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Companies Quake Under Social Sword of Damocles

Companies Quake Under Social Sword of Damocles

Companies live in dread of having a negative story about their service go viral, said Penny C. Sansevieri, CEO of Author Marketing Experts. They "know that they need to stay tuned in to what's being said. Once it's out there, it's much tougher to control. Consumers know this too, and a savvy consumer knows that one errant tweet could gain huge attention."

By Erika Morphy
10/29/12 5:00 AM PT

Forty-seven percent of all social media users have used their networks to get customer service from a company, with usage as high as 59 percent among 18-24 year olds, according to a new study from NM Incite.

Almost one in three social media users said they preferred to contact a company that way, and companies have learned to respond in kind.

Seventy-one percent of those who experienced a quick and effective response were likely to recommend the company to others, the study also found, compared to just 19 percent of customers that did not receive any response.

NM Incite did not respond to our request for further details.

A Sea Change

The findings represent a sea change in how consumers communicate with brands. A few years ago, social media-based customer service was still seen as a niche channel that only a few brands -- typically tech companies -- could be expected to support.

Now, companies in a broad range of industries -- from consumer goods to financial services to travel -- are assumed to have some kind of presence on Facebook and Twitter.

There are a lot of reasons for the trend toward social customer service. One is the popularity of Facebook. People do everything else on the site -- from staying in touch with friends to playing games to receiving offers from brands. Reaching out to companies with complaints or questions is just a natural step.

Social Media as Microphone

Another reason the trend has taken off is that people know others are listening.

"Social media has an amplification effect that turns customer service into a critical market tool," Steven L. Johnson, assistant professor of management information systems at Temple University, told the E-Commerce Times.

"When a customer raises a customer support issue via social media, that's not just a private conversation between the consumer and company, it's a public conversation with an audience of thousands, if not millions," he said. Conversely, when people see a company providing quality service via a polite and fast response on social media, they are more likely to patronize that company.

On the darker side, companies now live in dread of having a negative story about their service go viral, Penny C. Sansevieri, CEO of Author Marketing Experts, told the E-Commerce Times.

They "know that they need to stay tuned in to what's being said," she explained. "Once it's out there, it's much tougher to control. Consumers know this too, and a savvy consumer knows that one errant tweet could gain huge attention."

Companies Respond

By now, most companies are well aware of these dynamics and are taking steps, if they haven't already, to set some kind of social media-customer service policy in place.

It isn't difficult, Liz Cies, a public relations specialist with AWeber, told the E-Commerce Times.

Six months ago, AWeber set about establishing its own process.

"We had noticed a significant increase in customers seeking support through social media in the last year," Cies said.

Until that point, the company's social media process had been managed by the marketing department, but with the many customer service requests coming through social media the company decided a change -- namely, a formal social CRM policy -- was in order.

"We first kept an eye out for customer solutions team members that were particularly adept with social media," she said. "After identifying those team members, we formed a small social media team representing both marketing and customer solutions. We developed formal policies and guidelines for responding to customers, established responsibilities for monitoring throughout the day, selected our platform for responding, and determined how the team will use internal instant messaging to communicate regularly about customer needs."

The result, Cies said, is that customer needs expressed on social media are typically addressed within minutes.


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