Vindication On My Position: Social Customer Service Sucks…

I am as tired of telling you not to embark on Social Customer Service as you are of telling me I am a grouchy old man and I don’t get it.


My data and case studies have not convinced you, so let’s try a different approach.  Let’s have someone else show you their data.

Nice and BCG run a study on the subject (link below, registration required) and their data vindicates my positions: abandonment, slow to process, unable to deliver on complex situations, being dropped from investment, etc.

Don’t take my word? no problem – but still… don’t do social customer service.

Excerpt below, and link at the bottom

The report found that the number of consumers using social media to resolve customer service issues has dropped compared to two years ago. While daily, weekly, and monthly use of social media channels doubled between 2011 and 2013, those same categories declined between 2013 and 2015, while the number of respondents who never use or are not offered social media customer service rose from 58 percent in 2013 to 65 percent in 2015.

Respondents who do not use social media cited a number of reasons why. It takes too long to address issues said 33 percent, it has limited functionality reported 32 percent, and it isn’t feasible for complex tasks according to 30 percent. Social media was the channel with the highest percentage of abandons in both 2013 and 2015, with the number rising from 32 percent to 42 percent over that period.


What do you think? Am I just being “jaded, even more so lately” as someone commented following one of my recent presentations (where, I might add, I talked about this same problems…)

10 thoughts on “Vindication On My Position: Social Customer Service Sucks…”

  1. I remember the time when you came out with this view point first, and I disagreed with you. Until you made me realise that I was conflating community driven with pure play social channel.

    But I am curious … The loss of customer interest in this channel might be the undoing of the way this channel has been structured maybe? You know, as a silo?

    So should one not do social customer service at all or should one not include social as an additional channel in their customer service/experience strategy?

    Not sure if my doubts make sense.

    1. there are two parts to this answer…

      1. i am not yet sure if social should be called a channel (which is a polite way to say it shouldn’t). since their introduction the restrictions placed on the network by the providers (Twitter: limits, API access; FB: API and information sharing; L-in: Information sharing) have become more cumbersome and truly diluted the value of the interaction. while customers may be there – true – the question is not if but why — i wrote many moons ago a diatribe praising single channel excellence ( and still believe that to be the case: people don’t scream at you if you give them what you want – via any channel. customers want answers and solutions, not more channels. proactive service, self-service – both far better satisfaction than any staffed channel.

      2. if we assume them to be channels – or find a way to use them as channels, then they have their value as any other channel. you wouldn’t use email for service when latency is an issue, but for certain transactions is unbeatable. i still see twitter as an awesome automated triage-and-escalation tool – but that will require a change in perception by the companies using it – and to stop believing that customers want a person to answer. new generations are not only keen, but prefer self-service. i posted in the L-in discussion on this post that my teen daughter and her friends believe that google is customer service and youtube the supervisor: in other words, if google cannot find it and youtube does not have it – it must not exist… communities are starting to take off at the college level as a support/service channel by far – but still early days for people to know how to do it (Check with my friend Jesus Hoyos on this).

      hope that answers some of your comments. thanks for reading.

  2. Hi Esteban:

    Good call!

    Years ago I was gaging when the people promoting this “social customer care” were all biased with financial considerations: Vendors in the space, staff in companies trying to build their empires and analyst types who saw this new space as a great beachhead to “become an expert” and make lots of cabbage.

    Sure, there are probably a few analysts that sincerely believed, but they were either blinded by personal reward or just failed to do their homework.

    Thanks for sticking to your guns, but I wouldn’t expect anything less from you.

    We all know this ecosystem promoting #$$#@ for personal gain or plain lack of doing anything more the paper-thin analysis exists in lots of other spaces. I would love to see analysts start challenging one another directly when they know it’s not in the best interests of the businesses buying this #@#@.

    Businesses that placate to this faulty analysis and “noisy” consumer demand from the minority with disregard for implications to sustainable and effective business practices will certainly pay the price.

    Keep on busting chops!


