3 Reasons why you should provide Customer Support on Social Media

Posted on November 14th 2010

Talk to any executive of a large or medium sized company contemplating having customer support on Social Media channels and one of the first question you are likely to hear is But how can we afford it? Well, the right question is Can you afford not having Customer Support on Social Media? Here’s why:

Reason No. 1: Numbers Stupid!

According to a recent research study by The Nielsen Company, “Americans spend nearly a quarter of their time online on social networking sites and blogs, up from 15.8 percent just a year ago” – a whopping 43% increase in the last one year (for more, please see this link). And if % time spent on Social Networking sites continues to grow at its current rate, soon it will account for more than 50% of time spent online – meaning Social Networks will become the dominant force “online” and Social Networking will become synonymous with the internet.

Reason No. 2: It is Social!!

Many People equate Social Networking with communicating via Chat or Email. Well, they cannot be farther from truth. It is important to note “Social” in Social Networking and that it is not just networking. Conversations on Social Media channels are public – visible to all. And customers and potential customers are discussing about problems or issues with products and brands on Social Media channels whether the marketer is participating in the discussion or not.

It is important for marketers to participate in the discussion and provide Customer Support on Social Media channels as unlike email or chat, interaction on Social Media channels is not just limited to customer and the marketer, but is visible to all other customers and prospects, and they can participate in the discussion as well and benefit from it. Any favorable resolution of an issue is visible to all and can contribute to building of brand equity and loyalty.

Reason No. 3: It can dramatically reduce cost of customer support!!!

It is common knowledge in the industry that cost of providing customer support is highest in face-to-face transactions, followed by cost of providing support over phone. After the internet revolution in ’90s, many companies started offering online “self-service” customer support where customers can log an issue and search FAQ or solution database for resolving their problem. This helped reduce cost of providing support drastically.

Customer Support over Social Media channels can help companies further reduce cost of providing support as on Social Networks, brand advocates/loyal customers help other customers out by answering their questions or suggesting solution, rather than company Reps trying to answer all the question. Role of marketer is to provide necessary platforms and tools for support and moderate the online discussion where ever required. But majority of “support” is provided by brand advocates and loyal customers.

Think of it as support center outsourced to other customers! This can dramatically reduce cost of providing customer support.

What do you think? Should companies provide Customer Support on Social Media channels?

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Comments

Great to see this topic covered. I'd be interested to read a post on what specific social media forms and examples you recommend for handling customer support.

I have had a couple of experiences related to customer support and social media.

Experience 1 - No Live Customer Service - Found a Helpful Employee on Twitter. One with a publishing business, where there is only limited customer service - no phone support last I checked, and no support via email on weekends. I put in an order for books I'd published and found a whopping bill online that was ten times the amount I'd signed up for. Being an order for books. The expense was in shipping, so once the order went  through I'd have to pay for it! I was in shock. If it was right I needed to stop the order right away. If it was wrong, I needed to know so I could breathe again. No emergency contacts, so no help.

I put in the emails to customer service and had to wait, playing out all kinds of scenarios in my mind. Then my social media mind kicked into gear I realized I might find employees on Facebook perhaps, LinkedIn and Twitter. And search I did. It was on Twitter that I found one employee tweeting from a conference in NYC. I tweeted publicly to him, since I can't direct message anyone who isn't following me, said that I needed urgent help and could he email me. I was surprised, and I was delighted, that he actually made contact with me, and would end up calling me after checking with the company in person on Monday, to confirm that there was a billing error and I wasn't going to have to file for bankruptcy.

While this employee made a huge impression on me for helping in a highly stressful situation (a $4000 bill where I was expecting a $400 bill), I never recovered my trust. It's stressful not to have any remedy for situations like that.

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Experience 2 - Found an Active Twitter Account for the Company, but the Support was Directed back to an Automated Customer Support System -  Another situation was with a new social media site where there was no warning on a delete feature, and my hand slipped and I deleted a full entry with detail below it. I scoured the help and FAQs. Looked for forums - none. Searched Google - no answer. Again, I remembered social media - and looked on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. Twitter was lively. People from the company were active and responding to Tweets, some from customers. That was promising. BUT, I noticed that to a number of customer service questions they were sending people back to the customer service on their site - to fill in a customer service request.

