• July 31, 2015

Twitter and Facebook Enable More Social Customer Service

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This June, two social media giants made pushes that will pressure brands to improve the customer service they provide on their platforms.

Twitter removed the 140-character limit on direct messages, following a move it made in April that enables users to message each other privately regardless of whether they follow one another on the site. Now, if a customer tweets a complaint about a brand, a service representative can reach out to him personally to resolve the issue without following that person or being constrained by a character limit.

Facebook, meanwhile, introduced a function called "Saved Replies," which shows how quickly customer queries have been addressed on company pages. When somebody posts a request for help in a public forum, other users will be able to see just how efficient the company was at addressing the issue.

These developments are not incidental. A significant number of customers are using social channels to ask questions or raise concerns. Recent research from the Northridge Group indicates that 26 percent of consumers have turned to social media when they've had trouble getting assistance through other channels. The findings also show that those customers aren't getting the help they need on social media, or are not getting it as quickly as they'd like. Also troubling, when companies do respond, more than 30 percent of responses do not meet customer expectations.

"With social being a new and evolving channel, we would expect usage to continue as customers get better service," says Pam Plyler, executive practice lead for customer experience and contact center management at the Northridge Group. Accordingly, 47 percent of those surveyed plan to use social media just as much, or more, in the future.

The consequences of not acting quickly to help customers on social media can linger. Natalie Petouhoff, a principal analyst at Constellation Research, likens posts in a public forum to ancient cave paintings—relics that aren't easily erased. As such, they should be handled in an efficient and timely manner. "The most important thing is to respond to the posts," Petouhoff says. "Give the impression that you actually care," and figure out how to resolve the issue.

Customer service departments have been neglectful of social media largely because companies have typically thought of it as an opportunity for advertising and not as an avenue for helping customers, according to Brent Leary, cofounder of CRM Essentials. Traditionally, when someone has made a loud and noticeable complaint on social media, it has been handled from a public relations perspective rather than a customer service one, he notes.

And as social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook make it easier for users to get the help they require, customers will expect more useful and timely responses from the brands they contact. Companies can no longer afford to overlook those channels as they once did. "More service actions are taking place on social," Leary says, noting that the link between the public aspects of social media (walls and profiles) and the private ones (chats and direct messages) will have to become more connected to reduce friction. "Companies are going to have to figure out how much more richly they can act in service and resolution."

"Companies need to have a plan across all channels, but understand that they have to be consistent on those channels," Plyler adds. —Oren Smilansky

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