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Consumers turn to social media for customer service

June 27, 2014

Consumers have learned that when you want to resolve an issue with a retailer or brand quickly, the fastest path is often through Facebook, Twitter or some other social media channel.

New research from Accent Marketing provides insights on various ways consumers engage with social media. High on that list is addressing customer service issues.

According to research, 72 percent of consumers only want to interact with brands via social media. In the case of Facebook, 82 percent have used the platform to contact a customer service representative. Thirty-four percent of men and 25 percent of women use Twitter to speak to a brand after a product purchase.

Back in 2012, I found that the quickest way to get an issue with one chain's service department was to take my gripes (following extended time getting nowhere on the phone) to social media.

Despite the fact that consumers are increasingly using social media channels to vent their frustrations, many companies are still not viewing Facebook, Twitter, et al as customer service channels, John Hoholik, chief growth officer at Accent, told MediaPost's Marketing Daily.

A 2013 report by Conversocial supports Mr. Hoholik's analysis. In that study, Conversocial found that most consumers go to social channels looking for a direct answer to the question right then and there. Instead, 98 percent are given an e-mail address or phone number to call. Seventy-six percent say the conversation with the retailer or brand dies after they get redirected.

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Discussion Questions:

Do you agree that many retailers have been slow to treat social media as a customer service channel? How should they be approaching the issue of customer complaints on social channels?

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Instant Poll:

What grade would you give retailers on the whole for how they address customer service issues on social media?

Comments:

In the eyes of many consumers, retailer customer service is a misnomer. Some retailers don't care, others feel that they are doing as well as they can do, regardless of consumer attitudes. Social media is another way to connect with consumers, for both praise and complaints.

Boomers are accustomed to pick up the phone and call. Millennials rarely call anyone, so they are more likely to reach out through Facebook, Twitter or a company website. Wherever a consumer chooses to contact a retailer, it's an opportunity for the retailer to build loyalty and increase lifetime customer value.

If retailers are going to participate in social media, they need to be vigilant about that presence and respond to consumers in a timely manner. It's just good business.

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Max Goldberg, President, Max Goldberg & Associates

Yes, and sometimes that's better.

In research I did over several years with AT Kearney we found that A.) some branders (including retailers) were slow to understand the importance of social media as a customer service tool and B.) when they did see its value they often made a bad consumer experience worse by mishandling the customer's feedback.

The key to understanding how to leverage social media is to understand that social networks are nothing more—or less—than collections of INDIVIDUALS who expect, no, make that DEMAND, that they be treated as unique people and not shuffled to some FAQ list for "help."

If, as a retailer, you are going to be on social media you need to treat it seriously—not as an afterthought. Customer service requests should be addressed promptly and on a case-by-case basis. There hasn't been enough done yet in terms of tracking digital service recovery, but it is not smart to overlook its potential.

Thanks to social media, that one disgruntled consumer has the potential to reach literally millions of other individual people. It can be an expensive lesson to forget.

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Ryan Mathews, Founder, ceo, Black Monk Consulting

Absolutely. Social media is the equivalent to the "digital backyard fence." Customers use such media to share feedback, often negative, regarding recent purchases of products and services.

Retailers need to turn grumbles into complaints and then respond in a judicious manner (convenient, timely and respectful). Grumbles tell everyone except the offending party. Not only do retailers need to respond to direct complaints, they need to make the complaint process easy to do and responsive. In addition, they need to have systems in place to track and respond to indirect complaints aired via social media.

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Richard J. George, Ph.D., Professor of Food Marketing, Haub School of Business, Saint Joseph's University

If you call customer service one person hears about your problem, if you use social media there could be hundreds or thousands of people listening. So retailers have to be completely involved in these channels to protect/manage their brand. It's too bad that customer service departments don't operate with the agility and speed that a customer may get by going social, and deal with problems before they become bigger issues. For the statistically-oriented here's an interesting summary.

