The answer is yes. And no.

Social media has become many companies’ answer to providing better customer service by engaging with problems they find online, responding to complaints and providing more personal feedback, but has that meant that customer service has gotten better? Nope.

Our office just had the pleasure of hearing from Peter Shankman, three-time author and entrepreneur, about his newest endeavor, bettering customer service. While we first turned to Shankman for insight on personal branding (great interview, I recommend watching), it turns out his understanding of customer service is just as perceptive. According to Shankman’s research, 80% of businesses believe they deliver “superior” customer service. In reality, only 8% of customers have experienced superior service from those same companies. Now, there is no question that great customer service is essential to a successful business, but the question is, is social media the way to get it?

Pro Social Media

Social media can provide a direct line to customers. It can while also shape a company’s image by showing that they engage with customers in a public space and look to solve problems. It can allow companies to get creative in their customer relationships (i.e. delivering a steak to a guy in an airport after he tweets about it, yes that is the famous Shankman/Morton’s story) and answer questions quickly and with no regard to geographic location with less man power than traditional call centers and services.

customer service on social media

With millennials spending all their time on social media, many think (including yours truly) that social media is a game changer for customer service, and quite possibly its only future.

  • 24% of those who lost their temper about a product/service turned to social media to talk about their experience with that company (via Shankman)
  • 40% of consumers using social sites value access to customer service (via The Connection)  
  • 70% of airlines surveyed will use social media to promote their brand and offer reservations, customer relationship management and check-in via social media platforms (B2C.com)
  • 80 percent of consumers heard back from brands they contacted through social media within 12 hours (eDigitalResearch)
  • 59% of organizations take more than one working day to respond to email complaints, the average response time on Twitter was 5.1 hours, with 10 percent of companies answering within one hour (Simply Measured)

Pro Old School Customer Service

Now no matter how much fun it is to get a tweet from JetBlue telling you to have a great flight after checking in, nothing beats getting some truly great, old school, in-person customer service (which would most likely inspire you to tweet about it anyways).

A recent awesome, in-person customer service I experienced happened on my flight back from Atlanta last month. After a 6 hour debacle with my original flight with Southwest, I ran to the Delta counter at 8:30pm desperate to find a flight home to NY that night. After a little more airport drama (with no real fault to Delta, but they apologized and helped anyway), I finally settled in my seat. It was a bit cold on the flight and I didn’t have a proper sweater so I wrapped by arms as tightly as I could around myself and drifted off to sleep. I woke up an hour later to find that the stewardess had draped a blanket over me after noticing I was cold. I could not have been more shocked/impressed/amazed/almost brought to tears. Thank you Delta for the most surprising customer service I have ever received.

Now you might be thinking, yea, but was it as awesome as receiving a free pair of shoes from Zappos after tweeting about a damaged pair you got? Yup, it was even better, because in-person customer service will reach you on a more personal level and stick in your memory 90% more of the time than a quick tweet from @DeltaAssist.

  • 46% of customers want to speak with a real person on the phone for difficult inquiries (via Shankman)
  • 45% of US consumers will abandon an online transaction if their questions or concerns are not addressed quickly. (Forrester)
  • Consumers prefer assistance over the following channels: Phone (61%), email (60%), Live Chat (57%), online knowledge base (51%), “click-to-call” support automation (34%) (eConsultancy)
  • 73% of consumers fall in love with a brand because of friendly employees or customer service representatives (RightNow)    

So do we live in an age where all online customer service is the answer? The marketer in me says, “…not yet” but the customer in me says, “never.” Until we, as a society, abandon the importance of inter-human relationships (which I am confident we never will), social will never fully replace the importance human-to-human interaction.  Done correctly however, it can be the perfect complement to it.  So when designing your next customer service strategy, make sure it is social. Always remember, those customers are more than just a Twitter handle with a following, so make sure they can always have the option to connect with the person behind your company’s customer service handle.