Why was that a problem? Because the customer service request responded with a form email. There was no way to get urgent help. When a few days later another email came back responding to the particular item - it was hardly helpful, it only said, a number of people have requested changes with this feature. Read our blog to stay updated.

I can see how customer support can be a nightmare of inquiries that need individual responses, hard to manage for a start up, but without it, I lost my faith in this business. The initial excitement about finding a responsive Twitter page, ended in disappointment.

There was no way to get my data back. And the company didn't have anything specific to say about when they would add a protective feature with the delete button. (Don't all delete buttons have a warnings?)

Again, I lost a service provider and they lost a customer.

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I have seen that Bank of America has a multi-person Twitter site offering customer support. That's intriguing.

I can see that managing customer support through Twitter may not be ideal, but it could be an initial point of contact and reassurance, with then guidance to a customer support system that has more functionality and tracking for full documentation of the problem and solution.

Forums could be a Big Part of the Answer. Vital user community forums have answered many a question for me over time. I search with my question and usually find others who have asked the same question, and most of the time, there's a good answer among the several that are there. Many a time when customer support is delayed, being able to get an instant answer through a user forum is even better. While we still may need customer support to take some action, the answers from Forums can relieve stress.

 

 

Thanks Anora McGaha for your insightful comments. Greatly appreciated: Regarding specific social media forms or channels for customer support, it is better to use channels popular with your customers. For example, if you are an travel or hospitality business and your customers use Twitter to express their opinions, better to use Twitter to engage customers. If you are a B2B company and your customers prefer "closed" communities, better to set up one, else they are not going to use other Social Media channels like Twitter or Facebook. Hope I have answered your questions. Thanks again for your detailed comment, much appreciated! Harish Kotadia, Ph.D.

Companies should provide Customer Support on Social Media Channels for the following reasons:

1.  Opportunities associated with client contact

2.  Increasing customer loyalty, satisfaction, and branding

3.  Ability to create and sustain job employment to improve the economy

Customer Support on Social Media Channels is another explosion of innovative ideas and methods to get in touch with customers especially in real-time.  As this is a new area unexplored in businesses, social media is another form of marketing that allows the company's products, services, and brand to stand out.  Social media opens opportunities for collaboration and gaining the thoughts and perspectives of consumers and professionals and subject matter experts.  Customers want a solution to their needs or questions while taking out the guess work of who to contact within the company.  Customers give the input; companies determine and provide the best output for their products and services in order to gain and retain customer satisfaction and developing long-term relationships.

Thanks Charlotte Torres for your comment, much appreciated: I agree with you that "Customer Support on Social Media Channels is another explosion of innovative ideas and methods to get in touch with customers especially in real-time"

This offers tremendous opportunities and benefits if used correctly. It is time for companies/brands to seize this opportunity and benefit from it.

Thanks again for your comment,

Harish Kotadia, Ph.D.

http://hkotadia.com/

I agree, Customer service should be more social since we receive feedbacks from our consumers.  We make them feel important and our priority too.  With everyday's online presence of mostly anybody, we show them that we listen and share our new products.  And of course your last reason, is important for me :)

Thanks Sheila @ Avaguide for your comment. Much appreciated!

Completely agree and is certainly has been my experience at giffgaff mobile, where we've built a company around reducing costs through customer service provided via our community.

Can I suggest to add one more? 

4. Your customers/ prospects are already using social media for customer support

Companies that are worried about the additional cost about 'creating customer support via social media', need to realise that customer support requests are already happening via these channels - if you're not responding to them there, they'll assume you're ignoring them.

If you've already got a social presence - think of your facebook fan page / twitter feed as a your "shop window" -pepper your window display with customer questions/problems and your shop won't be so inviting.

If you want to increase 'fans' and 'followers' and help your customers to ask questions where they're already comfortable/ familiar - one of the challenges is to separating/balancing out "content" vs "support".

We already had member support via our community forum, we noticed an increasing number of people posting questions on our fan page and on twitter @giffgaff. To help separate out content and support - we introduced another twitter handle (@giffgaffhelp) and a "help" tab within our fan page (which feeds into the forum). These simple changes have had a real positive impact on increasing our "likes" and members satisfaction.

Best of all, to your point 3 - our members are helping out across twitter and facebook now as well.

