Stop Patting Bad Social Customer Service on the Back

Brian Cantor

If you called a contact center with a customer support issue and were told, albeit nicely, that you needed to email or call a different representative to solve your problem, you would likely be a tad underwhelmed by the experience.

And if you were aware of the possibility that you might actually be ignored by the customer service team, you would likely be a tad more than a tad underwhelmed by the experience.

Why, then, are we so quick to celebrate companies that do exactly that via social media channels?

Jaded perhaps by report after report confirming that major brands utterly miss the mark when it comes to conversing with customers on social media, far too many customers—and even customer management "experts"—adhere to miniscule standards when it comes to social support. Do something that is generally in the right direction, get hailed as best-in-class.


Yes, social media, let alone social media for customer engagement, remains in its early stages, and the journey towards establishing "best practices" is a long and uncertain one. It is absolutely wrong to expect any organization, and certainly every organization, to have it all figured out.

But it is not wrong to expect firms to deliver on the basic tenets of customer care that are routinely provided in channels like the contact center, live chat and e-mail. Efficient, resolute, relationship-minded customer interactions are a cornerstone of support in any channel, and no matter how the book on social customer care is ultimately written, it is inconceivable that they will not dominate the copy of said book.

Yet so few organizations—even those routinely pegged as trendsetters in social customer care—actually show any intention of striving to create those interactions. Social is instead approached as a nicety or a bonus; it represents a way to give the impression of being modern and customer-centric without necessarily commanding the firm to act as such.

And because we do not hold organizations accountable for anything more meaningful, they get away with it.

Instead of commanding complete, personalized service when we express our problems on Twitter or Facebook, we tend to smile and cheer for the mere fact that they get noticed. As if an organization is doing a good deed by showing that it actually reads Tweets that its customers are sending through.

A major retail brand known for "getting it" when it comes to social support famously sends generic-sounding Tweets and direct messages to some customers, but if it does not do so for all customers, how is that anything more than abysmal customer service? In what universe is it acceptable to only address concerns from select customers?

I Tweeted two recent bits of customer feedback/concern to this organization, and neither received even so much as a "Thanks for the feedback. We will take your comments into account as we continue to improve our practices." And from searching other Tweets directed at the brand—and its customer care Twitter handle—it appeared that I was not the only customer holding his breath.

Even if it was responding diligently to every customer concern, since when is "response" the metric by which we judge successful customer support? When calling a contact center, we don’t jump for joy the second we hear "Hello" on the other end. We contain our excitement until some sort of resolution or explanation for the issue is offered.

In order to assess the efficacy of a social support initiative, customers and critics should be measuring the value of the actual response. It is reasonable to label an engagement successful when the organization acknowledges a user’s concerns, determines the best way to address the situation, responds with that information to the customer and then acts in accordance with the feedback. It is less reasonable to praise an organization the second it moves past the acknowledgment phase.

But as long as we continue demonstrating such complacency, we trap social customer care into a vicious circle. Organizations feel no pressure to improve, and, in fact, know that they can garner a positive customer care reputation by keeping up the shallowest of appearances.

After writing a scathing review of an organization’s customer service on this very website, the brand publicly Tweeted our official Twitter account, asking for contact details for getting in touch with me. Undoubtedly a move to curry favor in the public eye, the organization made it seem as if it wanted to use social to engage a disgruntled customer but in fact never sent the expected Tweet or E-mail.

A number of brands take advantage of this swindle, and because we care more about praising companies for the mere idea of Tweeting customers than we do tracking how they use social to solve problems, we do not drive them to betterment.

Regulations and security issues facing industries like finance and healthcare undoubtedly limit the extent to which a public Twitter or Facebook arena can serve as a complete customer service channel. Occasionally, some issues will need to be redirected to phone, e-mail, live chat or in-store support.

But the failure to provide a substantive response and/or meaningful resolution over social should only be permissible in such cases. We should not tolerate ignored comments and shallow, ineffectual "call us at this #" replies simply because social is "new" and because organizations have not yet figured out the logistics.

Customer support is not new, and the basic principles that make a customer experience valuable are going to apply no matter the medium. When organizations venture into social media, they are formally expressing a desire to interact with their customers. It is time to start holding organizations to the terms of that agreement; it is time to stop patting them on the back for delivering social support when it is fun or convenient and ignoring it when it gets difficult and time-consuming.

Image credit: LeoSynapse