Social for Customer Service: it’s About the Customers

How can organization embrace social channels and technologies to improve customer service?

I must’ve heard this question every day in the past 6-9 months.

The intent was not how to do twitter, how to leverage Facebook, or should we use Klout scores for customer service – it was very specifically about how customer service departments can embrace it.  It was getting so ridiculous that together with my friends at Ciboodle we conducted a research report to answer those questions. We got nearly 400 responses (some of them very interesting) and you can get the report here if you want to read it.

I am not going to give you a full summary here, we do have a great executive summary if you are not interested in reading the data or the whole report, but I wanted to cover two issues that came out of this study:

  • How today’s processes are faring in an increasingly social world
  • What is the value to the organization of embracing social channels and tools

We asked the question of how processes used to support social channels compared to those processes used to support traditional channels.  Overall, the answer was (almost) as expected: 2/3 of organizations have not created processes yet as part of their social adoption, they are more or less living day-by-day and trying to figure out how it will play out in the long run.  At this early stage of the social journey that is not very surprising.  We then cross-tabulated those answers against the length of time they had been supporting social channels – and this is where we got some interesting data.

The table below shows the results of that cross-tabulation.  (note: we did not have sufficiently large numbers to make the conclusions final but it does indicate where the mindshare of the market is in relation to this question):

Equally defined Less defined More defined
0-6 months ago 11 12% 32 15% 3 20%
6-12 months ago 21 23% 50 23% 1 7%
1-2 years ago 27 29% 53 25% 3 20%
2 years ago+ 21 23% 18 8% 4 27%
not there yet 12 13% 61 29% 4 27%

n =

92 214 15


When using social channels, processes are less defined – almost by a ratio of 2:1.  Among those that claimed their processes were less defined, the majority were those that had been doing Social for between six and twenty-four months.  The ones that would be a more logical choice (those just starting out, below six months of experience) to have less defined processes are not – showing how newcomers to this set of channels and tools understand how it is no different than any other channel implemented before: it has to have a strategy, integrate well into existing processes, and don’t change the way experiences occur – rather augment them via a new set of channels.  Clearly delivering similar experiences via new channels is in the mind of those that are just starting as well as those that have been doing it for a while.

The second issue we spotted was the value to the organization of embracing social channels.  We asked respondents to identify what were the benefits they were seeking from embracing social.  We asked them about the two most often cited reasons to adopt any channel: to meet customers’ expectations or to save money.  The difference between these two reasons is a slant towards a customer-centric, efficiency view of the world (saving money) versus a customer-centric, effective view of the world.  The table below shows the results:

Primary Benefit

Secondary Benefit

Deflected phone calls 13 3% Deflected phone calls 27 7%
Increased customer satisfaction 95 24% Increased customer satisfaction 55 14%
Increased loyalty 31 8% Increased loyalty 45 11%
Increased revenue 6 2% Increased revenue 17 4%
Intangible benefit 35 9% Intangible benefit 39 10%
Met customer expectations 55 14% Met customer expectations 37 9%
Not using social channels just yet 71 18% Not using social channels just yet 67 17%
Reduced cost of customer support 20 5% Reduced cost of customer support 22 6%
No Answer 74 19% No Answer 91 23%

It is very clear from these results that focusing on meeting customer expectations, and exceeding them, is the main driver for social channel adoption having been quoted not just as the top reason overall, but also as s secondary reason for organizations to adopt social.  The reason organizations deploy these channels is not driven by outbound company-centric needs but to give customers what they want, need, and ask.

The rest of the report is actually even more interesting and proved many other things – but to know what, you will need to download it and read it.

And give us your comments.

Many thanks.

(note: this post was cross-posted at Sword Ciboodle’s blog)

4 Replies to “Social for Customer Service: it’s About the Customers”

  1. Hi Esteban

    An interesting blog post. But it raises a couple of questions.

    If you look at the degree of process definition data points they clearly show that the relative proportion of less designed processes gradually INCREASED up to a maximum at 1-2 years ago before starting to decrease. Why should the degree of process definition DECREASE once you start with social customer service initiatives? Is this the oft seen hockey stick effect in action?

    If you look at the benefits data points they don’t tell you much about the respondants underlying beliefs. The reason why a large number of respondants are not using social customer service yet or didn’t answer could be because they don’t believe that any of the (mostly positive) benefits listed would come about from its use.

    These are early days. It would be interesting to follow the evolution of customers attitudes over time from not using to being seasoned hands.

    Graham Hill
    Customer-centric Entrepreneur


  2. Fantastic piece of research – It would be great to do the same exercise but from the customer point of view. Our guess is that customer satisfaction would also rank very high (probably higher) and it would also contribute massively to improving a company’s net promoter score. Looking forward to seeing the results!


  3. Graham,

    Take a look at the process definition points across rows (ie; those respondents in the same timeline). This tells a very different story than looking at the percentages by category.

    Equal or More Less Defined
    0-6 months 30% 70%
    6-12 months 31% 69%
    1-2 years 36% 64%
    2+ years 58% 42%
    Total 37% 63%

    Looking at the data this way shows some natural progression towards the longer respondents have been using social for customer service, the more likely the processes are equal (or more) defined (combined equal and more because of the low sample size for more). Looking at the data this way, those that have been using social for customer service, starting 0-6 months ago and those starting 6-12 months ago are basically equal and slightly more likely to have less defined process, processing to those that have been using social for customer service for over 2 years – who, as a group, are significantly more likely to have equal to more defined processes.


  4. Hi Esteban and Mitch:

    Great information. Thanks for doing and sharing the report.

    I noticed that there was no attempt to distinguish between providing support using the social channel’s infrastructure versus providing easy access to other support infrastructure (preferably optimized for providing support)from inside the social channel. For instance, 91% of people responding to your survey say that it is important to provide customer service over social channels, but how many believe that the customer service should be provided directly in the social channel’s infrastructure, say on a facebook wall?

    Do either of you have any sense for how companies (and consumers) look at or even understand these 2 options and their rather material implications for implementing customer service and support “within” or “via” social networks?

    In the end, companies obviously need to balance consumer desires with creating sustainable and profitable business models.



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