Thanks for your comment Claire Kavanagh: Yes, your point# 4 is valid one: "Your customers/ prospects are already using social media for customer support". If your customers are already using Social Media for requesting support and if you are not paying attention, that is a big mistake. It is like not answering customer support phone calls or replying to emails. It is time companies realize their mistake if that is the case and start offering customer support on Social Media channels right away. Thanks again for your comment. Much appreciated! Harish Kotadia, Ph.D.

Harish, your post comes very timely as we are currently internally discussing whether and how to merge ‘traditional’ customer support channels with Social Media as we already see our audiences contacting us via social media channels with problems / questions rather going through the ‘proper’ channels i.e. emailing the respective helpdesk.

 I agree with your first two reasons, however, I am unsure about the third one. How would you manage erroneous information provided by other advocates? Also the model of 'outsourcing' ones support centre might not work in every industry. I work at a university, with numerous ‘specialised’ services (i.e. Library, IT, e-learning etc) which all have their own logging systems, it might even increase the cost for customer support as helpdesk employees have to ‘log jobs’ on behalf of their clients so to speak if a request comes via a social media channel. I guess, the only way is to adopt ones systems to cater for ones ‘clients’ needs.

 Do you have any ideas on how to tackle the ‘internal processes’ barrier?

Thanks Hariet Waffenschmidt for your comment, greatly appreciated:

"Internal Process" barrier is a big challenge in providing customer support on Social Media channels, especially since most of the traditional customer support systems do not provide integration with Social Media. In the absence of such integration, you may use Social media channel like Twitter to provide first level/basic support or to direct your customers to right website/phone nos they can use for customer support. Over a period of time, I expect any good CRM system to offer Social Media support functionality.

Regarding erroneous information, you need to moderate the discussion or step-in whenever required. Over a period of time, community members will figure out who is trust worthy and who is not.

Last but not the least, one of the best way of beating the 'internal process barrier' is to actually start doing things and demonstrating real results. If you can show good results and your customers start appreciating your efforts, people in your organization will realize the value of Social Media customer support and adoption will become easier.

Thanks again for your comment, much appreciated.

Harish Kotadia, Ph.D.



Great article!  I think companies will NEED to have some sort of presence on social media sites, just reiterated by the growth in people using these sites.  Personally, I've been turning to social media (Facebook, Twitter and blogs mostly) more often to find information - whether it's product info/recommendations or support.

From a business perspective, I think it goes beyond just "networking" and there's a certain technology element that needs to be considered.  As a marketer, all the analytics and technology surrounding social media is often overwhelming.  You have to be able to measure your efforts and that sometimes gets difficult.

On the side, I work for IQPC, a conference production company, and we host The Summit, presented by Call Center Week.  Due to the increased demand for discussions on using social media to connect with customers and provide a great experience, we have introduced an entire track on social media this year.  There's some great speakers from BestBuy, Qwest, Thumbplay, MyPublisher and Constant Contact.  If anyone would like more info on the event, the website is www.CallCenterEvent.com (or on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or our blog).

Thanks AbbyLombardi for your comments: I agree with you that for business, it is not just "networking" and there's a certain technology element that needs to be considered. I also agree that all the analytics and technology surrounding social media is often overwhelming. This is the reason why it is important to define your Social Media Engagement (or) Social CRM objectives and strategy clearly before you select technology or analytics tools. Once you have defined your goals properly, selection of tools and technology becomes much easier. Hope I have answered your question. Thanks again for your comment, Harish Kotadia, Ph.D.

Harish, Great insights..Now days i find lot of organizations utilizing this medium to manage their customer service. let me give my view on this topic w.r.t an industry that i see is treading slowly but firmly. Pharma Contact Centers are very different from the conventional Contact Centers that we are aware of. Even there i see some experiments being undertaken by some of the big names in this industry. They are trying to explore how effectively they can use this channel. You will find big names on Twitter, but the purpose is not to utilize this platform for replacing conventional contact center. This is a testing time for this industry. I will shortly write my views on this and will share that with you for comments and guidance.

Regards

Amitesh 

With over 20% of people using Twitter also seeking service and support you're nuts not to be open and available to help your customers through ANY channel. Whether you decide to make it a differentiator between you and your competitors is a question of scale and resources etc. Brian Solis says "Engage or Die" and I say if you're not prepared to help people through great service on Twitter, why are you there at all?