I happened on an interesting research paper this weekend entitled “The State of Social Customer Service” created by NM Incite. It defines “social care” as customer service that is solicited through social media (primarily on Facebook or Twitter) and explains the benefits of social listening to cater to these “social care” customers. Other key insights (verbatim from the study):
47% of all social media users have used social care, with usage as high as 59% among 18-24 year olds; usage spans all ages and genders
71% of those who experience positive social care (i.e., a quick and effective brand response) are likely to recommend that brand to others, compared to just 19% of customers that do not receive any response
Nearly 1 in 3 social media users prefer to reach out to a brand for customer service through a social
channel compared to the phone
A single negative customer experience posted in public can wipe out the effect of up to five positive customer messages (this is actually a statistic cited from a yet unpublished marketing study)
The study itself offers a powerful consumer insight, but I’m not sure that it’s as universally applicable as many people would like to believe. Let me explain.
Writers laud these findings
Here is a sample of articles covering this study:
Consumers preferring to seek customer service via social media, survey reveals
Customer Service via Facebook May Be the Wave of the Future
Consumers Demand Service Through Social Media
47 Percent Want Customer Service On Social Media [Study]
To read these analyses, a third of customers prefer seeking customer service via social media, Facebook social media is the wave of the future and the majority of business models are completely antiquated!
Here’s the issue: there really aren’t a lot of companies that actually do this, so these respondents are answering in the hypothetical. Additionally, what they’re proposing is rather cost-prohibitive for most small to medium sized businesses. This is by design: NM Incite is a partnership between Nielsen and McKinsey providing big-data analytics to brands. This study wasn’t meant to persuade a small business to migrate their customer service to Facebook. It was meant to persuade bigger businesses to use NMI as an analytics vendor.
The recent Vocus / Duct Tape Marketing study on social media utilization painted a picture of small and medium sized businesses that oftentimes add social media to the marketing department duties without adding headcount or a lot of budget. In this scenario, maintaining a 24-hour response team for social media would not only be silly, but it would be expensive. Not to mention the fact that depending upon your target demographic (Gen M specifically), there is evidence that Facebook and Twitter are not going to be the preferred social networks for them. Because some people prefer to interact on Pinterest, Instagram, Tumblr, App.net, LinkedIn, or some other site, should you have a social presence that is a mile wide and an inch deep? Or more precisely, a mile wide, a mile deep and resource intensive? You can see that something as innocuous as this study could cause a company to go nuts if they took it too seriously.
I took a very unscientific look at a couple of big companies who are apt to perform “social care,” to look at how they measure up to the ideal that the NMI study sets.
The first I looked at was Walgreens. Walgreens is thought to be an innovator in social care, though I pointed out a few months back their overdependence on autotweeting when they they autotweeted an in-store promotion to a lady whose pet had died. Sufficed to say, they’ve gotten better. They autotweet responses to anyone who mentions them (mostly by Foursquare check-in), but they have a dedicated team for most of the day who actually respond to inquiries and have a separate Twitter handle (presumably to keep complaints off of their main account). They also have a Facebook page where they respond to inquiries, but haven’t quite figured out that they can’t tag individual users from their corporate account (which is a little awkward). They seem to respond intermittently to people on Facebook, showcasing that FB is not an ideal place to be handling customer service to begin with.
All in all, Walgreens does a pretty admirable job of follow-up, and they make it clear where customers can go for help. They do have boundaries, and they have some issues performing consistent customer service on Facebook.
— Walgreens (@Walgreens) October 16, 2012
AT&T is probably one of the worst customer service organizations I’ve ever dealt with. They’ve been my cell carrier for many years as I’ve been locked into cell contracts with them, but they make no concessions for any inconveniences that they cause and are a very fragmented organization (presumably due to their different acquisitions). On Facebook, AT&T doesn’t allow people to post on their page (except in comments, which they don’t respond to), so they’re not doing a lot of FB customer service. On Twitter, they do respond to complaints but in a curious way. They’ve got customer care teams named after their team leads, but the people responding have different names. For instance, as shown below the member of Team Natasha servicing a customer is Nancy. I find this hilarious. Is is Natasha? Is it Nancy? Does it matter?
AT&T makes an effort for social care, but isn’t performing on par with the ideal that this study presents, either.
— ATTCustomerCare (@ATTCustomerCare) October 29, 2012
My daughter had a minor medical issue recently, which caused her a lot of pain. No matter what a person’s threshold of pain is, their threshold for a child’s pain is decidedly less. So when my kid was in pain and her doctor wouldn’t see her for a day, we switched pediatricians.
To me this is the undercurrent of any customer service study – I’m not sure that customers are as excited to dictate the platform where customer service is performed as they are to get their problems solved. Trying to take a study purposed to persuade customers to buy a social analytics and monitoring solution and implying that it may be the new customer service norm is a stretch.
At the end of the day people may say that they’d love for you to address their problems on Facebook, but they really just want you to address their problems. Period.
One last point…..
To the point about one negative social comment equal to five positive social comments – I find this a little misleading. All audiences and platforms aren’t created equal, so positioning something so variable as absolute seems false to me. For instance, if I were to go onto Twitter to lament my kid’s pediatrician there is very little chance that anyone will see it and give it a second thought.
It will be interesting to see the research behind this figure when it is finally published, but it seems like a rather provocative and simplistic statistic for a much more sophisticated mechanism.
What are your thoughts about customer service through social media? Is any company rocking your world on Facebook? Is it more important where customer service happens or whether it happens?