The Baffling Advances of Social Customer Service

I shared with you last week the first of four top-level insights gathered via the research I conduct every year (thanks to the sponsorship of my friends at KANA, a Verint company).  If you have not read them, you can read the high level entry here.

I am today going to start sharing the first of four blog posts to deal with the questions that are in most users mind these days (based on inquiries I get): mobile, social, operations and adoption.  After we post these four I will then publish the final report with all insights and data (likely end of January or beginning of February).  Stay tuned.

As you likely know, I am not the largest and most ardent proponent of Social Customer Service.  I have written plenty against it – all substantiated with data and case studies; I won’t start again…

OK, just a summary:

  • Twitter acknowledges that virtually all tools miss tweets from the “fire hose.”  The volume is just too much for most solutions to capture, analyze, and categorize in real time (it is possible, just not done well is the point)
  • Facebook continues improving their platform (not including privacy and ownerships rules, which are a topic by themselves) but they fail to notify developers that depend on existing APIs – thus rendering entire applications unable to connect without due notice or warning
  • Over 80% of contacts via social channels end up being escalated / diverted to a different channel for resolution
  • Over 50% of incoming tweets and Facebook messages (and this was before the switch to Facebooks messenger – which will bring another slew of problems) are not addressed, ignored, or abandoned before resolution by the brands
  • Integration between social solutions and the rest of the customer service channels and processes is ill-fitted (if done at all) and unsuitable to manage the expected loads as usage increases

In spite of these challenging statistics, and the lack of a significant number of successful case studies to refer to beyond the simple “anecdotes” that show it can be done Social adoption continues to be adopted at a fast pace.

In the first version of this study, carried out in 2012 during the height of the “craze” of social, we saw small and early adoption rates (Twitter was 25%, Facebook was 26%).  The following year, when we had already made some inroads into understanding the numbers above, and the lack of an integrated solution made it hard to justify to management, adoption continues strong – albeit at a slower pace.

This year? Still being adopted in large numbers.

When asked about latest channel implemented, 11% said that Twitter was the one and 18% said Facebook was the one.  When asked about channels that are implemented 59% said they had implemented Twitter and 58% said they had Facebook implemented.

When asked about the most used channel (a new question we incorporated this year) we noticed reality set in: neither one of them scored even a single vote.  And while we don’t have historical information to contrast with – it is important to notice that it is still early and we have not yet figured out how to use them properly.

Why is this happening?

Follow up interviews and existing inquiry data yield an answer: virtually all practitioners that have implemented and continue to implement social customer service say that it is because their customers demand it.  When pressed further for details on how they know what their customer demands are, their answer is what troubles me.

They did not ask their customer, or did not ask properly – but that is fodder for a different post.   Whether being served via social was something they needed or wanted, instead they assumed that since their customers were using those channels they wanted to be served via those channels.

This is the most dangerous assumption to make: you need to be where your customer is.  Customer enjoy using social channels for different reasons – but it does not necessarily mean they want to be served there.  As Facebook and Twitter have shown when attempting to conduct commerce directly via those channels, there is no demand just because they are there.

I wrote sometime ago an editorial advocating for single-channel excellence over multi-channel cacophonies.  It is still true today.  The main concept was that offering more channels, poorly, is not the approach to customer service.

Offering social, just because it is possible or because customers use social channels, is not a good idea until we can master the essential elements of how to do it well:

  • Resolving issues without escalation
  • Automating standard inquiries and responses
  • Integrating into existing components (like KM) and other systems of record
  • Deliveing consistent solutions and answers via all channels equally well

If you want to deliver social customer service find out how you can tend to those four elements before you get too far.  Else, you will be simply adding a layer of complexity, an element of cost, and a broken customer promise to your customer service implementation.

There is another element of social customer service that is somewhat disconcerting: when asked if they saw value to the organization and to the customers when delivering social customer service almost one out of four organizations said they did not see value to the customer (and in line with the last two years’ findings).  The question begs to be asked: considering the issues above, and the lack of ROI and / or value experienced – why would anyone think that social customer service must be deployed?

What are you doing with social customer service? Have you implemented yet? Have you found the answers to the above?

Would love to hear what you are doing, and your comments on this as, well.

Disclaimer: KANA, A Verint Company, is a client and the sole sponsor of this research report.  While they get input into the topics to survey, and provide feedback on the thesis before we start, the final decisions on content, questions, and analysis remain mine.  There is no input from anyone else other than thinkJar and its employees (which, as you know, it’s just me) in making content and editorial decisions on the study, findings, and reports. All data is propriety of thinkJar and not shared or distributed.

