Social customer service: Choosing the right tools for the job

19th May 2016
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For most businesses serious about social media customer support, setting up a brand profile on a social network and responding to occasional messages just isn’t enough.  

There are a number of tools and technologies on the market, offered by an array of vendors to befit any business, regardless of what stage they’ve reached in their journey. Understanding what’s the most relevant option isn’t always easy though.

“What tools you need really depends on what you’re trying to achieve,” notes Tamara Littleton, CEO of Emoderation. “If you’re a big, established brand, you probably need something that can handle and filter huge volumes of data, such as Adobe Social, to manage conversations on social media. If you’re just starting out, something like Hootsuite might be more appropriate.”

With that in mind, here’s a guide to some of the different tools that are available on the market, and how they can support your social media customer service needs.

Listening tools

As a first step into social customer support, organisations should monitor the conversations that customers are having about their brands. This can uncover previously undetected problems with products and services as well as identifying specific customer issues.

Facebook and Twitter both provide basic analytics tools, while social media monitoring tools on the market include SysomosRadian6 (part of’s marketing Cloud), Augify and PSONA social (formerly Yomego). But the tools alone won’t deliver value, and organisations must ensure that workflows are created so that specific enquiries are routed to the right department and right service agent for resolution.

“Many companies are using social listening tools but few companies have the maturity of process to be able to derive value out of the insights gleaned from it,” says Kate Leggett, principal analyst at Forrester. “However, Conversocial is a premier example of a vendor that doesn’t only offer robust technology, but it is geared to the group within the organisation that takes care of social.

“They don’t care if it sits inside the contact centre or a marketing organisation. They work with the purchaser of their technology to be able to teach them best practices. With the social channels, there can be a flood of enquiries, and you need to be able to figure out what ones you’re going to ignore, what ones you’re going to acknowledge, what ones you’re going to do something about and what ones you’re going to escalate and reach back out to the customer to do some damage control.”

There are other challenges to bear in mind with social listening tools, as highlighted by Martin Hill-Wilson, customer service strategist and director at Brainfood Consulting.

“If you strip out the fancy language of ‘social monitoring’, what you’re actually looking at is text analytics – and as we all know, simple things like sentiment analysis is only about 50% accurate anyway, and all forms of analytics – whatever you automate – require tuning up.

“Service folk have started waking up to the fact they need to be involved in this new form of communication channel, and often a social monitoring platform will probably already be in place, procured against a requirement specified by marketing and PR. And the reality is that marketers and PR, or the original vendors, will have built the analytics queries to suit a marketing and PR perspective, but won’t necessarily have done that to suit service requirements.

“So one of the things that customer service leaders really need to get their heads around is go back, get to grips with the social platform, get to grips with what it was being used for, calibrate that against what service needs you have got and bring it up to standard. And that is probably one of the reasons why so many people aren’t necessarily picking up all these service-related communications going on.” 

Service integration

While listening tools are en vogue, for companies with any kind of ‘traditional’ customer service support, technology that’s able to integrate into existing support systems is a must.

Craig Borowski, market research associate for Software Advice, says the growing consumer pressure for brands to offer omnichannel support has given rise to a plethora of suitable integration tools:

“Many of the social media tools included in customer service platforms serve a similar function: They bridge the gap between social media and traditional communication channels. These tools allow all customer communications to be managed from a centralised platform—using either the same sets of processes, or ones tailored to individual channels.

“Tailoring processes to specific channels can be very important on social media, where customers have different expectations. For example, they might be willing to wait a day or two for a response to an emailed question, but on social media, they’d expect an answer much sooner.

“For this reason, it’s helpful to choose a system that centralises ticket management across channels, but still allows specific rules to be set on a per-channel basis.”

Software Advice, which ranks customer service tools based on user reviews, singles out from Salesforce, Sprinklr and Freshdesk for praise.


As Borowski adds, tools such as Freshdesk help with ticket management across channels, but still allows specific rules to be set on a per-channel basis.

