Many consumer-facing brands today are grappling with social media as a channel through which to support customers. There’s a reason for it: customers today expect it, particularly younger customers. While a few brands have been successful – a handful of them wildly successful – in building creative and responsive social media channels to attract, keep and support customers, most companies are still in a steep learning curve.
Social media as a customer support channel is often identified as a single entity, but the truth of the matter is that different social media platforms have very different demands. Facebook (News - Alert), for instance, is a very visual and visible platform, allowing other customers to read communication chains. Twitter, on the other hand, is a far more one-way channel that relies on retweets, making it harder for brands to control the message.
A recent study based in the UK found that though 76 percent of British organizations maintain a Twitter (News - Alert) account, only 39 percent of them are able to answer customer service questions asked directly through the channel, making it the least effective of the popular social media platforms for customer service. The research, released in the Eptica Multichannel Customer Experience Study (also in infographic form), evaluated 100 UK-based companies on their ability to provide answers to 10 routine questions via the web, as well as their speed and accuracy when responding to email, Twitter and via the Web site.
A majority of companies using Twitter still believe it to be a one-way communications channel, intended to broadcast messages, and monitoring customers’ Tweets for insight into how customers view the brand, a company’s competitors and the industry as a whole. This is not a great policy, as customers increasingly expect responses to their Tweets, are few are receiving them.
“It’s unfortunate…that although many companies are keen to establish a presence on Twitter, they are failing to engage with customers,” according to a recent article by eConsultancy’s Christopher Ratcliffe.
The good news for Twitter is that it proved to be the fastest customer service channel…when it works. Compared to email customer service, which is popular in the UK (more so than the U.S.), Twitter responses were eight time faster, averaging only 8 hours and 37 minutes for an answer. (Compare this to e-mail’s average of 61 hours and 39 minutes.)
The eConsultancy article recommends that British companies put more resources behind Web chat, a very two-way channel that produces fast results and has high satisfaction rates among customers. It’s becoming the most popular customer support channel in the U.S. after the telephone, but only 14 percent of UK-based online retailers are offering the channel.
The message today is that companies need to think before they sink money into resources for customer support. Throwing money where it sticks and guessing how customers will like to contact and be contacted is a dangerous strategy. A company needs to know its customers and its competitors, and put its limited resources behind the channels that customers will truly use. Of course, this doesn’t get them off the hook of social media: while these channels still represent a small slice of customers, they have the potential to make the greatest waves when they are mishandled.