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Social media - customer service or crowd control?

I recently came across an interesting article about the future of social customer care by Guy Stephens, Managing Consultant at IBM. He painted a picture of an inspiring future where the clear distinctions between channels are likely to disappear as we move towards a ‘deeper service layer experience for all’ and ‘the idea of a frontline triage spreading across the entirety of the organisation’.

I couldn’t help contrasting this vision of a utopian customer service future with my own experience, both as a consumer and as a contact centre industry insider.

Take just one example, I recently tweeted a well-known energy company with a customer service issue. This brand is particularly active on social media, I thought, so they should be able to solve my problem when I tweet them? This turned out to be a dangerous assumption to make.


To be fair the Twitter team did respond within a few hours and requested my account number. However once they received it, they asked me to delete the tweet (supposedly to protect my personal details) and to continue having the conversation by messaging them directly. I know I should probably have known how to do this, but I wasn’t sure, so I tweeted them back, but sadly didn’t receive a response. As a result, I had to switch to another channel to ask for help, my frustration increased because I was left hanging – the initial response timescale wasn’t bad, and it raised my expectations with promise of resolving it.

From a contact centre industry insider’s perspective it’s easy to see what went wrong here. Out-of-date data protection procedures, inappropriate service levels, lack of clear guidelines for the energy provider’s Twitter team, and an inability to provide a seamless experience across customer service channels.

All frustrations many of us struggle with daily

But are we as contact centre professionals doing enough to address the issue and should we be making sure it becomes a much higher priority within the organisations we serve? In my case, I contacted the energy company CEO to highlight his Twitter team’s oversight, but surely it would have been better for all concerned if someone else had brought it to his attention first?

I just wanted someone to listen to and own my issue – instead I received platitudes and felt that rather than address them, the approach was to move my query from a public area. The outcome for the company was increased cost, churn and distrust and ultimately made me switch to another provider.

Easy pickings for the media.

At the moment it’s far too easy to draw the conclusion that too many businesses have a Twitter presence as a way to promote their brand; “Look how trendy we are with thousands of followers on Twitter” – they seem to be shouting. And as we all know, consumers are increasingly likely to share their bad experiences via Twitter, providing easy pickings for the media and long-term damage to brand reputation.

A good brand needs to have a strong human element, of course humans make mistakes but how one deals with one’s mistakes (perceived or actual) is key to building trust, honesty and loyalty. Own the experience, and the customer problem, be open about it and it will pay dividends in the long run.