  3. When it comes to Customer Service, Customers – in general – want:

    1. The company to be easy accessible
    2. Resolution of their problem/question quickly
    3. To be treated fairly

    If you do not provide either of these there is no question that Customers will tell their friends about their experience at some point. In person or via the plethora of communication options available to them.

    Smart companies understand that “the Customer” does not exist and that the “one solution that they designed for the average Customer” does not fit needs (in context) of all their Customers.

    Smart companies give Customers easy access to their company, via a plethora of communication options, to allow them to vent their frustrations and seek resolution whenever they feel the need.

    Smart companies do not let Customers pay with their time and effort to find the right way/person/department to solve their problems, and smart companies do not sit and wait around until the Customer finds them. Smart companies reach out when they see a Customer struggling or foresee struggle at the horizon.

    Smart companies empower Customers and employees with tools and intelligence to resolve any issues and learn from it.

    Customers voice their questions, struggles, anxieties, frustrations and hope everywhere. It’s a company’s job to be receptive to these voices and guide Customers to resolution.

    The research you mention provides some good insights on what needs to be done to get better at that. Not to embark on Social Customer Service is not a conclusion I would come to.

    Great discussion 😉


  4. So while this is ultimately a ‘he says tomato, I say tomato’’ debate, here’s some kerosene for the camp fire.

    Social care (aka social customer service) is no more intrinsically poor as a service channel than anything else in the current channel mix.
    • Audio based IVR frequently remains the stuff of nightmares for any self respecting UX designer
    • Outlook managed email boxes, administered manually, are atrociously unproductive
    • Script constricted voice interactions, held on a short leash by overzealous compliance teams are the bane of many financial services customers
    • Multi-session chats sessions run by offshore teams devoid of genuine empathy for the local culture of the customer they serve are another example of the triumph of efficiency over effectiveness

    There’s decades of customer bitching to underpin my point. Any channel can sing. Any can be screwed up. It is illogical to single out social as being a genetically unsuitable candidate.

    That said, the power of social is its visibility to others. This means it has greater upsides and downsides for organisations. “No one can hear you scream in the IVR, so why give a damn” has evidently contented many a Customer Service Director over the years.

    Stick the same complaint on Twitter and the fear of personal consequences has proved a fine example that most humans operate within the behavioural science of ‘pain before gain’.

    From this core reality emerges a certain number of truths about making social work. And in a point of convergence with Estebän’s solutions for poor service, I’m as finger wagging when it comes to making the point to social wannabes that there is no room for complacency.

    In a sentence, don’t do social unless you are serious about being amazing at it, because it will come back and bite you. But since customers use it and competitors fish in it to steal those customers, do you really have a choice?
    Even if you could turn an alternative voice or text channel into a perfect 10 it would not drain the swamp. As Wim said, it’s called choice. And customers are buggers for that.

    So if you prefer your gain before your pain, here is some of the recipe:

    • Given the heightened impact of social engagement, you must have the ambition, resource, workflow and culture to actively reduce the downsides and leverage the upsides of social
    – Upsides are to squeeze whatever juice flows from positive word of mouth as a result of delivering a great social service experience. I can cite one of the top UK high street retailers currently looking to do just that using its in store screens in imitation of what Virgin Trains cottoned onto last year
    – Downsides are to be avoided and so include everything from heightened communication standards to bolting on a continuous improvement team and workflow to learn rapidly when things go wrong. I’m sure psychiatrists have a term to describe the self harm of making yourself look dumb over and over for others to see. All social customer service designers need whatever that is tattooed across their foreheads

    • Social customer service teams need to be better communicators that their colleagues in legacy service teams. They always need be thinking about the footprint they leave behind for others to witness and make conclusions from. For example what’s failed when ‘aunt sallys’ feel the need to butt in? Was it not expressing ownership for getting things fixed, lazily adding to the customer effort or failing to clarify next actions and follow through? It’s a house style that needs specific training and for that matter the right candidate profile

