Amongst all the ‘2013 social media predictions’ out there, one that keep cropping up is “2013 is the year social customer service will go mainstream”.

Charter's social media team

It’s hardly an earth-shattering prediction. We’ve seen social customer service gradually growing in prominence for the past couple of years and it’s already very difficult for brands to ignore – despite their best efforts.

Yet last month Charter Communications (a US cable company) shut down their social customer service efforts. Their explanation read:

“We believe speaking directly with a customer is a more personal, effective and consistent way to answer questions, solve an issue or provide information, and we will focus our efforts on these means of communications. We’re committed to treating our customers with great care, and we believe that person-to-person interaction accomplishes that in a more meaningful way for more of our customers.”

Apparently this came as something of a shock to many of their customers who claimed to have received excellent, efficient and personal service from @Umatter2Charter (note the ironic name) and their social media team.

In reality this was probably a cost-cutting manoeuvre. But has the social media marketing department also been affected? It seems not, certainly not to the same extent anyway.  Their Facebook page is busy handing out Kindle Fire HD’s left, right and centre (accompanied by ‘engagement strategies’ that even The Condescending Corporate Brand would be proud of). The only difference is that they now ignore any customers looking for help.

I’m at a loss to see the business sense in this. Globally, companies spend the equivalent of 2% of their marketing budget on actively maintaining relationships, yet I can confidently assume that existing customers account for slightly more than 2% of profits.

If companies like Charter are looking to cut back on spending, this is not the area to target. Considering the role that social media plays in reputation management and the fact that 86% of us have stopped using a company because of bad customer service, Charter may come to regret this move. Hopefully this example will be an exception to the rule and, as we all predict, 2013 will be the year that social customer service goes mainstream.

On January 22nd, we are hosting a free webinar on Monitoring for Social Customer Service. We will be joined by some expert speakers including Ronan Gillen, EU Complaints and Social Customer Service Manager for eBay and Leon Chaddock, CEO of social media monitoring tool Sentiment Metrics.