I read with interest Conversocial’s latest post about integrating Facebook Messenger into their ever burgeoning platform – Conversocial Powers Social Customer Care on Facebook Messenger.

It’s interesting to see how the different vendors are approaching the social customer care space and the direction they are taking. Brand Embassy have to some degree turned their back on a pure social play and gone multichannel, HelpSocial are looking to APIs, Conversocial looking inwards to platform development. There will be more mutations, permutations and transformations to come.

There is no doubt that Conversocial is one of the pioneers in this space. Joshua March understood the space, understood the emerging trend, was a part of it, saw an opportunity and built a business on it. I have known Joshua from those early days and have every respect for him and what he has done with Conversocial (including his hair!).

The company has gone from strength to strength, expanded into new markets, leveraged the latest developments amongst mainstream social media, experimented and innovated, but ultimately always reverted back to continuing the development of its core platform.

The experiments and the innovations are the journey, inextricably and intimately tied into the platform that you see evolving week on week, month on month, year on year; perpetual beta. No end in sight, and with no sense that there is an end in mind: the platform continues to grow in and of itself. But that’s good enough these days.

But is the commercial longevity of social customer care itself viable? I’m not so sure.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m still a believer in social customer care. I still think it was the catalyst that began to hold up a mirror to traditional customer service. It did not set out to be a catalyst. It did not set out to shift or destabilise the current delivery model. It did not set out to marginalise the centre ground. It did not seek to, perhaps resorting to cheap and easy cliches – uberize – customer service. The shift, the marginalisation, the destabilisation were all by-products. The customer wasn’t even aware they were doing it with every Tweet, every picture posted on Instagram, every  comment on Facebook, every view of Dave Carroll’s ‘United Breaks Guitars’.

I’m concerned and here’s why.

The cost for a large organisation to use platforms like Conversocial, HelpSocial, SparkCentral allows it to be treated as a plaything, as an experiment. I do not mean that in a demeaning way either. Experimentation and innovation are hugely valuable activities. But what it means is that a company can experiment at a low cost before it has to truly commit to either social customer care or a specific platform on which to provide its version of social customer care.

There has been a persistent drive towards multichannel over the past few years. Companies, like Conversocial, will always be an add-on, an extra. Yes, you can integrate it into other systems, but the cost of that integration may be more than the cost of Conversocial licences themselves. Ultimately, a company may opt for the social customer care solution provided by Salesforce, Genesys, SAP or some of the other big players in the market. They may opt for them, knowing (or not knowing) the solution may not be as agile as a Conversocial. But does that matter in the overall scheme of things, as long as for the customer, they are getting their Tweet acknowledged in less than five minutes?

I fear that the deal size that a Conversocial will increasingly need to remain commercially buoyant will never truly exist, simply because companies like Conversocial provide a niche product.

Social customer care is not, and will not, replace all other channels. There was a time in the early days when people thought it would, when we would see the end of contact centres. Social customer care is coming back into the fold. Where once it was a parallel stream it is now being subsumed alongside chat, telephony, emails etc. What happens when messaging becomes the dominant play?

The recent enhancements by Twitter to lift the limit on DMs, as well as make more of a play in the social customer care space, along with Conversocial’s integration of Facebook Messenger, signals in my mind, not the obvious improvement of service, but rather the inevitable industrialisation of social customer care. Commentators have long talked about the scalability and automation of social customer care: how can you empathetically (forget efficiency) respond or reach out to tens, hundreds or thousands? There is a disconnect. There will always be a compromise, but my fear is that efficiency and productivity will always win out over empathy and experience, as long as our thinking remains the same.

The beauty of social customer care is that it enables the customer to react and respond on their terms, unencumbered, uninhibited. I can complain or talk about a company in an open space where the rules of engagement are set by the different tribes or conversations that I choose to be a member of or participate in. Perceived value to me (or to the tribe) becomes the currency. It is not a currency set by large enterprises with an agenda in mind.

What these enhancements signal, in my mind, is no longer the ‘uberization’ of customer service, but rather the ‘traditionalisation’ of it. The novelty value of the social plaything is wearing off (as it always would), and without realising it all these enhancements are simply speeding up the process. The very characteristics that provoked and cajoled traditional customer service to be closer and more relevant to the customer, are being neutralised. The naughty child in the corner is being disciplined, re-educated, and will eventually behave and look like everyone else (albeit with ill-fitting clothes). Instead of being forced to find new metrics of engagement focusing on empathy, experience, context, the old masters of AHT and FCR will reign supreme.

We may well see companies like Conversocial, HelpSocial, SparkCentral fall by the wayside or acquired by other companies, that is part of this ongoing journey.

And tomorrow, another stage in this journey will emerge. I’m seeing – Internet of Things, Internet of Customer, cognitive – appear more and more. The same level of excitement will arise. New players will catalyse new journeys. But we must do everything we can to fight this ‘traditionalisation’, because in the end the customer (you and me) will be listening to the same muzak on the Cognitive or Internet of Things IVR. Our satisfaction will still be secondary to the cost to serve.

How can we take the best of social, the best of traditional customer service, the best of what’s to come and create a model that is more relevant, more resonant with how we think and behave today? Does it always have to be industrialised?

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