Customer Service Social Media Style: A Pulse of the Industry View Part 1


What do people do on social networks and blogs? They "talk" of Service_photo_e3mh course! They talk about what is important and what is mundane. More frequently, however,  those conversations are directed, not to friends or family, but to the people who represent brands. These chats are about service and product concerns.

"Social (media customer) service" and the "social customer" are impacting how business is being conducted and will be conducted.

In preparation for the BlogWorldExpo panel I spoke on last week, Creating Customer Loyalty Through Social Media, I was curious to better understand the social customer's expectations of the new social media kid on the blog .. "social service."

So like any good social media diva I dropped a question on a couple of social networks:

More companies are using social media to support their customer service strategies. What are your expectations of "social service?"

30 people responded. While this may not be statistically valid research, the responses from these early adopters provide valid learnings. Many thanks to all who shared their insights.

Interestingly there were a few similarities to the Pulse of the Industry research I conducted on Blogger Relations. The two most significant were:

1.  Customers want to know they matter

2. Customers want to engage with people who want to build trusted relationships

Although social service may not have reached mainstream adoption, those active in the social web have come to expect to be accommodated in this channel.

I expect companies to address my needs in the channels of my choosing. -  Teresa Caro.

It's a great access ramp to getting a problem solved without the typical customer service brush off; however, I think the number of people using Twitter to complain about their cable service for instance, is small compared to the number of people going through the traditional channels. - Marianne Richmond

I think many consumers (those active social media users) have come to expect a response. Smart companies have gotten out in front of the customer service through social media curve and have spoiled the public into thinking that all companies should respond that way. - Jason Falls

The benefits of social service were varied and ranged from building relationships, building trust to gaining a competitive advantage, increasing personalized service and saving money (from responses seen by others who have similar concerns).

When combined with traditional marketing, social-driven customer service can be a force for more credible problem-solving, less expensive customer service, product ideation and customer lifetime value. - Dennis Dunlap

Gives us an opportunity to answer a question or solve a problem while reinforcing in a broad forum, our willingness and desire to do so. - Brendan Hurley

Real time brand building, loyalty extending and responding time enhancer. - Jody DeVere

Responses fell  into nine broad topics:

i. I Matter

Social Service comes down to one thing: treat me like a person. I am a valued customer, not just a user. - Michael Rubin

Positive, direct honesty from service provider; not just one-way marketing communication speak. - Jake Aull

Social networks give companies an incredible opportunity to make things right and retain their customers, turning them into brand ambassadors. - Elaine Fogel

Loud and clear people want to know that they are important to your organization. Notice me, talk to me, acknowledge me was the the mantra for many.

Too often it seems that social media service reflects the philosophy of George Orwell's Animal Farm .. some people are more equal than others. The more Followers, the higher your Google ranking .. the more likely you are to capture the attention of a brand.

Lesson learned: Your best customers may not appear to be social media 'influencers.'

Challenge: How do you scale social service to acknowledge all or most people who take the time to engage with you?

 ii. Real People

How well they can embody your brand's spirit and use common sense vs. a script goes a long way. - Mary Hunt

For all this to happen, all staff have to know the game thay are now in. May be (probably will be) need for cultural change. Snooty waitpersons whose idea of fun is to insult the customer need nto apply. - Des Walsh

I expect a company to show the social customer service by putting a person out front, not an anonymous company reply, who understands the brand. - Rob Peterson

I would expect proactivity, not just reactivity, and a more "human" less scripted and fake exchange. - Debra Semans

As with every other use of social media, our customers expect to use this channel talking people-to-people Not person-to-logo. There is little patience with those companies that are using social service as another messaging opportunity.

Those reaching out through the social web to solve a problem or ask an important question, don't want platitudes. These people are using social media to build long-term, trusted relationships with the people behind the brands.

Lessons learned: Customers expect personal conversations that are not scripted.

Challenges: Knowledgeable people placed in positions where the exchanges take both the customer and brand values into consideration.

iii. Understand the Social Media Culture

She obviously had no idea what Twitter is. I was not submitting a complaint to BofA I was mad and I was vetting to my friends and followers. - Sally Falkow

Social media is the only strategy (yes, I do think it is a strategy, but that's another post for another day) that I know of that is built on a culture. e.g., value driven, transparency, authenticity, conversations versus messages and throw in a some passion too.

If the people participating in social media don't understand the vernacular of the platforms there is a disconnect between the brand's customer service reps and their customers.

Lessons Learned: Customer service reps engaging in social media must understand the cultural norms and response/engagement expectations.