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Peter J. Charness, SVP America, Global CMO, TXT Group

Many retailers are not monitoring social media and responding to customer complaints and concerns because they a.) realize that searching out those customer comments and providing quality solutions will require even more time and their best staffers, b.) know that it will cost them more money to execute properly, and c.) hope it's just a fad that they can ignore. But it's the industry's failures in phone, online chat and email customer service that drive customers to social media.

It's too late to turn back now. Endless wait times, lack of good responses and failure to institute customer-friendly policies in traditional customer service channels, coupled with changing expectations, have created a new reality. While those retailers who have provided exceptional customer service through traditional channels might face lower demands, even they must now add social customer service to their mix.

Doug Pruden, Principal, CustomerExperiencePartners.com

Here is a novel idea; maybe retailers should get their customer service departments to resolve issues, rather than creating added problems by saying things like "we don't do that" or "it's too late." Maybe Zappos should charge the other retailers a fee for teaching them how to treat a customer or an employee.

Maybe retailers need to focus on who their real boss is—and it is not the stockholders or ivory tower management. It's you and me, the people with the money coming to them to fulfill a need.

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Ed Rosenbaum, CEO, The Customer Service Rainmaker, Rainmaker Solutions

Yes, most merchants and CPG brands have not "cracked the code" on social channels. Whether we're talking a basic strategy, customer service or monetizing the social campaigns.

Social has got to become a top priority. Companies are losing business because they do not have an executable social strategy. Start there first.

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Ralph Jacobson, Global Consumer Products Industry Marketing Executive, IBM

Accent Marketing's research illustrates the significant gap in how consumers view social media vs. how the majority of brands view it: Consumers expect their comments/complaints/ideas/service issues to be acknowledged, addressed and resolved quickly when they post to a retailer's social media community.

Retailers, on the other hand, view social media as an outbound marketing and brand-building tool—essentially channels for speaking TO and AT consumers. It is no surprise that retailers generally fail at resolving customer service issues via social media—they're just not placing such strategic priorities around it.

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Jeff Hall, President, Second To None

To answer these questions I have to go back to job description. One of the big differences we see between calling a customer service person and using social media, is the knowledge and access that the employee has.

More often than not, when you call customer service you are taken into scripted H*//! If it involves more than locating a package, the customer usually has to prove that he/she knows what they are talking about.

Once frustrated enough, and that always happens to me, I take it online, preference is Twitter, and I usually always get an immediate response. With a twist! The person who responds has the access and/or the knowledge to get the problem resolved.

So, my answers to the questions posed here are yes, retailers are slow to treat social media as a customer service channel. Why? Because the job description/skill set is not one that currently exists within customer service today. The smart retailers have learned how to fill this position and the slow retailers should be working on it.

And that's my 2 cents!

Lee Kent, Let's meet share and succeed in Retail, YourRetailAuthority

Social should be a well managed customer service channel, but it can also serve many other purposes such as pre-sales and assisted online shopping. The leading social media management tools have evolved now to the point where any brand or retailer can effectively triage and manage social listening and engagement across multiple scenarios, going well beyond just responding to customer complaints.

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Martin Mehalchin, Partner, Lenati, LLC

Yes. I like Lee Kent's Two Cents on the use of social media where the person responding has the ability to correct the problem. I was also relieved to be reminded that when the customer is upset, it is rarely, if ever, related to price.

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Naomi K. Shapiro, Strategic Market Communications, Upstream Commerce

Social media is not, and should not be a customer service channel. By creating this, companies are sidestepping their ability to properly record and report the issues internally, let alone create solutions that can be spread throughout their customer service process. When consumers seek out alternative channels to vent their frustrations, this only point to a poor customer service channel in the company.

Solutions to this are clear...get better customer service! Listening to your customers, especially your upset ones, are the key to developing a world class organization, with world-class products, services, and communications.

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Kai Clarke, CEO, American Retail Consultants

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