“In the above example, the Freshdesk platform displays a variety of open tickets. Some are flagged as “overdue” and “response due.” The rules that manage these flags can be set individually—giving the company the flexibility to choose which incoming requests receive what level of priority, based on SLAs or other factors.

“There are other benefits to using integrated social media tools. The social media activity surrounding a company or its products is often relevant to departments beyond customer service. When information about this activity is managed with a software platform that’s used across department lines, this helps the whole company.”

Social adapters

Brands such as Sony and Giffgaff would argue that social customer service starts with successful community networks, and have successfully mastered the art of peer-to-peer support forums thanks to the assistance of online community vendors such as JiveTelligent and Ning.

However, some of these community builders have also become sophisticated enough to layer the peer-to-peer platform with traditional multichannel capability. For example, Lithium’s purchase of Social Dynamx, and subsequent integration into Lithium Social Web, enables businesses to identify relevant customer conversations on social channels and route them to agents, allowing them to embed suggested content from the communities in response to issues, something that improve responses and reduce costs.

Leggett refers to this kind of functionality as “social adapters” – “social customer service technology that allows companies to manage enquiries from communities and social channels like Facebook and Twitter, like that provided by Conversocial, Social Dynamx that was acquired by Lithium and the capabilities that the big CRM companies have.”

In this arena, launched Chatter Communities for service as a way to blend Web self-service and peer-to-peer support. Jive has capabilities to integrate traditional infrastructure with communities. While Get Satisfaction is another community play that has APIs that allow vendors such as Genesys and other third party multichannel vendors to integrate.

“The advantage of doing it in this way is that if the community then hasn’t answered a query in sufficient time, it is then escalated up to an agent who can then take over,” notes Hill-Wilson.


Arguably the biggest technology roadblock for social customer care, however, is its difficulties in integrating with CRM and customer databases, so that client interactions can be informed by the likes of customer history. And while to date social customer service has tended to be a point solution, as brands are increasingly looking to plug it into the wider company infrastructure, so the demand for integration is growing.

As Esteban Kolsky of thinkJar says: “The tools are important to have, but they are not the solution. Until the tools become fully integrated into CRM, which people claim they can but nobody has proven yet how they can do it really well, then they are just standalone tools. And that is not where you want to be.”

Hill-Wilson adds: “The reality is that there are still very few completely joined-up solutions. Providers like AvayaGenesysInteractive Intelligence, etc, will say that they have had a social capability for a good couple of years, by which they mean they can take a feed from a social channel, put it through their unified queue, prioritise it based on something like Klout and you’ve got social.”

The reality is that the infrastructure part of social customer care is still “up for grabs” says Hill-Wilson.

“At the moment, social represents around 10% of companies’ communication volumes and if it doesn’t get more than that, then it is going to be subsidiary, and in which case you have to ask does it really matter to you that the interaction history is held in another silo? If the answer is ‘yes’ then you need to find a way to port that, potentially in real-time, across to your CRM. But if it doesn’t matter to you, then consider whether it matters that you’re going to collect social ID or not, and try to integrate that into existing CRM. It really depends on who you are, what market you’re in, what view you have of the future, how much personalisation means to you and so on.

“But most people are going to have the same conclusion – which is that social has to be deeply brought into a single approach to service, and that approach probably has to be one that is more broad around a lifecycle and the knowledge that you have got about customers’ social behaviour has to be blended into all the other stuff you know about them, and you need to have cross-channel or omnichannel capability. But in terms of the people out there who are able to deliver that, they are still few and far between. Most are still roadmapping that.”

And as Borowski warns, the roadmapping process is where a company will probably reveal something significant about their requirements for social customer service tools:

“Expectations need to be in alignment with actual consumer behaviour. This varies by individual and to some degree by industry; nevertheless, for most businesses, social media isn’t going to become a primary channel for customer service.”

This article was written by the MyCustomer editorial team and is an update of the 2013 article Are these the tools to make social customer service a reality?

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