Social Customer Service: What Do Consumers Want?

Oct 31, 2013

When a consumer goes online to complain about a product or service issue, chances are good they’ve already exhausted all the normal channels of communication with a retailer. They probably are more than a little bit upset over what they see as the inability or unwillingness by a company’s employees to address what they view as a straightforward issue.

So, what do consumers expect when they go on a retailer’s Twitter page or other social media site? Most, it turns out, expect a direct answer right there in the form of a message from the merchant’s social media team.

According to a report by Conversocial, brands spend a lot of time redirecting consumers to other channels to address their problems and that is the opposite of what shoppers want. In fact, 98 percent are given an e-mail address or phone number they didn’t ask for and don’t want to use. Forty-two percent say their tweets are ignored when they object to being switched to another channel. Seventy-six percent say the conversation with the brand dies after they are directed elsewhere.

Interestingly, 14 percent of tweets are sent to retailers while customers are in the store. This puts even more pressure on merchants to respond quickly and not to deflect messages elsewhere.

Another curious note, the Conversocial study named J.C. Penney as the leading retailer in resolving customer service issues via Twitter.

What best practices would you suggest to retailers for responding to customer questions and complaints via social media channels? What is your take on the issue of consumers being deflected to other channels to address issues they have with a retailer?

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19 Comments on "Social Customer Service: What Do Consumers Want?"

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Tony Orlando

Again, common sense is lacking by some of these retailers. We answer all questions directly, and within a quick time frame. I don’t get passing the buck on my customers to some other entity.

Plain and simple solution: handle the questions directly or risk losing faith from your customers, as they can and will go elsewhere.

Ken Lonyai

First, deflecting consumers to other channels/avenues is the UX equivalent of spitting in their face. It’s essentially saying “I don’t hear you” and “do as I say and get away from me.”

There are the comparatively few companies that get UX/CX and then there’s all the rest. For the ones that don’t get it, either there needs to a house-cleaning of existing upper management or C-level execs need to spend time on the floor interacting with customers, experiencing retail from their perspective, and witnessing the frustrations (a.k.a. lost revenue) in the hopes that they’ll have an aha moment and change company policy. If they have that breakthrough, they may see the benefit to staffing SM channels with qualified actionable people, empowered to respond quickly.

Richard J. George, Ph.D.

If marketers are going to invest in social media and other Internet forms of communications, it is imperative to respond within customer expectations regarding feedback. After all if marketers are using social media as the modern day digital back yard fence, then the response needs to replicate what neighbors expect when talking over the fence.

Social media is a terrific listening tool. While advances have been made by companies to listen and not simply sell products, the responsibility of responding in a timely, if not immediate manner is the byproduct of listening.

Ryan Mathews
I was fortunate enough to work – along with Jim Singer and Christina Heggie – on the pioneering A. T. Kearney social network brand response research the firm initiated back when everyone was still bedazzled by Facebook. Over several years of extensive monitoring of Facebook, Linkedin, Twitter, and other social networks, we came to essentially the same conclusions as Conversocial. I have to disagree with George a bit. Whenever I have a complaint now, social networks/web pages are my first communication choice. Here’s an example. The other day one of my favorite restaurants decided to convert to a bar food menu. I told my server how sad I was to see the old menu go. She said many people felt the same way and that she’d mention my concerns to the manager – who never came over or acknowledged my comments. Rather than interact with someone clearly disinterested in my opinion, I went and flamed the new menu on Yelp and got an instant note from the manager asking what she could do to make things better, if I had any menu suggestions I’d like to discuss with her, etc. Why go digital? Because it works – and works faster.… Read more »
Max Goldberg

Retailers and brands need to respond directly to consumers through whichever channel the consumer uses to communicate. Deflecting to another channel is not acceptable to consumers, nor should it be to brands.

This means that brands must empower all customer service employees to handle and resolve customer concerns at the point of contact.

Social media has created a new world for brands. Brands need to adapt or lose business.

Shep Hyken

The best channel for a retailer to use for social media customer service is the one the customer wants to use. That said, I recently sent an email to a company asking for help on how to put together one of their products. They emailed back (very quickly) and included a link to a YouTube video. This was a perfect solution to my issue. I saw it as great customer service. They “deflected” me to a perfect solution.

Ed Rosenbaum

What a surprise that the report shows Penney’s to be best at resolving customer issues via social media. With all the problems they have, maybe this proves practice makes perfect (or close to it).

Jeff Hall

The irony found in the current state of social customer service is that in the vast majority of instances, by the time a customer reaches out through social channels, they have already exhausted the traditional means of seeking issue resolution.

For a brand to deflect, redirect, or ignore the social customer altogether does nothing more than amplify the problem, erode brand equity and contribute to customer defection (not to mention significant negative word of mouth).

The reality is, very few brands understand that if they are going to leverage social media to facilitate conversations, those conversations need to run both ways, including customer service related issues. Most see social platforms as a means for one-way, outbound messaging and marketing, losing out on the opportunity to create positive brand engagement and immediate issue resolution.

