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With countless consumers around the world using social media, it's no surprise that companies have flocked to services like Facebook and Twitter.

In many cases, companies are using these services to market to consumers, but in the past couple of years, a growing number of them have started using social as a customer service channel too.

In the UK, millions of consumers have used social media for customer service, and in some cases, they have good reason to: a number of companies have effectively turned their social media accounts into VIP customer service channels.

This doesn't mean, however, that the use of social for customer service is without challenges. There are plenty, and companies that don't approach social customer service thoughtfully risk failing.

Unfortunately, according to a new J.D. Power and Associates study, many companies are falling short in their efforts to use social media as a customer service channel and marketing channel.

Walking and chewing gum at the same time

In looking at 100 companies across industries and analyzing 23,000 consumer responses, J.D. Power and Associates found that "hardly any companies are doing equally well on social marketing and social servicing." In other words, walking and chewing gum at the same time is difficult on social media.

There are good reasons for this. Popular social media services like Twitter, for instance, are for obvious reasons not ideal platforms on which to engage in a customer service dialog. Additionally, it's not easy to create siloed social media presences for marketing and customer service. Although some companies, like Dell, have dedicated accounts for different purposes, there's nothing stopping your customers from tweeting their problems to whatever account they find first.

Raising the stakes unnecessarily?

The challenges associated with serving customers through social media create significant barriers to success. And failure can come with harmful effects.

According to J.D. Power and Associates, positive interactions between companies and consumers via social channels improved overall perception of a company and that this perception was correlated with increased likelihood of purchase. Likewise, negative interactions decrease the likelihood of purchase. This may not be entirely surprising, but confirmation of what one might assume serves as a powerful reminder of the stakes when companies engage with consumers through services like Facebook and Twitter.

So what should companies do? The J.D. Power and Associates study suggests that companies need to be more strategic. Yes, they should be considering the possibility that social media can serve as a channel for customer service, but they shouldn't necessarily rush to make it one.

Providing quality customer service is arguably more important than providing customer service everywhere, and with email remaining the most popular customer service channel among online shoppers, companies would be wise to consider that customer service strategy doesn't necessarily have to mirror marketing strategy when it comes to new channel adoption.

Patricio Robles

Published 20 February, 2013 by Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles is a tech reporter at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

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Comments (5)

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Scott Heitland

Thanks for the post, Patricio. I've read recently about a growing number of companies that had started but are now abandoning their social media customer service channels, essentially because the costs to the business (not just direct, but indirect) have turned out to be too great and cannot be justified vis-a-vis the benefits. It will be interesting to see if this becomes a new trend.

about 3 years ago

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Peter Zmijewski

Even though the title of your blog is very short but still it is catchy enough to manages the attraction at first sight and conveying the gist of the whole matter.

about 3 years ago

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Robert Bacal

Just to add, and confirm your thinking on this, there's no reason why companies will use social effectively for customer service, IF they are poor at all the other channels. See Seven Reasons Why Social Media Negatively Affects Customer Service and The Customer Experience (http://work911.com/articles/socialtechworse.htm)

about 3 years ago

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David Lin

We just set up a meeting with Customer Relationship Engagement team of HP to provide a demo for our social management tool SocialMotus, to walk them through how our tool can help them to provide customer service through social media. It is clear that Fortune 500 companies are already started to use social media for customer service.

about 3 years ago

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Finn

Very interesting article. From discussions with many brands we've found that the problem (and reason for high expense) comes because they are using the wrong tool for performing social customer service.

Typical social marketing platforms are incredible for social marketing but when given in the hands of a cs agent they fall short and then become clunky in that function.

TwitSpark is the social customer service tool of large clients such as Lululemon, Adidas Golf, and one of the largest airlines in the world.

Indeed it's a difficult channel to perform customer service (at least more difficult than marketing), but not performing it on the channel comes at a cost as well. We've found that when companies focus on increasing customer lifetime value (CLV) and reaching their customers where they are then it creates many long-term advantages (all while being affordable!)

(full disclosure!) I'm one of the cofounders of TwitSpark so of course my opinion is biased but I do believe that if a customer asks you a question and you can efficiently answer them then why wouldn't you? Treat your customers well and they'll be with you for a long time.

about 3 years ago

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