    • Trying to manage social platforms directly is dumb. It’s unproductive and leads to poor service experiences. Specialist platform providers are vital to make listening, routing and reporting into viable workflows. Unfortunately social modules from the multi-channel vendors remain functionally inadequate right now which means more integration into unified queues, CRM and KM infrastructure

    • Things will go wrong. And when they do, a brand can be caught in full glare with pants around their ankles unless of course attention has been diverted by a more fascinating Donald Trumpism. But squad bashing readiness on escalations right up to full crisis mode need to be planned, refined and rehearsed as a matter of risk management. Still an unnecessary blind spot for those chancing their luck

    I could go on, but this is an answer to a post not a whitepaper, so I’ll wind down by restating that social care is not the runt in the multi-channel litter. Yes, doing it poorly is undoubtedly more foolish than one to one channels because of the social witness. Each social has weaknesses and for that matter strengths. But what’s new? There is no killer channel and good service design only chooses channels for their strengths.

    BTW, social in my book is any form of communication that others can witness. Therefore p2p communities are part of the social care ecosystem. Just ask any Lithium community and social web user. By that definition Facebook messenger is not true social. Not will be any of the other messaging platforms as they bring service functionality to market. Ironically reverting back to the safety of one to one engagement will probably take social customer care from niche to mainstream.

    And my very last BTW is this. The data that supports the headline that social care is in decline comes from a global survey of a little over 1,000 people with each country contributing a platry 200-300 each. Quite apart from the dubious accuracy of talking to 1,000 as a sample of 6bn, social behaviour is very different across the world so global perspectives are always schwonky.

    Based on the fact that 66% of people believe in statistics, here’s a recent survey from an esteemed UK community, the CCA, who has just polled their members on how they are doing on social. Unsurprisingly it’s altogether different picture.

    He says tomato. I say tomato.

  5. In my mind, whether companies should or should not do social customer care is a moot point. It’s kind of like saying, should companies provide customer service via telephone any more? Furthermore, we can always find surveys to back up any point of view we want to adopt. Not sure how many people you need to make a survey?!

    As you know, I’ve been on the social customer care journey since 2008, but for me, it’s not about whether companies should adopt social customer care, it’s more about the impact of social on the current service model, and what social can tell us about the future direction of ‘customer service’; in the same way that messaging now seems to be coming to the fore.

    Companies have a choice to make and whether they use social or not may simply be down to whether it’s a form of media that figures in the mindsets of their customers. If your customers use social to reach out to you, then consider it as part of your service mix. But, like MHW, don’t do it half-heartedly.

    As for being grouchy… who knows, but these sorts of discussions amongst the experts, gurus and knowledgeable commentators, are always fun, stimulating and provocative!

  6. Something that also should be debated is how (within or external) customer care is best extended to customers in social “channels” when a company’s customer base warrants it. As an example, many times company’s are far better off handling all customer care external to a given social network and just making it a click away without requiring any additional authentication by leveraging things like FB connect (or whatever they are calling it these days). You really can be “where your customers are” without being hamstrung by any social platform’s technology. Most customers just want resolution fast, easy and effective and don’t demand that it be done in front of everyone else.

    Surprisingly, this discourse about specific implementation options with far reaching business implications so valuable to the people in the trenches never seems to make the discussion.

  7. Social service sucks is a bit broad, I think its more horses for courses.


    Hardcore open source software developers enjoy social service because they like solving their own problem.

    Business developers (those who code properly) often find social service sucks because they like have the answer for them.

    On a road trip (think back 10 years before Google maps)

    Men more often who got lost hated asking for directions (they like figuring out directions by intuition)

    Women the opposite, more often who got lost, asked for directions (generally they don’t want to figure out by intuition — they save time asking for directions).

    Overlay these different human behaviors on to social customer service channels.

    My examples are stereotypes, but if you are attempting to design customers service knowing the customer and setting their expectations, no matter which channels will lead to less sucky service for customers.

    (I have no huge data set to back this up, just empirical observations and happy community customers — I think)

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