I’ve been running a LinkedIn group – where social media meets customer service – for the last four or five years, and someone recently posed the question:

What is your take on the fact that so many airlines offer social customer service during regular business hours only 9-5? Is it a matter of them not seeing the value in making it a fully operational channel, is it cost or just that the majority don’t get it?

The question got me thinking about social customer care and its relationship with what one might term traditional customer service. The bit I was particularly interested in was the reference to ‘regular business hours only 9-5’. The question I asked myself was this: Does social customer care really exist, or is it simply customer service with a social layer on top?

What do I mean by – social layer on top?

Do organisations design their social customer care proposition with the unique characteristics of social in mind or do they simply apply a traditional customer service approach to the social channels? For example, when I think about a resolution, do I think about how that resolution could be delivered via Twitter with the specific characteristics of Twitter in mind (ie. 140 characters in public) OR do I think about how that resolution could be delivered simply using Twitter as a delivery mechanism (ie. somehow reduce my existing customer service resolution to 140 characters OR Tweet the customer an email address OR point the customer to a web page etc).

In my mind we are still simply paying lip service to social customer care. The majority of companies are simply applying existing resolutions to social channels without any real thought about the characteristics of the social channel at hand. However, there are some exceptions that have emerged over the past few years: BestBuy’s #Twelpforce, O2’s #Tweetserve and Amazon’s Mayday.

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17.03.14: Mayday is not social!

Thanks to the ever-watchful and erudite @martinhw for pointing out that Mayday is not social! Quite right, and I agree with you, but I included it, more as an example of how Amazon thought about the resolution and the outcome they wanted with the customer and the channel in mind. Mayday has an elegant symmetry about it and points to a type of customer service/engagement that is native and intuitive to the product itself; the resolution mechanism is part of the product design, not as is often the case an adjunct to it or an afterthought.

I believe we will start to see a different type of customer service emerge. A type of customer service that is far more organic, serendipitous and spontaneous, less tied to a knowledge base, less tied to a department and more tied to the moment and the point(s) of delivery. Perhaps one where the customer plays a far greater part, and I don’t just mean throwing some content on to a web site and calling it ‘self service’.

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