The Three Challenges for Social Customer Service

March 27, 2012 Comments
The Three Challenges for Social Customer Service

Social Customer Service in my opinion is something a company MUST be prepared to do if they intend to also participate in social channels to market their products and services. If a brand launches a Facebook page, Twitter handle or sets out to conquer any other platform for marketing purposes they will get customer queries, and support questions. Smart brands have found ways to support these customers on these channels.

A few years ago when I was working on launching BlackBerry’s Social Customer Service program I was looking for examples and the most commonly referred to were Dell and Comcast. Just a few years later a quick search and you will find many more success stories including; Xbox (which recently became the first brand to reach 1 million tweets), Zappos, JetBlue, Starbucks, Best Buy and AT&T. Yet, a quick look at some stats, show how that while customers expect to receive responses to their complaints and questions, many companies are just leaving them waiting. customer service challenges

There are several social customer service challenges. It is a large shift for many customer service departments who have often been running in the same manner, with the same tools, KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) and processes for 50 years. Taking what was always 1:1 to a very public model is scary and daunting. There are plenty of reasons why companies have failed to adopt social customer service. To triumph in social customer service you will need to be prepared to tackle three challenges: 1) Maintaining stakeholder support, 2) Accepted success measures, and 3) Scalability

Maintaining Stakeholder Support

If you are building out a customer service team for social media you will need not only initial support but ongoing support from your executives and partner departments. Social media customer service relies on teamwork with product, marketing, issue management and other teams. These relationships are crucial to ensuring customer feedback, complaints and concerns are dealt with in a timely and effective manner.

Understanding the needs of your partners, and stakeholders will help your social customer team provide value to the business. Which teams want to know when issues are bubbling up? How do they want to receive customer feedback? By providing continuous value with your partners and stakeholders you will maintain their support which will result in resources, budget and backing when you need it. You will need to create a sustainable practice of communication with your executives, your partners and team. Share success, challenges and roadmap through roadshows, reports, and regular meetings.

Accepted Success Measures

When you first launch a social media customer service team you will probably get away with saying “Look how many followers we are getting!” and “Isn’t this great what feedback we are getting from our customers?” This will suffice for your executives for only a short time. Eventually they will want your team to be measured against KPIs. A traditional call center would measure teams and individuals against a variety of KPIs all of which would be tracked on a scorecard. KPIs could include: Time to Response, First Call Resolution, CSAT, Average Handle Time, Average Hold Time, Quality Assurance and the total quantity of interactions.

By creating a score card for your team before your organization asks for it will allow you to show success and your continued progress. When possible find ways to include KPIs your customer service department is familiar with and uses. Some tools in the market will help you manage a number KPIs, but some KPIs such as “Average Handle Time” won’t make a lot of sense in the social space where a customer tweets to you and then walks away from twitter for a coffee break and in reality those aren’t terribly good KPIs to drive a positive customer experience. Instead look at CSAT, Time to Response, and Resolution. Consider working with your Quality Assurance team and developing a QA program that works for your social customer service reps.


As you first build out the team you will have the newness and excitement on your side. You might be lucky and build a good sized team in a short period of time. If you measure success and performance you might have fewer challenges in building out a team to manage the influx of customer questions and complaints. But the organization won’t likely keep throwing resources against your team so you will need to find other ways to scale in the long-term.

We hear a lot about the inability to scale social customer service. However, I suspect similar conversations happened when companies started answering the telephone. How will we ever have enough people to answer the phone every time a customer wants to talk to us? Yet, social customer service has one added benefit….it can create an archive of answers that is searchable and when we help one customer we have the potential the help ten, a hundred or a thousand. When responding in social channels keep this in mind, and use the conversations with customers to drive content creation for your self-service options (forum posts, blogs, knowledge base and how-to videos). In addition use the conversations to fix what is broken. If you regularly get questions about a feature…maybe it isn’t as intuitive as you think it is!

The right tools can help you manage your engagement, success and content. Finally setting expectations with both customers and internal partners is crucial- what are your hours of operation? What questions will and can you answer? How quickly can they expect a response? Certainly the need for Social Customer Service will grow and the team will need to revise process, expectations and find additional ways to meet the customers needs. Finally never underestimate your army of employees or advocates!

While there are challenges to adopting social customer service there are businesses that have risen to the challenge to help their customers on social channels. What are you customer service challenges?

Thank you Hootsuite for the photo.

  • Bryan Person

    Outstanding post, Michelle! As part of scalability I would also include integration of social customer care interactions into existing CRM systems. If a customer *called* in to explain his problem yesterday and is *tweeting* a follow-up post today, the social agent would be in a more informed position to respond if she could access that initial call record.  Similarly, being able to export that conversation from Twitter back into the CRM will be helpful for future interactions with the customer. 

    We’ll see more and more of this integration as the tools improve, but in the meantime, businesses and brands can work on developing a more holistic, end-to-end view of their interactions with customers. 

    • Michelle Kostya

      Thanks Bryan! 

      Absolutely agree. The ability for the business to have this kind of 360 degree view of their customer would help companies improve customer satisfaction and be far more efficient in their approach to social customer service. I think, and hope, it is only a matter of time before this is not just the *dream* but reality. 

  • Peter Kim

    Thanks for the reality check – I love the advice to tie to existing metrics, which of course tie into traditional ROI calculations.

    • Michelle Kostya

      Thanks Peter!  I found that talking in the terminology of the business usually resulted in understanding and buy-in more rapidly as well.

  • Hayles

    Fantastic post, as always Michelle!  I think you’re absolutely correct that when brands launch a social presence “for marketing purposes they will get customer queries, and support questions.”

    I see social marketing and social customer service as two sides of the same coin. There is a real and defined value to launching a social channel for marketing and customer engagement. What goes unrealized at many companies is that a successful Twitter handle becomes a lightning rod for customer complaints. Marketers who aren’t equipped to respond to customer complaints often ignore them (or worse, delete them).

    That means that many companies become victims of their own success. And because they’ve been so successful in nurturing a community, there are many eyes watching each unanswered complaint.

    In short, smart brands need to plan for social customer service when they plan for social marketing.

    • Michelle Kostya

      Thanks for the comment! Yes, the truth is when you launch any social marketing effort the customer IS going to ask questions….and they may not be ones the marketing team is prepared to respond to.  

  • Michelle Kostya

    Thanks Danny, appreciate the comment! 


    Hi from HootSuite Michelle – thanks for sharing our lil Owly and your thoughts about social customer service ;-).

    — @daveohoots

    • Michael Brito

       thanks @daveohoots:twitter meant to send an email bud didn’t think you would mind!

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