Should You Offer Social Customer Support?
Despite its limitations, progressive organizations are leveraging social media as part of an omnichannel customer service strategy.
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At last year's CRM Evolution conference, a debate about the viability of social media as a customer service channel ensued during a keynote panel discussion. One of the panelists, from a prominent software company, suggested that while companies are using social media for marketing purposes, it is not an effective customer support channel. Obviously, this isn't true.

Many consumers are using social media for customer service. In fact, "social media is used as the primary customer service channel by 36.4 percent of Gen Y consumers," according to this month's cover story, "10 Social Customer Service Tips," by News Editor Leonard Klie. As a result, organizations have been experimenting with new ways to engage customers on social media channels.

More progressive companies are moving beyond the experimentation stage and incorporating enterprise-class solutions that enable them to listen, analyze, and respond to customers on social media. Some are even able to leverage technology that can transfer interactions from social media channels to traditional customer support channels without losing essential data. And the most advanced companies are able to share customer information with multiple departments inside the enterprise. To find out more about these developments, check out CRM magazine's Web broadcast "Social Media Goes Beyond the Contact Center," featuring speakers from Kana, Aspect, Oracle, and LiveOps.

I'd be remiss if I didn't mention another relevant Webinar we conducted in December, "Transforming the Customer Experience Through Social Communities, sponsored by Jive Software. In this Webinar, Elizabeth Herrell, vice president and principal analyst at Constellation Research, offers good advice on how to effectively leverage a social community platform for customer service.

While the recent advances in social media engagement strategies are pretty impressive, one important issue that eventually must be addressed is the limitations of the new interaction channel. Our cover story touches on one of them in the eighth tip, "Stay on the Customer's Preferred Channel." Naturally, it would be easy if most customer service inquiries on Twitter could be resolved in 140 characters or less, but often that's not the case and, consequently, the interaction must be transferred to another channel. Additionally, any interactions that require the exchange of sensitive customer data should be escalated to a more secure channel.

This presents a bit of a challenge and begs the following question: Can social media be used for all customer service issues? The simple answer is no. It's likely that a significant amount of these interactions will have to be transferred to another channel. The challenge is how to do this effectively.

Esteban Kolsky, principal and founder of ThinkJar, an advisory and research consultancy focused on customer strategies, provides examples of two companies that are handling the social media escalation process well. In his blog post "Twitter for Customer Service? These Companies Get It Right," he lauds T-Mobile for escalating social interactions to a Web chat session and Amazon for moving the interaction to a Web ticketing system.

Evidently, despite its limitations, progressive organizations are leveraging social media as part of their customer service strategies, even if it's only for simple engagements. These companies have proven that social media is a viable component of an omnichannel customer service strategy. To say it's not is woefully inaccurate.

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