SOCAP International

The Future of Social Customer Service Is Now

The move from anonymous, one on-one communication channels to public, one-to-many channels means a significant shift in how companies handle customer service.


The New Social Order

  • Systems built for the old paradigm don’t work when a conversation can pass seamlessly between private and public realms.
  • Brands must recognize that social media is a main stream customer service channel and ensure they have a well resourced and thought-out social care strategy.
  • Social sign-on gives companies the ability to gain a single view of the customer and then offer personalized service—how and where the customer wants it.
  • Responding slower than consumers expect or neglecting to answer social complaints will result in consumers abandoning brands.

A major shift in how people communicate—with each other and with brands—has been underway for the past few years. Online communication is moving away from private, anonymous, one-to-one channels on a desktop computer, to public, one-to-many channels that are mobile and linked to your real identity through social profiles. These shifts are causing major changes in how companies need to handle customer service, and the implications are only just being felt.

We’re now at the stage where social customer service has become an established part of doing business. Tweet at any brand and most will respond back, publicly and quickly. Even if many companies are not yet delivering the level of social service that consumers expect, they know they have to and are working towards it.

Even Gartner, one of the most established technology analysts, renamed its Magic Quadrant for CRM Customer Service Contact Centers to the Magic Quadrant for the CRM Customer Engagement Center—incorporating social media for the first time as a key part of delivering multi-channel customer service and engaging customers for a better customer experience.

Here are three areas of change for brands to watch for in the year ahead:

1. Look for continued migration from private to public customer service.

The transition of communication from private to public channels, like a company Facebook page or Twitter handle, is what makes social service so fundamentally different from traditional customer service.

Systems built for the old paradigm of one email chain, one customer and one ticket simply do not work when a conversation can pass seamlessly between private and public, incorporate multiple customers at once, and mix customer service issues with general engagement. And the dangers of messing up a completely public customer service conversation, in a viral medium, mean that the training and processes for social agents need to be very different from traditional customer service. The potential for a negative impact from a brand getting it wrong is just too high.

On the other hand, it also means that delivering a high level of customer service over social media can generate brand value and real competitive advantage. According to NM Incite’s State of Social Customer Service 2012, 71%of customers who experience positive social care are likely to recommend that brand to others.

2. Smartphones are creating new types of questions and complaints.

The shift from using desktop computers to mobile smart phones is changing the actual types of interactions that customers are having with companies. In a recent analysis of customer service interactions handled by a number of major retailers, 14% came from customers Tweeting while in-store. The immediacy of Twitter represents a real opportunity for retailers to engage with customers, potentially at the point of-purchase, but not if they are constrained by a legacy service approach.

The transport industry provides a perfect example of the immediate need for information, and the positive value that is created by taking a proactive approach via social channels. The social customer service team of Greater Anglia, a UK train operator, is based in the central command center. They engage with customers in real time, not only to deliver service, but also to gain real time feedback about what is happening in its network, and feed this back into the rest of the business.

On the negative side, social media means that local problems can become global in minutes. But on the positive side, it allows businesses to get in-depth, real time insight into their customers and supply chain that can be instantly fed into relevant business units. It also gives an amazing opportunity to engage with customers at the point-of purchase, whether in store or at the online (or mobile) checkout—with the potential to directly encourage sales and increase customer retention.

Leading internet retailer JackThreads gets over half its revenue from mobile commerce—and reports that its customer service team receives more product questions through Twitter than any other channel.

3. There is a movement from customers being anonymous to having a real social identity.

For years, online identification mechanisms had the potential to be completely separate from a customer’s real identity, and were disconnected from each other. Customers might have multiple email addresses, with no real identifying characteristics. Their IP address could change depending on where they are logging in from. The same could be said for other information you might ask from a customer: One day they could share their cell number, another time they could provide their home number and another they could give their office number. The same is true for delivery addresses, and that’s before they move into a new home or switch jobs.

Because of this, companies have been struggling for decades with having a single view of the customer. Social identity, however, has the potential to tie all of these details together. Your Facebook profile ID is fixed (even if you change your name), is deeply tied to your real identity through the social graph, and is already linked to most of your email addresses, your phone numbers, and potentially even your credit card and address. What’s more, most people are always logged on, whether via computer, tablet or smartphone.

Social sign-on gives the opportunity for businesses to connect social data to core customer records and use it as a primary identifier for their customers. This is even possible in store and offline: Many hotels and travel companies are now issuing iPads to staff so that they can display up-to-date and personalized customer information.

If you can tie the data together—not just between customer service channels, but at all points your business touches a customer—it offers the ability to deliver completely personalized service however and wherever you and your customers interact.

Just as in a restaurant you’ve been frequenting for years where the staff know your name, favorite table and regular order, over the next five years customers will come to expect instant and completely personalized service. Connecting this data also enables companies to track the full customer journey, from looking at a product online, to a conversation with a customer service rep, to a final purchase.

The Fundamentals Still Apply

Despite all these changes, the core principles of great customer service always apply. Social customer service comes into its own when meaningful, two-way dialogue takes place between brands and their customers. With brands clamoring for market share in saturated, consumer-driven markets, delivering great service in public arenas like Facebook and Twitter offers a clear differentiator to build a competitive advantage.

Customer service is becoming a way of connecting with customers in real time, wherever they are and on any channel, with complete awareness and personalization. Done properly, this gives customer service the opportunity to build brand advocacy, drive revenue through both increased sales and reduced customer attrition, and massively increase customer insight.

In an always on and real-time messaging world, consumers expect far more than they have before. Responding slower than consumers expect, or even neglecting to answer social complaints at all, will result in consumers abandoning brands. In 2015, with both Facebook and Twitter mainstream public companies, this is no longer acceptable. Brands must recognize that social media has become a mainstream customer service channel, and ensure it has a well resourced and thought out social care strategy. Only then can you be ready for the future.


Joshua_March_headshotJoshua March is founder and CEO of Conversocial, a cloud solution that enables businesses to deliver customer service over social media on a large scale. Conversocial is used in the contact centers of hundreds of major retailers, banks, telcos and other brands, including Google, Hertz,Tesco, Barclay card and Coach, to enable them to manage the high volumes of complaints and questions they’re receiving through social networks like Facebook and Twitter.