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Is Social Customer Service a Waste of Time?

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In my recent post about Air France announcing they’ve gone full speed with social customer service, I made the point that social service becomes especially difficult when dealing with complaints and unusual support situations (basically, all the stuff that can’t be answered by a monkey with a handbook). It was only through extensive training and shared experience that I was able to cultivate a truly competent social service team at GoDaddy – a team of people who were sensitive to the needs of the customer and able to communicate in a way that demonstrated empathy and concern using short bursts of text. They were capable of handling the weird situations that came up because we, as a team, were constantly focusing on understanding the customers and their emotions while reminding ourselves that it was better to put our own emotions aside. Training my people about how to best handle these special situations was the most important thing I did.

But is that scalable? As volume forces growth beyond just a small team, can a company afford to build a highly specialized customer service team that doesn’t do a very good job of demonstrating direct ROI? Probably not.

Of course, my preferred question is whether or not a big company can afford not to provide excellent customer service in social. Needless to say, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this. Then, today, I read this post from Esteban Kolsky. He says that using Twitter (and other social channels) for customer service is a waste of time. The argument is essentially that Twitter isn’t robust enough to address a customer issue and should only be used for triage. He uses @TMobileHelp as a good example of Twitter triage because they direct customers to a live chat when those unusual situations arise. Here’s an example:


First of all, I wholeheartedly agree that a simple and seamless push to live chat would be great for the customer experience. As long as the agent handling the chat session is aware of the existing Twitter conversation and the chat technology works, this is fantastic. In fact, this is almost exactly the solution I’ve been hoping for. Unfortunately, the tech, SnapEngage, does’t actually work properly on iOS/iPhone. Assuming they fix that, I’d probably recommend it for any social customer service operation.


It’s a bit irresponsible to suggest that customer service through Twitter is a waste of time. As much as I wish this was not the case, the vast majority of  service requests that come through Twitter are the  easy questions that your average FAQ or knowledge base already answer. It doesn’t matter how good or intuitive your self-help solutions are, there will always be people who prefer a personal touch and come to you in social rather than going to the search box on your site. The fact that it doesn’t take a very skilled agent to answer the boring questions doesn’t mean those interactions aren’t appealing to the customers and valuable to you as a brand. If customers would rather ask you a question on Twitter than go hunting through your knowledge base, then so be it. You score real one-on-one interactions with customers (and potential customers) who feel good about the fact that you’re there to help out. That’s a good thing, and we can’t forget that.

So, my response to Esteban – and maybe he agrees – is that support in Social IS valuable as long as you have a solid solution for handling those difficult situations. That might mean a specialized Social Support team if you’re still small. It might mean pushing sensitive situations to a more traditional channel if that push can be seamless and not require extra work for the customer.

However you decide to handle the tough stuff, just be sure you have good people doing it, and don’t ever get so complacent that you think everything else is wasted time.

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