Social Media Will Not Replace Other Channels for Service

Social media has an important place in the marketing and customer experience (CE) context. However, I am concerned that it is drawing a huge, and probably inappropriate, share of resources from basic product and service delivery and customer support; it glitters and is more exciting than traditional CE and service management.  It is the darling of twenty-somethings which are SFDC’s primary market.

I love the idea of social media. My concern is that it is draining resources from customer service and voice-of-the-customer functions that are already starved.  CMOs and COOs must make their resource allocations within the context of the overall customer experience, and not separate from the rest of customer interactions and feedback mechanisms.

Four examples illustrate my concern:

1. I asked the head of CE of a Fortune 100 company how his company was approaching social media and he said, “They are dumping a ton of money into it, but my contact center has a backlog of 14,000 emails.”

2. Our recent studies in CPG, durable goods and financial services suggest that most word of mouth recommendations for products and services still are primarily delivered by face to face, phone and Web self-service, with chat and e-mail growing as a percentage. Social media is for social interactions but still small for traditional service interactions. For instance, in two recent panel studies of CPG purchasers, we found that over 80% of word of mouth was spread via traditional, non-social media channels (face to face, phone, e-mail or blog) while social media constituted less than 15%.

3. CCMC’s 2013 National Rage Study found that less than 4 % of consumers with a serious problem immediately complain via social media.  In most cases they only go social when traditional channels fail.  Americans would prefer to complain in private but will go social if they are ignored by the company.

4. The author of a recent book on the financial impact of social media implied that it can be the channel of service using the following illustration. He had observed a distraught elderly woman without a cell phone at an airport gate during a weather delay, who was rebuffed and then ignored by insensitive gate staff. The author said that the airline should have, 1) been monitoring his tweets, 2) contacted him by Twitter to get a gate number so that they could then, 3) make a phone call to a supervisor to, 4) go to the gate and assist the passenger. A much simpler and efficient solution would have been to invest in training of the gate staff to effectively recognize and triage the situation.

I am not saying to ignore social media. Instead, social media is another channel for interaction with customers that must be placed in the context of overall CE management. One approach to integrating social media is to segment your market by preferred channel and allocate resources according to, 1) the number of current or potential customers in each segment or, 2) the relative amount of word of mouth that traditional channels generate vs. “word of mouse” from social media. I find that while “word of mouse” from social media is often measured, the extent and content word of mouth from other channels is seldom measured.

If you are a beer company primarily catering to single twenty-somethings, you must be heavily focused on social media. Likewise, for new stay-at-home mothers, P&G’s head of social media reported at a Salesforce conference, social media is a force multiplier that allows an answer from one mother to service a community of customers with the same question. However, for many other products, B2B markets and older customer segments, social media will only be a channel of secondary importance and should receive the appropriate allocation of resources.

My other area of concern is that some believe you can get a complete Voice of the Customer from social media. Not True! I argue that it is imperfect, unrepresentative and open to manipulation.

  • In most marketplaces, social media should be supplemented with four other data sources:
  • Service interactions and surveys are two types of information flows going into Salesforce data bases
  • Additionally, you should incorporate your operational and quality data to see what you know about the customer experience. For example, your operational data often describes what you have done or are about to do to the customer, like missed appointments and failed transactions. Such information can often allow you to recover by fixing the customer’s issue before he even contacts you, a process that I call delivering “psychic pizza.”
  • Further, if given a genuine channel of input, your employees will tell you what drives the customer craziest. One airline has the lead flight attendant report the top three issues that customers encountered within 30 minutes after every flight. These 6,000 data elements from 2,000 flights a day give a more valid picture of what is going on than 100 or even 500 tweets!

The good news is that all these other information flows can be easily accommodated by the Salesforce database.

In summary, social media is a critical part of the customer experience delivery system.  My only argument is that it is not the only one component; traditional service and voice of the customer processes must be given adequate resources as well.

About the Author

John Goodman is Vice Chairman of Customer Care Measurement & Consulting, jgoodman@customercaremc.com, Twitter jgoodman888. His latest book is Customer Experience 3.0, published by AMACOM and available on Amazon.

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