Social media and customer service : don’t make exceptions become mainstream

Summary : when an enterprise invests in social media to improve its customer service it may think that a good indicator of success would be the amount of interactions that will happen on this channel. That’s a mistake : the social channel aiming at dealing with exceptions, making it process generic requests overloads it without bringing any added value. It’s important not to try to attract all customer requests on this channel but, on the contrary, to distribute the requests in order the social channel will only process the few percent for which it’s irreplaceable compared to a more conventional way of doing things.

In some of my previous posts I talked about the use of social media for customer relationship, most of all to mention that it’s more a management, process and one-to-one relationships between the enterprise and the customer than a community clap-trap. Since I recently dealt with the system bandwidth issue, I’d like to digg a little further to warn against a failing that is very foreseeable.

As you have certainly understood, using social media to improve customer service makes the whole organization move in order to face the demand and not be overwhelmed. The logical consequence, once all these efforts and investments have been done, is to make them as profitable as possible. So it implies to drive as much customers and interactions on the social media platforms that are used. Wrong. It will lead the system to failure and will seriously annoy customers.

Before specifically dealing with social media, we need to understand the difference between what need an human intervention and what doesn’t. Human are essential when the situation so exceptional and complex that an automated processing won’t work or when the customer is not able to initiate this processing by himself. Knowing that, compared to an automated system, human are not scalable, they have to focus on what they’re unique at. Typically the two ends of the Gauss Curve, the center needing an automated processing that may be launched by the customer itself (on web sites, online forms, voice systems…). Example ; no human should have to fill a form that the customer could fill by himself if he could access it.

So, human should be kept for what can’t be automated and customers that are not able to use the tools they’re given. Then, many channels exist depending on the context of the customer, his prefered devices, the fact he’s in a mobility situation. So there’s a wide range of tools that goes from the traditional call center to social media (both being complementary and not alternative). Why is it important ? Because everything that does not need an human processing and lands on an human channel saturates it and prevents it from dealing with what it should.

Maybe you guess where my thoughts are heading…

If, to make the social system profitable, everything is done to make it deal with as many requests as possible, it’s the best way to saturate it and to lose everything : customers who could have been happy with an automated processing are wasting their time while those who need to talk to an human person to have an adhoc answer have to wait more.

The paradox with this way of handling customer service is that it’s essential in terms of delivered value but needs to remain marginal in terms of number of cases.

Conclusion :

• Any campaign aiming at increasing the use of this channel may be counterproductive if in the detriment to a more relevant channel.

• The number of cases handled is only a half-relevant indicator. The number of incoming requests is, in fact, an indicator of poor quality.

• The nature of the cases is an indicator for the quality insurance system and the time needed to solve the problem is an indicator for the performance of the system.

• A danger would be to reward people on the quantity of cases handled instead on the quality of the solutions provided. In fact, the logic of the first option pushed to the extreme my lead to a poor quality management that will increase the quantitative results of the customer service. (What already happened in some organizations;..).

In short, if everyone starts to contact you on twitter because it’s trendy while they could get the same service by connecting on you website and fill a form, it may become a real issue. But not having such a channel while customers want to be able to contact you anytime, from anywhere and on any device will be a problem too.

How to keep the system balanced ? By educating the client (what is easier to be said than done) and, making as visible and accessible as possible anything that can help the customer to bypass the constraint (as explained here).

So there’s no perfect solution but what is sure that any organization should keep in mind that stimulating the use of social media to increase activity numbers may at any price may not be a good thing. The goals that should be pursued is to keep an optimal distribution of the requests among all channels regarding to the relevance of each one in a given case. And, most of all, to avoid concentrating everything on a system that’s made to manage exceptions.

Head of Employee and Client Experience @Emakina / Former consulting director / Crossroads of people, business and technology / Speaker / Compulsive traveler
Head of Employee and Client Experience @Emakina / Former consulting director / Crossroads of people, business and technology / Speaker / Compulsive traveler

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