Companies Step Away from Social Media as a Customer Service Tool

cutomer service signA survey conducted in May of last year showed that 60% of businesses in the US and the UK use social media for customer service. They say they do it because it benefits their customers, but to me it always feels like a PR moment.

HandyDandy Tweets that his cable is out. The cable company responds moments later, saying they’re actively working on the problem and the whole world can see the exchange. There’s a problem but it’s being fixed – and in many cases, that’s all a person wants to know.

But it’s not quite that simple. According to Reuters, companies are rethinking their social media strategy and a few big names are taking customer service off the table.

In December, Charter, the fourth largest cable company in the US, shut down their social media customer service program “Umatter2Charter.” They say they’d rather concentrate their efforts on traditional support channels. Grocery chain Wegmans went so far as to close their Facebook Page. They say monitoring the page was too time consuming and complaints often went unanswered for an unacceptable period of time.

Wegmans is not alone in that.

A study by ZenDesk showed that only 13% of customer service complaints on Twitter got a response. Even when companies did respond, 37% took up to 10 hours to get it done. So much for the real time nature of social media.

response time

The biggest problem with social media for customer service is that there’s really only one response to a problem – “we’ll look into it.”

Companies can’t do much more than that in public. They can’t solve your outage, refund your money or track a missing package unless the consumer forwards more information through a private channel. Still, there are times when a public customer service effort makes a difference.

For example, GoDaddy had another outage earlier this week. I was going to call support but a quick search of Twitter told me that it was a wide-spread problem so calling support was going to be a waste of time. I added my complaint to Twitter and moved on. Then GoDaddy did two things wrong. First, they continued to load their feed with the usual promotional Tweets without a single mention of a problem. What that tells me is that the person handling the account is in marketing and support didn’t communicate with them. I would have felt much better if I saw a Tweet saying, yes, there’s a problem, we’re working on it.

A day later, I got a direct message saying, sorry you had a problem, DM me back and I’ll help you fix it. I appreciate the outreach but again, it was clearly a large database issue on their end, so calling support wouldn’t help. Second, really? We’re going to do this over Twitter?

Experts say that when you convert an angry customer into a happy customer, they become even more dedicated to your brand. But handing customer service via a public medium is like walking through a muddy mine field. At the very least, you’re going to get dirty. Take one wrong step and it’s game over.

What’s your take on using social media for customer service?