Challenges: Providing the right training for all employees who interact with customers in all service channels.

iv. Response Time

We live in a 24/7 world. Companies simply can't wait to respond. - BL Ochman

Set the expectations by listing response time on the selected social media touch points could be a solution. - Rajesh Lawani

Social media customer service is held to a higher standard than traditional customer service channels. Customers want Fast response and problem solving. However, there is no standard to what is meant by "fast." Fast ranged from 3-4 hours to within a day.

Lessons Learned: The bar is set higher for social media responses than for traditional channels.

Challenge: In order not to disappoint, customer expectations must be managed. The extent of resources (people, processes, technology, finances) will of course, impact response time.

v. Non Presence

Some of my favs are not on Twitter or Facebook yet, or their presence is silent on those sites. I'm beginning to question their commitment to me as a customer. - Yvonne DiVita

Not engaging with your customers in the social web is beginning to hurt brand goodwill. As Jamie Turner puts it, " Using social media as a customer service tool isn't an option anymore." 

Lessons Learned: Organizations that are not listening and engaging with their customers in the social web are missing opportunties to expand the brand experience and create brand champions. 

Challenges: It's critical that resources are in place if you plan to scale listening and engagement in social web conversations. As important is determining who will listen, how will they listen, what will they listen for and who, how, what will they respond to in the digital worlds.

vi. Keep Promises

Customer service cartoon
One time a brand did interact; they promised something that they never fulfilled so that just reinforced my annoyance with the company.
- Laura Bennett

Although the social customer service tweet or Facebook status update is directed at One person thousands maybe listening. The social service channel becomes a public exposure of how your company handles problems and relates to customers. You can WoW or your can stumble and fall.

Lessons Learned: A broken promise or a brush off response can result in more than one 1 lost customer. Promises kept can result in a new brand champion who influences segments you many have access to at this time.

Challenges: Servicing the individual customer, on a personal basis while being aware of the immediate impact on many.

vii. The Social Customer

I want to bear witness to change. - Jane Genova

A Tweet reply from a real person, with an invitation to DM them for follow-up assistance. - Debbie Weil 

I do expect that if they offer an outlet online, they should be able to back it up online. If I mention something in a post or a tweet - it's always nice to have them acknowledge it - even if I didn't @ them or use a #. If they ask if they can help me, don't disappear after I say yes, here's the problem. - Sue Rodman

The social client can be vastly different from a client that utilizes other channels. The issue types that are observed via social media sites also tend to be ones that are escalated and to add to that tension, now the whole world is watching to see how you answer. - Bianca Buckridee

I do not want push communications through social media channels regardless of how they set up the use of these tools internally. If you put your brand out there, you should be ready to engage on all levels. - Donna Tocci

The social customer is not only an early adopter but sophisticated in terms of understanding how to leverage technology and the social web.

Although conversations may begin online as CK Hurley says, " I don't mind moving off social platforms (such as Twitter) on to email/phone as that's many times necessary given space limitations and sometimes it's necessary due to regulated industries."

 viii. Impact on the Enterprise

All the well-intentioned listening in the world won't make a difference unless you fundamentally change the way your company does business and start respecting your customers giving them a voice and a chance at a satisfactory experience. - Alan Wolk

The customer service companies that utilize Facebook Open Graph to segment their messaging will be ahead of the game in proactively using social as a service tool. - Erika J. Brookes

Customer Service Reps: As we discussed above not only will social media reps require additional training in how to communicate in the social web e.g., no messaging allowed!, but understanding the culture is as important.

Infrastructure: Are the right processes and systems in-place including cross department communication? Has the impact on resources been analyzed? Are service levels across ALL channels consistent?

Lessons Learned: Social media impacts all aspects of the enterprise especially those who have contact with your customers.

Challenges: Change in the internal culture to allow people to not only participate in the social web conversations but to empower the customer service reps to publicly respond and WoW. 

viii. Companies doing it right

Dell, Southwest, Comcast, Best Buy, AMC, Marriott, Charlotte Motor Speedway, Whole Foods, Jet Blue

We're in the business of making people happy and exceptional customer service from real reps in a totally unscripted environment makes people happy. - Melissa Lacitigonola

ix. Companies doing it wrong

Bank of America, Schwab

But at the end of the day does it really matter which channel you use to service your customers? The goal is consistency across all channels. As Dan Dooley put it, "The key driver is to not distinguish "social" customer service from any other - it's all social, it's all service."


