videorecording their opinions, will we be counting the bit & bytes of the videostream?

    The big thing with surveys is that you really need to know what the researcher was asking and how the survey was carried out in order to make sense of the findings. Like they say – there are lies, damn lies and statistics…

    It’s very easy to cite a statistic, but without trending, it doesn’t help much imho.


    1. Mark,

      Good question. Has there been a shift? Yes, it already happened – the survey is showing you where the puck is going (not where we are, else we would be talking about Customer Service via blogs – not Twitter or Facebook). I think your question validates the point: we are not doing Customer Service via blogs; we are not going there unless there is an event like Twitter or Facebooks that calls us to it; we are just silencing more squeaky wheels instead of doing customer service. Bottom line is that if a vast majority of complaint’s happen on blogs – shouldn’t we have processes for it? Have not heard of them.

      We have become quite able to handle customer service complaints via other touchpoints, it is the Social Channels that baffles and confounds us. We may not capture, but we can solve them — we are not solving, or finding and solving for the most part, a large part of what happens unless we can abstract it to a known channel (twitter, facebook, voice).

      That is an interesting second question, and one that I should explore further, more details are indeed in order — alas, it does not invalidate the point that we are not setup to handle blogs as a channel for customer service.


  3. Hi Esteban

    A very interesting post. But one that raises some questions.

    1. Are people really going to blogs, facebook and twitter for customer service for all their customer service needs? Or is the measurement process just capturing some of the customer service contacts?

    2. Why are people going to blogs, facebook and twitter for customer service at all? Is there something wrong with the channels they have traditionally used to get help when problems arise?

    3. Why are people going to blogs rather than facebook and twitter for customer service?

    4. What should companies do about the above?

    If customers really are going to blogs, facebook and twitter for customer service, should the companies fix their traditional channels (assuming they are broken; and we now from other research that they often usually are). Or should they expand the range of channels through which customers can meet their customer service needs? If so, to which blogs, in addition to facebook and twitter? And how should the companies ensure that they can integrate all the contacts they have with customers, no matter which channel they use?

    From my own experience, I hop channels to get customer service when the first ones I try don’t work to my satisfaction. I imagine I am not alone in this. But I would really prefer the product, service or experience to work first time so that I didn’t have to bother with customer service at all. The best customer service is not needing any in the first place.

    We need some answers. Over to you my friend.

    Graham Hill
    Customer-centric Innovator


    1. Graham,

      Indeed, interesting questions – and to me they all sum up to one answer: people are changing the way they communicate with organizations – partly because the other processes maybe defective or ineffective, but i am also quite certain that their behaviors are also driven by the changing nature of the customer. Whether you want to label it a “social customer” or not, there are monumental changes afloat in the relationship and interactions between customers and organizations, this trending data I indicated is but the tip of the iceberg for it.

      There is a part of it that is older or traditional channels not working, and social customers trying to shame the company into action (the squeaky wheel syndrome, if you may), but there is also the other issue of a shift in behavior that is underway in society that is more powerful, IMO, and that is not being addressed. We shouldn’t just be on Twitter or Facebook (or even blogs as I am advocating) just to be there, but because it is part of a conceited, integrated multi-channel strategy. The questions you ask after the initial four are precisely the ones that need to be answered in this case – but not as novelty that needs to be addressed, rather as an strategic initiative.

      working on my version of the answers, stay tuned!


  4. “In my world, 60% is a far higher chance of being the place where the puck is going to be… right?”

    I think a few others hinted at it, but what percentage of all customer services “places” does this 60% represent? Are we talking about .00001% of all places or .00005% of all places? That’s the question it raises for me because I would never start a customer service interaction in a public channel. I would only go there if I didn’t get satisfaction.

    And Graham is correct, if you have customer service issues, fix the core problem and stop worrying about how efficient your customer service operation is.


    1. Mike,

      If we are starting from the premise that the Social Customer has changed the method to interact from private to public, as it is one of the tenets of it, then the volume represented by it today is not what concerns me, but the trend that is moving in that direction and we are not properly staffed to handle that. Agree that we need to fix customer service problems, but we are usually quite clueless as to those problems unless we hear about them first, and to hear about them we need to listen in the right channels.

      I guess that is the main point I have repeated, it is about setting up the processes to listen and act in a medium that appears to have been, mostly, ignored. And one where trends seem to indicate it is where the action is (or is going to be).


  5. There is a bit of conceptual problem here thinking that the value of social media could be in marketing and customer support. Marketing tends to be a broadcast method, so companies that predominately tweet or blog about themselves get limited value in the social sphere. The same is with customer service which, as Wim as pointed out, tends to be a private affair. (Saying that, secure portals that are shared by customers can provide customer service impact.)

