Social Customer Service

Posted by admin on 1/9/2012

Social Customer Service

This morning, upon entering the office and beginning my regular work day, I realized that we were experiencing strange network issues with our Comcast Business high-speed internet. We were intermittently losing our connection repeatedly and quite frustratingly.

Now, like many in today’s world, I am not a fan of taking time out of my day to pick up the phone and call a support staff. There are many reasons for this:

  • Phone calls are not efficient: You will generally spend 5 to 10 minutes waiting in a cue or navigating highly obnoxious automated operators, often times with no escape hatch to simply reach a person.
  • Getting lost in translation: You’ve all experienced it, the very kind but hardly fluent Service Representative based in New Dehli, India. Often times communicating basic information about your problem can be incredibly difficult because of accents, a lack of clarity on the user side, or a stubborn representative forced to follow a procedural list regardless of your level of knowledge.
  • Dropped calls: Ever waited twenty minutes to talk to a Service Representative, taken another twenty minutes to explain a problem, been put on hold for another five minutes, then had the call drop? I had a close friend have that happen 3 times during one simple service call. In a world where mobile is king this is an even greater problem, and rarely do companies take your number to call you back and, when they do, that call often comes ten minutes later.
  • Voice service is a waste of your businesses time and that of your clients and customers: Communication is less clear, your Representative can only manage one or two calls at a time, calls are dropped, clients are angry from wait times, etc. Time to move on.

On top of all of that we live in a real-time world where your clients expect immediacy. Given all of these clear facts, and the explosion of communications technology, why do so many companies cling to a medium invented in 1876 to serve their customers? Sure, you have your older customers that will still want a phone call, but you can change your world and likely lower costs embracing new technology. There is a better way. I, instead, reached out using social networking service Twitter.

Social Customer Service Done Right

Being that I have the patience for customer service of your typical twelve-year-old child, yes I admit it, I have a keen eye for companies that offer to save me the time and hassle that is a phone call. There are two methods, in particular, that I find save me an incredible amount of time and which likely cost the companies offering them very little to maintain as well as offer a big sales point.

Live Chat Support

In the last year I have moved to a new hosting company, given a number of moral and service level problems with my previous host, called Site5. As I have moved on to them and worked to learn some of the nuance of managing their back-end application for managing my products and services I have, of course, ran into questions and issues I was not quite genius enough to figure out on my own.

There were two methods through which I reached out the company, the second, Twitter, I will discuss in a moment but the most effective has been their offering of “live chat support.” This tid-bit of technology has been around since the last millenium yet is so sorely under-utilized as a customer service tool it is embarrassing for MBAs around the world. It is very simple, once logged into my management portal I click on the “Contact Us” button and it allows me two options, one is to call, the other is to chat live with a representative that very moment. I have solved every problem I needed to solve, and answered every question I needed to answer, within 5 to 10 minutes flat using this method. Never once have I needed to pick up a phone, and every time the chat box contains a picture of my Representative and their full name. A nice personal touch in an increasingly impersonal world. I can also save that chat for later reference, saving repeat calls for similar issues.

This method also works well for companies that outsource their customer service as it removes the, very common, language barrier that is the bane of your customers very lives.

Twitter Feedback Engagement and Support

This is a much newer medium than the last, yet has proven incredibly effective for me in matters from product feedback to solving service issues. Site5, the company I discussed above, responded when I tweeted I was taking them on as my new host and that response came directly from their CEO, who pleasantly welcomed me. There are so many things right with that I cannot begin to explain to you why. I have had a similar experience recently in seeking to provide feedback for the new Tweetdeck software, a Twitter client I use far more frequently than my email inbox. Although I did have to seek out the twitter account of the CEO, an exceedingly helpful British gentleman by the name of Iain Dodsworth, he responded and took my, quite negative, feedback and thanked me for providing it and helping better inform his company on future development. @Tweetdeck never did respond, odd for a company owned by Twitter.

