Social Customer Care Requires Compassion

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Facebook, the paragon of all things social, started out in 2004, though at the time it was a novelty limited only to students at Harvard University. Now, as Facebook celebrates its 15th birthday, Facebook in particular and social media in general is no longer a novelty. It is used by everyone from presidents to preteens. Even England’s Queen Elizabeth II, at age 92, in March posted her first pic ever to Instagram.

Still, despite the fact that seemingly everyone on the planet is on at least one social network or another, there is one area where it remains a challenge: Customer service requests that come through social media are still problematic for many organizations.

In the United Kingdom, for example, companies successfully responded to only 57 percent of questions posed on Facebook (nearly doubling from 30 percent in 2017), according to the 2019 Eptica Digital Trust Study. This was significantly ahead of Twitter, which only saw 45 percent of questions get a response.

Part of the reason for that could very well be that only 46 percent of the 222 contact center managers and directors surveyed by research firm ContactBabel for its “2018-19 U.S. Contact Center Decision-Makers’ Guide” reported having dedicated social media teams working within their contact centers. At 37 percent of companies, social media is handled by an in-house team outside of the contact center, such as marketing, PR, or corporate communications.

This comes as ContactBabel also found that social media is being viewed as an important customer service tool: 76 percent of respondents said it is “very useful” for monitoring comments about the company and its products and services, and 60 percent said the same for responding to negative comments and complaints.

These results suggest that companies are finally beginning to see the value in social media for customer service, but to be successful they will need to strike a balance between scripted and human responses to consumers.


First, companies need to realize that consumers are on social media, and then they need to establish a presence there if they haven’t already done so. Then they need to know why customers are there.

Experts agree that consumers are increasingly seeing social media as an option to get their customer service issues resolved. The simple explanation is that social media channels have become familiar, according to Leslie O’Flahavan, principal and owner at E-WRITE, a company that provides training to help companies write for online audiences. “Social media is becoming mundane; it’s hardly sparkly and new. It’s commonplace, and we turn to commonplace channels or methods to get help,” she says.

O’Flahavan goes on to say that companies are largely available on social media channels in two ways: through online communities, where customers can share their feelings about products or experiences, or through a direct avenue for customers to get help with those products or services.

“Customers are becoming more aware that either within the same ‘@companynamehandle’ or in a separate handle ‘@companynamehelp’ they can get help with problems,” she says. “Just by practice, they’re realizing that there’s a social media version of the 1-800 phone number, and that a lot of times it works more quickly and often better than some of the other channels for getting help. People are pretty wise about how to get their needs met, and they are getting their needs met by lots of excellent companies in social, so they’re going there.”

Alan Berkson, global director of community outreach at Freshworks, which provides a range of customer support and sales software, sees consumer use of social media for customer service as rooted in urgency/convenience or last resort/broader visibility. “There is a sense that social represents a back door to support. In some respects, it’s the customer service equivalent of a Hail Mary pass in football. The consumer throws the support query onto a social channel in hopes it will be caught by the social team,” he says.

Berkson uses the travel industry as an example. “When a flight has been delayed or a reservation is missing...time is critical. Email is too slow, and calling into a customer service line may not be convenient or practical,” he explains.

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