Social Media – The best friend of customer service?

Jonty Pearce

Posted by Jonty Pearce twitter@JontyPearce

There is a lot of nervousness about Social Media, and for a good reason. Reputations can easily be won or lost on the basis of customer feedback posted online.

The challenge is that social media has yet to be fully embraced by customer service departments.

We recently (November 2011) ran a survey on the Call Centre Helper website and asked the question "Does your contact centre respond to complaints on social media?"

The answer was surprisingly low. Only 43% of contact centres surveyed actually replied to complaints on social media.

This means that a lot of complaints are simply being ignored – never a good strategy.

The survey also looked at who “owned” the social media channel. In almost 80% of cases the social media channel was “owned” by marketing or by a PR agency. Only 33% of companies said that social media was owned by the contact centre.

This does not bode well for providing excellent customer service.

Social media is one of those things that can be difficult to understand, but is one of those things where the more you start to use it, the more that you will start to understand it.

Social media needs not to be seen just as a negative drag on the company. It can be used in a more proactive and positive way. It can even be used to deflect calls into the company. This is particularly useful when you have service outages, bad weather etc.

For example one travel company used social media as a way to communicate with customers during the bad weather last winter. They sent out Twitter messages about the snow that were picked up by thousands of followers. These were in turn re-tweeted on to their followers. This helped keep customers in the picture and also helped reduce the level of demand on an already busy contact centre.

Another example that I came across was with BT. During the summer riots, the 999 network became overloaded and wait times started to grow. BT used Twitter to send out some messages to persuade people not to call 999 except in emergencies. The tweets were picked up by a number of followers and re-tweeted on. Luckily three of the followers were very influential (including BBC’s Jeremy Vine) and the messages were relayed on to their followers. This helped to bring down the waiting time from 40 seconds to zero.

While both of these examples are for major catastrophic events, Social Media can also be used to help communicate more routine problems, such as a power cut or a billing error. These can help to bring down call volumes into the contact centre.

Social Media may also help you to tap into a big resource pool of unpaid volunteers.

You may ask why someone would work unpaid to help your company? It’s odd but you may find out that it’s happening for you already and you may not be aware that it exists.

There are probably a number of people out there on a support forum or on social media providing some form of support or guidance about your products and services.

This even has a name – it’s called Crowdsourcing.

Funnily enough these volunteers can put in many hours of unpaid work helping your company. Attempts to offer payment for their services are often turned down - they typically prefer to remain independent of the company.

They do however, tend to crave recognition, so an invite to a VIP event, the opportunity to early review your products, or a company briefing may be useful. The key is not to try controlling them.

So where is the Return on Investment for Social Media?

Well it is certainly going to take an investment of both time and money to get more involved, but there are some returns out there. The problems is that the returns are difficult to quantify.

In the words of social media commentator, Martin Hill-Wilson “You wouldn’t like to wake up in three years time and find out that there really was a Return on Investment”.

It’s mainly a question of dipping a toe in the water and seeing where the journey takes you.

Jonty Pearce

Jonty Pearce

Editor of Call Centre Helper

Jonty Pearce is Editor of Call Centre Helper, the UK's most popular call centre magazine. Jonty has been working in the call centre industry for over 20 years in a combination of consultancy and marketing roles. During his career Jonty has visited some of the most innovative contact centres in the UK. Jonty combines technical knowledge with a business consultancy background. Jonty's first degree was in Electronic Engineering from Sunderland University. He then qualified as a Chartered Engineer and obtained his post-graduate qualification from Cardiff University.

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