Creating A Two-Tiered System of Customer Service 

Social Media Mission Control, THe Contact Center Must Evolve 

The Social Customer Engagment Index White Paper

Using Social Channels To Show Customers You Care

 Pink boa Toss of a pink boa to:

Dennis Dunlap, American Marketing Association

Yvonne DiVita, Lip-sticking

Laura Bennett, Embrace Pet Insurance

Rob Petersen, Barb Raisers

Jane Genova, Speechwriter Ghostwriter

Teresa Caro, Razorfish

CK Hurley, CK's Blog

Alan Wolk, Alan Wolk

Erika J. Brooks, Virture

Jason Falls, Social Media Explorer

Rajesh Lawani, BlogWorks

BL Ochman,

Marianne RIchmond, Resonance Partners

Des Walsh, Des Walsh dot com

Debbie Weil, Debbie Weil

Sally Falkow, Meritus Media

Donna Tocci, Ingersoll Rand

Melissa Lacitgnola, Zappos

Sue Rodman, Field Trips With Sue

Mary Hunt, In Women We Trust

Michael Rubin, Michael E Rubin

Elaine Fogel, Solutions Marketing and Consulting

Brandan Hurley, Goodwill of Greater Washington

Jody DeVere, Ask Patty

Jake Aull, Zen of Brand

Bianca Buckridee, Sun Trust

Jamie Turner, 60 Second Marketer

Dan Dooley, Mullen

Brent Leary, The Social Customer

Tom O'Brien, MotiveQuest

Debra Semans, Polaris Marketing Research


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Toby-Thank you for collecting and organizing these insights on social media and customer service. While many marketers and companies want to use social media to expand their reach, they greatly overlook the impact that using social media will have across their business, in particular customer service. Two examples of this are Frank Eliason when he was at and Tony Hsieh of Zappos. Happy marketing, Heidi Cohen

Posted by: Heidi Cohen on Oct 22, 2010 11:14:51 AM


Customer service / reputation management via social media is one of those emerging must have's for businesses and we move into 2011 and beyond.

Excellent article and thank you for the inclusion of my quote..I love my PINK BOA :--)

Best Regards,

Jody DeVere
CEO, Inc.

Twitter: Certified Female Friendly®

Too often the great decisions are originated and given form in bodies made up wholly of men, or so completely dominated by them that whatever of special value women have to offer is shunted aside without expression.
Eleanor Roosevelt

Posted by: Jody DeVere on Oct 22, 2010 5:51:06 PM

Great stuff. I don't think it can be understated how much customers need to know that they are important. Your steps certainly would remind them.

Posted by: Pablo Edwards on Oct 24, 2010 1:31:29 PM

Appreciate y'all continuing this important discussion. I agree with you .. companies cannot under estimate the importance that the "social service" channel will have/has on impacting the brand's goodwill and customer loyalty.

Posted by: Toby on Oct 24, 2010 2:20:39 PM


Thanks for such a thoughtful blog that casts a wide net and organizes the insights into areas that are actionable for companies. This is a post I intend to come back to again and again for "best practices."


Posted by: Rob Petersen on Oct 24, 2010 4:22:56 PM

Great post. I plan to share it with some clients (and as reminders for myself). Thanks for including me. Sue

Posted by: Sue Rodman on Oct 24, 2010 9:00:06 PM

Thanks for putting this together, Toby. A very useful resource. Thanks too for including the quote from me.

Posted by: Des Walsh on Oct 25, 2010 12:10:29 AM

Good stuff --- very thorough, hard to argue, and crisply articulated. What we're seeing is that all too often companies over-think, and over-"lawyer" the situation...the comments above are closer to common sense, if marketers put on their consumer hats more often!
Thank you for sharing.

Posted by: Glenn Engler on Oct 25, 2010 8:06:11 AM

Toby, another great post full of valuable insight - your overview and comments are thought provoking. It's interesting to watch brands attempt to engage with customers on a more one-to-one basis - sometimes it's laughable, sometimes it's inspiring, and sometimes it just makes you shake your head.

Posted by: Yvonne DiVita on Oct 25, 2010 9:54:34 AM

Great post Toby, I really appreciate your holistic view of social media and it's influence and use for customer service. These are all great comments you've put together here. I've said it before, I really enjoyed what you had to say at BlogWorld. I am now a fan.

Posted by: steve gilman on Oct 28, 2010 9:48:08 PM

Great article, very insightful. It's nice to hear others opinions. Customers deserve significant attention when being marketed to. I found an interesting article that dives into different marketing demographics and how to market successfully towards them.’-‘bout-my-generation

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