Richard Snow's Analyst Perspectives

The Reality of Social Customer Service

Posted by Richard Snow on Dec 4, 2012 11:39:48 AM

Much is written these days about how consumers have changed their buying and communication habits, and how more are turning to social media to search for product and service information, complain, exchange news and opinions, and, well, to be social. This has led to predictions such as the demise of the contact center, marketing becoming the prime leader of customer experience, and social media becoming the dominant channel for customer service.

Four of my recent research studies into thousands of organizations including customer relationship maturityuse of contact center technologycustomer feedback management and unified customer service agent desktop, dispel these claims and point to the fact that for the majority of organizations life goes on pretty much as normal. The telephone remains the channel most companies use to engage with their customers. Although people predict its use might be slowing down, telephone interaction is still expected to grow by between 5 and 10 percent over the next two years. Yes, other channels are growing faster, but the research shows that they are all additive, and overall volumes are growing dramatically. Companies are thus enabling their centers with more channels of communication, but as the desktop research shows, many are struggling to embed multichannel processes into their customer engagement strategies and technology, and also to enable agents to handle multiple types of interactions.

The growth in interactions comes partly thanks to social media, where research has found the volumes of posts has gone through the roof. The question is how related to business are the majority of these interactions and how many are just social? Our customer relationship maturity benchmark research shows that the most popular sites companies use are Facebook (89%), Twitter (68%), LinkedIn (57%) and YouTube (45%), and it points to the fact that company pages on these sites are in general owned by marketing. These facts and the discussions I have led at the Directors’ Club customer experience days, show that many companies are constrained in how they can use these channels. The majority of social media is used to provide information; it is only the most mature companies that analyze what customers are posting to their sites, and very few use social media to have customer-service-related dialogues. I found this to be the case recently from personal experience, when posts I made to three big UK-brand Facebook pages took on average two days for a response, and no relevant dialogue resulted from any of the interactions.

Before social customer service becomes a reality, organizations have to address four key issues:

  1. In business today, what is customer service? Most people recognize that an important element of any interaction is providing a service, whether it is marketing, sales, order tracking, compliance management, guidance on how to use a product or anything else. As our research continually shows, these types of interactions are handled across organizations and through multiple channels of communication. The challenge is how to provide consistent experiences that match customers’ and businesses’ expectations, and what is the best channel to achieve this for every type of interaction.
  2. What are customers and other consumers actually saying on social media? All our benchmark research indicates that the take-up of social media analytics is still in its infancy. Until companies are in a position to analyze customer posts, they are acting very much in the dark.
  3. Companies need to use this analysis to build social media into their multichannel interaction management strategy and activities. For example, they must decide how to extract data from social media, how to determine what posts are relevant, who to route a post to for action and how to govern the response, and how all of these fit with handling other forms of interactions, all while taking into account that many social media posts occur because other channels have failed to meet customer expectations.
  4. Companies must then decide how to up-skill employees handling social media, and what technologies can be put in place to enable consistent responses that reflect responses made in other channels.

My most recent benchmark research into the customer service agent desktop shows that innovative companies are beginning to get it. Such companies have been the first to recognize the need for greater collaboration within the organization and with customers through such channels as social media forums. They have therefore deployed unified desktop systems that support handling interactions through multiple channels, and that also support greater collaboration within the contact center and across the organization. Collaboration is a key step to successfully embedding social media, and for that matter other channels, into customer service. I recent wrote about collaborative enterprises and spoke on a similar topic at the recent Ventana Research Innovation Summit. Come and discuss the opportunity and challenge with social customer service in our Ventana Research LinkedIn group.


Richard J. Snow

VP & Research Director

Topics: Social Media, Customer Analytics, Customer Experience, Operational Performance Management (OPM), Social CRM, Voice of the Customer, Mobile Apps, Analytics, Cloud Computing, Customer Service, Call Center, Contact Center, Contact Center Analytics, CRM, Customer Performance Management (CPM)

Richard Snow

Written by Richard Snow

Richard leads Ventana Research’s Customer and Contact Center Performance Management research practice, which is dedicated to helping organizations improve the efficiency and effectiveness of managing their customers, throughout their lifetime and across all touch points, including the contact center. He conducts research exploring the people, process, information and technology issues behind customer operations management, contact center management, and customer experience management. He also works with senior business operations and IT managers to ensure that companies get the best performance from today’s highly complex application products. Richard has worked in management and consulting leadership positions in the technology industry including with Price Waterhouse, Sema Group and Valors. In his work, he has been involved with all aspects of delivering highly complex IT solutions to a variety of clients in the telecommunications, financial services and public sectors. Richard has specialized in delivering customer care and billing solutions for telecommunications operators, and several multi-channel contact centers for organizations in both the public and private sectors.