When we think or speak about social customer care we often do so in terms of a pair of juxtaposed words: old-new, inside-outside, private-public, synchronous-asynchronous, centralised-decentralised, closed-open, broadcast-conversation, online FAQs-community, silo-omnichannel, transaction-empathy, telephone-Twitter...
Pairs of words. Pairs of words often treated as opposites. Pairs that are seemingly mutually exclusive. There is a tension between these binary terms. Friction is ever present. The one given strength through the constant reminder of the other's weaknesses, frailties and vulnerabilities. And yet the pairs are inextricably linked. One gives meaning to the other.
When social customer care first started to gain momentum, many interpreted this as the end of "traditional customer service." Email, the telephone, the contact centre, the letter. These would be replaced by Twitter, Facebook and communities. It sounded so easy. So appealing. So simple.
The old would be replaced by the new. The increasing ubiquity of the "always on" smartphone and tablet would fragment and disrupt, and in so doing exacerbate and speed up this transition.
Over the course of the next five years, old words entered the social customer care lexicon: authentic, genuine, transparent, trust, collaborate...
Old ideas gave rise to new possibilities: scalable intimacy.
Old skills formed the basis of new ones: digital literacy.
Old channels re-engineered: Amazon Mayday
Old concepts re-incarnated: complaintvertising
Old models of delivery - fixed, linear, synchronous - disrupted. New models of delivery taking shape around the notion of real-time, contextual, pre-emptive, cognitive.
Old metrics re-wired - Social NPS, Neteasy, Customer Effort Score (or at least we're trying to put a positive PR spin on understanding age old problems!).
The margins shifting. Becoming the centre ground. Becoming mainstream. Normalising.
And yet, despite the new words, the new models, the disruption, the fragmentation, the contact centre is still here, email is still here, Average Handling Time and First Contact Resolution are still here. Even the fax is still here (albeit only just). Customers still churn, customers still complain. Companies still fail; occasionally delight.
giffgaff, #Twelpforce, Zappos and KLM are the exceptions, the aberrations. A unique set of circumstances has allowed them to happen.
But no matter how much we re-engineer, re-wire, re-think, tinker; no matter how much we want these new ways - social customer care - to succeed, to replace what has come before it, the point is that in the final analysis, regardless of the pairs, regardless of how much we will the new words, new concepts, new channels, new models, new metrics to succeed, customer service is about people. Still about people. Will forever be about people. About you and me. About how we communicate and engage, empathise with each other.
The challenge will be for you, Mr. Company, not to seek salvation in trying to recreate giffgaff or #Twelpforce, not to seek salvation in aspiring to be Zappos or KLM, but to leave your processes and business hours at the entrance to the marketplace, and simply remember to greet me with a gentle "Hello."
Companies are also made up of people. Like you and me.
Image courtesy of IBM