James Tenser

There are so many assumptions built in to this piece of research that I hardly know where to begin.

The first HUGE one is the assumption that many consumers prefer to use Twitter to obtain customer service help.

The second, almost as huge, is the assumption that a great many people are facile enough with Twitter to use it effectively for this purpose.

Within the narrower universe of social media adepts these assumptions are far more plausible. The researchers who authored this report (and some of the other reports cited in its footnotes) are evidently adepts themselves.

If we perceive that a significant fraction of desirable consumers are like them, then it certainly is important for organizations to deliver social media service well. But other channels must not be abandoned.

“Deflection” as defined here, is a cardinal sin in any customer service scenario, including the various circles of IVR hell, 48-hour automated email responses, and “wait here while I call my manager.”

Tim S
3 years 11 months ago

I think many companies are still a little afraid of Social Media. They know they have to have a presence, but do not have people in house to do it right. Much gets outsourced to a third party which creates delays in response and may keep the issue from getting to the right person or group to resolve. Consumers are getting brave about posting their feelings about a business or product. Sadly most are negative and vent frustration.

gordon arnold

In order to witness just how ineffective retailers are at using social media to enhance consumer support and communication, you simply need to visit the sites, tweets, and posts of any retailer. The similarities are discouraging and underscore a complete lack of inventiveness and willingness to learn the product and its capabilities. This problem is most attributed to company executives with little or no social media user skills in positions that should be occupied by membership owning at least basic developer awareness. When this dilemma turns around, so will the poor public communications.

Mark Price

First and foremost, it is important to remember one key rule – you cannot force consumers to channels they do not wish to go to. When you try to do so, the end result is nothing more than frustration on both parts.

For the consumer segment that is accustomed to resolving issues and gaining information primarily on their mobile devices, directing them to more traditional channels is not only ineffective, but conveys a stodgy backwards brand message they can have long-term reverberations for the company.

The implication is that organizations may need to invest more heavily in customer support via Twitter and Facebook in order to decrease the amount of time spots after a customer posts a concern or question.

Ralph Jacobson

Crazy. Why is this brain surgery? If a brand, retailer or merchant of any type chooses to create a social channel page, there is an inherent responsibility to manage it effectively. If a consumer posts a concern on the merchant’s Twitter site, or any other channel, the merchant must employ the adequate resources to respond to that consumer directly in a time manner. Period. If the merchant cannot or will not staff the channels with sufficient personnel to handle consumer comments, then their social presences should be taken down. Period.

Lee Kent

The biggest mistake retailers make in social media is putting the wrong people behind it. They bring in some entry level, probably millennial, person with no access to solving problems. They are often hired to be more of a brand advocate.

While that is all well and good, retailers must give those folks the tools and access they need to handle the most difficult of issues.

Remember, this is all happening in public space and not a good place to botch it! Just sayin’

Martin Mehalchin

You have to respond quickly and you have to treat it like a concierge service. If other departments within the retailer have to participate in resolving the issue, that is fine, but the social team should do the work of coordinating that and not pawn it off on the customer. Not only is your relationship with that customer at stake, but so is your brand perception in the eyes of other customers who happen to be in that person’s network and watching that day.

One best practice I’ve seen is to have two accounts on each social channel (esp. Twitter) one for brand and one for customer service. That way you can make a hand off, but it will be seamless and stay in the channel where the issue was first raised.

Alexander Rink
3 years 11 months ago

It is in the retailer’s best interest to deal with the concern quickly and publicly on the social media channel. The consumer chose that medium of communication because it exposes the retailer to public scrutiny, and responding in kind will help remedy any potential negative impact to the retailer’s reputation.

It is important that the response be timely and personal: it is useless and damaging to respond to a very specific issue on social media with a generic response such as “Tell us how we can improve your experience in future.”

Altogether, a prompt and genuine apology with a sincere and targeted effort to address the underlying issue raised will go a long way in making a customer feel heard.

Robert Bacal
Robert Bacal
3 years 11 months ago

The reason customers are redirected back to the channels they started from is that most customer complaints can’t be solved publicly via social media — which is why it doesn’t work to improve customer service.

Also, social media customer service is an additional cost to companies, which is one reason the response times and results are so terrible.

My advice? Look at root causes to CUT complaints in the first place. That’s gold!

Dan Frechtling

Best practices for responding to customer complaints also need to consider the impact on others’ reading retailers’ responses.

Bazaarvoice has found that shoppers who read helpful brand responses to reviews or complaints are nearly 3X as likely to make a purchase. They also show 2.5X higher average product sentiment.

Deflection to other service channels is bad, period. It frustrates the consumer and misses vital opportunity for service recovery: thanking them for the feedback, offering an apology, and explaining how you’re going to solve it.

Candor is a good policy. Bazaarvoice research showed that responses clarifying how the consumer misused the product was also viewed very positively by secondary readers.

Sarah Oliveira
Sarah Oliveira
3 years 9 months ago

If retailers are going to use social media they should be responding consumer questions and complaints. Consumers see social media as a way to communicate so if you are going to ignore or redirect them, why bother?


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