    The point behind using Twitter or Facebook is to engage the domain or community that the business works in. To learn more about the trends, to share good practices, make contacts with domain experts.


    1. Hi Doug

      You make a good point about using social channels to engage other customers to answer customer service enquiries, or even non-customers, rather than just the company. Unless it is a complex technical issue, customers often know more about fixing prolems with a company’s products, services and experiences than the company itself.

      Some companies have taken this a step further and outsourced customer service entirely to their customers. UK mobile telco GiffGaff doesn’t have customer service department at all. Instead, other customers answer all the service enquiries that customers pose. And it works. The average response time is 3 minutes; 24×7. During peak times the average response time is 1 minute. And customer satisfaction with GiffGaff is 92%. Try ringing up your mobile telco with a customer service question. On second thoughts, don’t waste your time!

      Graham Hill
      Customer-centric Innovator


    2. Doug,

      I am not quite sure I get where you are going (sorry for being so late to reply, btw), but I agree with what you are saying mostly. However, the value of social media is indeed in interacting with customers – I would say that is the initial value at the very least. That value should be reflected in all transactions where customers and organizations interact — and that includes (or should) customer service and marketing. If customer service and marketing are not the main, core functions where we can leverage social channels, they will most certainly be ignored in a rather quick manner.

      Thanks for the read, hopefully you can clarify and correct me if I missed your point.


  6. To add to Mark’s observation, the point to consider is the unit of measure. Blogs are good formats for spelling out a problem with a product or service in detail. Twitter and even Facebook are good formats for pointing to blogs. Personally, I’d suggest most companies socialize their FAQ pages related to specific products and services by allowing customers to qualify the “official” answers. That is probably because I try to find an FAQ for my “jobs” (hat tip to Wim) before I do anything else.


    1. Larrry,

      Excellent point. Leveraging the tools we have before building new ones. I agree.

      To your other point, whereas blogs may be where they chose to express themselves – it is also a larger “chunk” of social interactions that we probably expected. I need to find out exactly what that measurement was and meant, then we can have the second part of this conversation.

      Thanks for the read!


  7. The old story still stands- you have a bad experience, and you want to share it. today you have the opportunity to share that experience with many “followers” and “friends” with comments like #brandfail..and it signals that brand to get on the issue. My last 2 issues were handled swiftly by the firm with a complaint- and I was impressed by the effort. imho- that is where the puck may be headed if the expectation is fast response, and the ability to influence large groups of people one way or the other-if we are in the minority now- I will say that I see more and more brands out here responding and more and more people out here communitating “failures”…? Dont you?


    1. Hi Debbie

      A great suggestion. Companies should continuously monitor sentiment for Kaizen opportunities, whatever the source. It can be incredibly insightful. For example, I saw an interesting analysis by Attensity (Ref 1) of online sentiment about the launch of the iPhone on Verizon’s network in the USA. It showed that sentiment was very much in favour of people switching from AT&T. It also showed clearly the reasons why people were going to switch from AT&T. Most were ‘push’ service failure reasons rather than ‘jump’ better offer opportunities. Stuff that AT&T could easily have fixed.

      Your suggestion also raises a couple of questions:

      1. Would customers go somewhere else to complain if they got their problems satisfactorily resolved the first time directly by the company? Research suggests not. But other research suggest that most companies do a rotten job of recovering these customers. Companies need to just get simply better as the title of book by Patrick Barwise suggests.

      2. Do these 3rd party sites actually influence a large number of people or not? I have seen no proper evidence either that they do, or that they don’t. The anecdotal evidence I have seen from celebrity complaints, e.g. the brilliant United Breaks Guitars video, is inconclusive. Analysis by Media Miser (2) showed that the video did go viral. A flawed analysis by the Times newspaper (3) in the UK suggested the incident had a big impact on United’s bottom line. But another analysis by Laurence Buchanan (3) suggested that it had no impact on United market value over the longer term. This is clearly not as straight-forward as it seems.

      Graham Hill
      Customer-centric Innovator

      Further Reading:

      1. Attensity
      AT&T Versus Verizon, iPhone Churn Analysis

      2. Media Miser
      United Breaks Guitars Viral Analysis

      3. The Times
      Revenge is best served cold – on YouTube

      4. Laurence Buchanan
      Lies, lies and dammed statistics – do social media storms really affect a stock price?


    2. Hi Debbie,

      Yes, there are more brands out there – but most of them are using “elbow grease” (read human powered processes) to make customer service work in social channels. We need to, as Paul Greenberg so aptly said in his definition, make the effort programmatic. That is the missing element for virtually every implementation of social customer service I’ve seen… that is going to be the next generation of Customer Service tools. Not just use Social Channels for identifying the squeaky wheels, but for solving the problems in innovative, programmatic ways.

      Thanks for the read and the comment!


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