12 Replies to “The Baffling Advances of Social Customer Service”

  1. Are customers are using social channels because vendors don’t have responsive customer service that pays attention to sparsely used free forums. So poorly designed that calls for help through these channels is a waste of time. Thus customers elevate to a gripe on social hoping that others pile on and help crowd source attention to the issue (xfinity is down…1 person gets no attention, 250 retweets – comcast pays attention)


    1. I think brands can only effectively listen on a finite # of channels, especially those they own or the big social networks. Your example sounds like a broken process or a process in which leans towards PR control.


      1. thanks for the comment. there is no example in my post – just data collected over the last couple of years.

        while it may work for some, and i am not entirely sure how if you need to scale it, it is an abysmal failure for most. i wanted to highlight that and contrast it with adoption rates.

        if you wait until the report is published in the next few weeks you may get more insights – but yes; customer service via social channels is deplorable in general (even if you consider the few cases where it may have shown some value for some company)

        thanks for reading


    2. sure, they pay attention… but the solve the issue?

      my kids get me to pay attention by throwing tantrums, but they don’t get what they wanted by throwing them. soon they stop throwing them (well, working on that… long story).

      the post referred to the lousy state of social channels as problem solvers, i don’t question that people are there (and neither do the adopters, per the data) but i question the way we are attacking the problem where we are more concerned with tending to the noise than solving the problem.

      customer service is not marketing, despite what everyone is trying to tell you, and is concerned with solving problems. low resolutions rates that take 4-10x as long is not customer service.

      if we can acknowledge that maybe we can find a way to use social channels for service efficiently (hints: triage)

      thanks for reading


      1. Another way to triage is kill bugs and design issues so that customer service issues go away (in many products). This points at ingesting data from social channels and turning support in to solutions.

        Doesn’t any brand operating at scale have to move this way, perhaps then the onus is on the social channels to provision great interfaces for selective sharing available to folks like KANA.


  2. Is it that in the process of creating a bigger funnel for marketing, err … advertisements, the firms are forced to create social channels for customer service too?

    Did you ask what promises/assurances/compromises won them the funds to create the social channels?


    1. somewhat, i am putting some of that information in the report – but there was very little to go forward.

      in general, they are responding to trends and “demand” from customers (see your comment about marketing)


  3. I understand how some do not like Social Customer Service, but I work in this field and yes, it is hard to quantity and yes it is overwhelming at times, but those that use these existing tools in this manner seem to appreciate it. How, well they tell us, or they tell friends or the post about how good the service these received was. Not all people like to call into CS for the companies they do business with ( I know I don’t), but when you have a moment to spare (or more for some people) sending in a tweet or leaving a comment on Facebook seems to appeal to some because it is so easy and not all time consuming. I find it odd and troubling that we continue to hear from both sides of the argument that we should not automate, but above you list it as a top 4 item. Automation done right does help some people, but done wrong only brings the digital natives out with their digital pitchforks to vilify the brand. I am hopeful that as this channel continues to mature we will see brands and small businesses using this channel for CS and using it effectively an in a manner that cuts costs down for those paying customers that prefer to use it in this manner.


    1. you will never find me making the argument against automation – i wrote from the beginning that twitter was a great place for automation and triaging (Facebook has no redeeming qualities, sorry).

      you hit on a good point: any channel is only as valuable as the company (and their customers) make it out to be. so does not matter if it is social or chat or phone.

      alas, social is so over-hyped and over-invested compared to results that i had to call it out – even more so in view of the heavy investment going into it right now.l


  4. I see the growth in social customer service coming from two primary sources – 1. Poor followup from mainstream customer service channels – using Social as a form of “escalation” on the part of the customer – and 2. Convenience – ex. you’re at an airport and have a complaint or issue that is not being resolved – tweeting is easier for the customer than accessing mainstream channels – this is also be a form of escalation on the part of the customer – In essence, I agree with you that these social channels should not necessarily be treated and supported the same as other more mainstream customer services channels, but when a customer feels like social offers the best way to escalate frustrating unresolved issues, businesses better be listening or they will suffer the consequences.


    1. will ask you the same question i ask the other people talking of consequences: point me to a long-term consequence someone suffered. point me to a business that died or ceased because of it. point me to anything that goes beyond the collective belief that it is going to happen…

      united, tylenol, kit kat, abercombrie and fitch, delta airlines, southwest, marriott, and i can keep going. no consequences. att wireless, verizon, tmobile, etc. no consequences. pick a vertical and / or vendor – no consequences.

      there are no consequences that pertain to the health of the biz and KPI. we (consumers) would love to think we have power – but we don’t.

      the surveys that ask if someone would change providers or if they changed providers bc of one problem forget to follow up and asked a) did they change, b) did they go back, c) was the new one better.

      consumers don’t offer consequences to businesses that are notable by businesses. they bitch, complained, etc. so what?

      sorry, pet peeve… there are no consequences, else the shoddy state of social customer service would mean something and the budgets and investments would not be going there (which they are, madenning)

      thanks for reading, and commenting.


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