That, however, is only one reason why I believe all companies should be actively engaging their audiences, customers and clients via Twitter. It is a great sounding board, yes, but it also serves a dual purpose when you turn it into a customer service portal. When you help a customer or client on Twitter it is being done on a public medium, and therefore, prospective customers see how helpful your company is. You solve your existing customers problems, quickly and effectively reassuring their purchasing decision, while advertising a value proposition for the services you offer to those they follow.

Here too I have a great example of this in action. This brings us back to my earlier story of intermittent internet access this morning. Our service is with Comcast, given my distaste for the consolidation of media companies this should frankly not be my favorite company, however their embrace of Twitter for customer service is nothing less than brilliant. Within mere moments of tweeting to @ComcastCares and @Comcast this morning that I was experiencing problems I was in direct contact with a service representative named Bill. I sent a direct message containing the pertinent account information, taking two seconds of my time after he requested it, and within about 5 to 10 minutes I had a call from Comcast to set up a service appointment for the next morning. They had already diagnosed the problem and I didn’t have to waste my time listening to hold music while they did so. Problem solved, efficiently and with little pain and time costs for everyone involved.

The Wrong Way To Do Social Customer Service

Tomorrow I will, very likely, receive a phone call from my Netsuite representative, a wonderfully helpful woman who I will not name but I want to be clear is the most helpful person we have worked with from Netsuite. She will be asking me to please not tweet or write complaints about the company, and of course channel my communications through “official” means. It has happened before. A few months back I tweeted that their hosted ERP platform was not functioning for us and we were unable to reach the data backbone of our company. I simply reported the outage, which turned out to be an odd internal DNS problem, via Twitter and asked for any help they could offer and any outlet providing the status of their servers. I did not hear a word from them, via Twitter or any other means, that day and a Google search returned no server status information for their services. What I did find is a horrifically designed company blog that proved entirely useless for my needs. Keep in mind, this is a Customer Relationship Management company. How delightfully ironic. I tweeted my displeasure with the design of their blog and, of course, kindly offered my design services.

The next day I received a call from our client representative sounding somewhat alarmed. “Hello Simon, Did someone from your company yesterday have trouble with Netsuite?” she kindly asked. “Yes, we did have some trouble yesterday” I replied. The conversation went on from there and she asked if anyone had said something on Twitter, I of course responded in the affirmative. She went on to request that in the future I should use their contrived ticketing system that was, of course, not available given the outage we experienced. “Please, only report problems through official means” or something of that nature was her basic request. I politely said that was impossible at the time, and that I wouldn’t have held back my public feedback even if it had been.

Welcome to the new world people. The most effective way to handle this problem is have a technically competent person running your Twitter account, and authorized to answer such simple questions, rather than waiting a day to call and complain about the medium through which the problem was reported. Again, I want to be clear this is not a complaint about our Representative, she has been incredibly helpful over the years and we are very happy with her service to our organization, this is a company policy problem for Netsuite. You are a customer relations company, give up control and learn to adapt to new modes of relations! I should also note that Netsuite does not even offer phone support to customers, despite requiring over $1000.00 a year, when discounted, to offer support at all. You are doing it all terribly wrong.


Phone communications are cumbersome and time consuming. Ticket systems are contrived and limit communications in ways that are even more frustrating for your users. Email, often times, comes with a bold warning that no one is listening to your complaints when you respond to them. It is ridiculous, the means through which we often are forced to reach the companies purportedly serving us. Don’t even try to reach Google, they don’t care.

I understand companies still need to serve older generations used to older forms of communications, however, that is no excuse for avoiding new media. New media is cheap, efficient, and has marketing potential to boot.

We are in a new world, a user-centered world where an individual can reach out to thousands to complain about your companies failures, or successes. It is also a world in which communication is brilliantly simple, cheap, fast and effective when done right. Some companies see this as an opportunity and take it on with great aplomb. Others have clearly seen it as a dire threat to their ability to control communications, a futile concern as you, frankly, have no control. All you can do is manage the tidal wave and manage it well. Which of these two paths is your company on?


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