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Are users rather than brands to blame for social customer service failings?

14th Jun 2015
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In amongst all the hyperbole attached to brands’ supposed customer service failings on social media, it’s almost refreshing to hear another point of view.

Time Magazine has published an article about the rise of social customer service, in which the author, Ryan Holmes, suggests that social media users could be as much to blame for brands being unable to get to grips with customer support on social as the brands themselves.

Social customer service has had a meteoric rise in recent years; so much so that close to 70% of consumers state they now turn to social networks to try and resolve brand queries.

Yet a number of reports have been released in recent months stating that businesses are struggling to adapt to the channel.

Only last week, The Northridge Group’s latest State of Customer Service study was critical of brands in finding that 33% of customer queries on social media went unanswered.

And recent Eptica research also stated that even those companies that were responding to customer queries on social networks were taking too long, with the average response times on Twitter currently stated to be around 5 hours 27 minutes.

However, Holmes’s suggestion is that too many people expect responses from brands on social, regardless of the complex or often trivial nature of their complaints, and that this is having a negative effect on how easily brands can respond.

He cited cases involving celebrities as examples of complaints often being escalated in the public eye, creating unrealistic expectations of what brands were capable of doing with every case.

“Among the more high-profile of recent tiffs: actor Seth Rogen going toe-to-toe with Cathay Pacific airline, which had barred his pet Cavalier King Charles Spaniel from boarding a flight,” he writes.

““I advise everyone to never fly @cathaypacific if possible. They are bad people,” tweeted Rogen to nearly 3 million followers late one night last winter. Though the airline responded quickly and respectfully…a full-scale Twitter rant ensued. Before it was over, Rogen’s tweets were shared thousands of times, ultimately attracting notice from the Washington Post and news sites around the world.”

Holmes goes on to cite that with some big brands receiving upwards of 100,000 queries a day via social, it is unrealistic to ever expect comprehensive coverage in these instances, even with the technology available to customer service teams.

And there is even the suggestion that the platform may not last forever as a customer service outlet. Twitter recently announced changes to its direct messaging function which meant anyone could privately message another user regardless of whether they were following each other or not. They’ve also just announced the removal of the 140 character limit for DMs.

Facebook also recently opened up its popular Messenger app to businesses. Both moves are said to be potential killing switches for public complaints being dealt with out in the open, as is currently the case.

However, social media expert, Luke Brynley-Jones, founder of Our Social Times, believes companies should continue to embrace the public nature of social media, regardless of the opportunities new functionality gives them on different networks:

"Research has shown that consumers only resort to social media when traditional service channels have failed them,” he says.

“This shifts their mindset from ‘please fix my problem’ to something close to vengeance. No amount of channelling by Twitter or Facebook will block angry people from airing their views.”      

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