The Dynamics of Social Customer Service

In the process of adopting social media mostly to connect with friends and like-minded people, consumers keep leaving behind gazillions of breadcrumbs regarding their experience with brands. It could be the quality, it could be the service but the amount of conversations connected to what companies sells and do is exponentially growing imposing more attention on participative platforms for social support.

Is this happening at the same time in every industry? What kind of feedback are consumers sharing online? How are companies reacting?

A good look at what is happening comes from the Customer Service Index 2012 report by Brandwatch that analyzed 40 top brands across 7 industries (retail, telecoms, transport, financial services, logistics, technology, utilities):

  • Online customer service conversation is declining in tone: if positive conversations grew 1%, negative ones increased 4% from 2011 proving that consumers are more and more seeing Twitter, Facebook and forums as spaces to voice their unmet expectations
  • Overall sentiment has been found negative: only 3 brands (John Lewis, Waitrose, B&Q) out of 40 scored positively. Even the winners in other industries got a disappointing negative score
  • Some industries are affected by negative customer service feedback much more than others: 3 of the worst performers (Vodafone, Virgin Media, TalkTalk) are Telecom providers. Overall negative sentiment is achieved also by utilities and technology providers while the retail sector leads the pack as a top performer:
  • Social media channels attract discontent more than praise. Customer service posts can be categorized in direct assistance request (17%), general discontent (39%), general praise (19%), possible assistance request (5%) with levels for each category varying for each industry
  • Resources should be carefully utilized. Leading brands tend to focus on a specific channel (Twitter, Facebook or forums)
  • Some lessons stand out: the best scoring brand (John Lewis) excelled in the post frequency (5 times a day), speed of response (bit more than 3 hrs on average), sentiment (64% positive, 8% negative), personalizing answers and appearing empathetic

What should we learn from this? Even if the study includes a limited number of brands in the UK, there is quite a bit customer service organizations can derive from it:

  • Social customer service is an opportunity and a need. There is still lots to do when we talk customer experiences. Improving customer service is definitely a clear opportunity in many industries and an inevitable need in some. Your customers are there, whether you are participating or not. You can avoid to listen but it will only get worse
  • Some industries are more exposed to customer compliants. It could be the frequency of interactions or the importance they have in customers’ life but each product and service is associated to different service needs. It’s company’s responsibility to understand how this all play out for the customer. Together with your business goals, this is the starting point of any customer experience strategy
  • Focus your energy. By understanding the categories of customer service conversations, it is possible to focus always limited resources on the most effective channels and most critical discussions. Social support workflows and escalation procedures will have to address this based on a cross-departmental strategy
  • Balance the effort. Customers know very well the kind speed, tone, proactiveness they expect in customer service. Companies should carefully evaluate how to balance effort, cost and impact
  • The right end goal. Having an overall positive sentiment may not be the goal of the game after all. Improving the extent to which you understand your customers and improving your product / service based on their feedback surely is.

What are you doing to turn negative customer feedback into a revenue generation and loyalty opportunity?

Emanuele Quintarelli

Entrepreneur and Org Emergineer at Cocoon Projects | Associate Partner at Peoplerise | LSP and Holacracy Facilitator

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