3 Reasons why you should provide Customer Support on Social Media

Talk to any executive of a large or medium sized company contemplating having customer support on Social Media channels and one of the first question you are likely to hear is But how can we afford it? Well, the right question is Can you afford not having Customer Support on Social Media? Here’s why: [pullquote]Can you afford not having Customer Support on Social Media?  [/pullquote]

Reason No. 1: Numbers Stupid!

According to a recent research study by The Nielsen Company, “Americans spend nearly a quarter of their time online on social networking sites and blogs, up from 15.8 percent just a year ago” – a whopping 43% increase in the last one year (for more, please see this link). And if % time spent on Social Networking sites continues to grow at its current rate, soon it will account for more than 50% of time spent online – meaning Social Networks will become the dominant force “online” and Social Networking will become synonymous with the internet. [pullquote]  Social Networks will become the dominant force “online” and Social Networking will become synonymous with the internet. [/pullquote]

Reason No. 2: It is Social!!

Many People equate Social Networking with communicating via Chat or Email. Well, they cannot be farther from truth. It is important to note “Social” in Social Networking and that it is not just networking. Conversations on Social Media channels are public – visible to all. And customers and potential customers are discussing about problems or issues with products and brands on Social Media channels whether the marketer is participating in the discussion or not.

It is important for marketers to participate in the discussion and provide Customer Support on Social Media channels as unlike email or chat, interaction on Social Media channels is not just limited to customer and the marketer, but is visible to all other customers and prospects, and they can participate in the discussion as well and benefit from it. Any favorable resolution of an issue is visible to all and can contribute to building of brand equity and loyalty. [pullquote]  Think of it as support center outsourced to other customers! This can dramatically reduce cost of providing customer support. [/pullquote]

Reason No. 3: It can dramatically reduce cost of customer support!!!

It is common knowledge in the industry that cost of providing customer support is highest in face-to-face transactions, followed by cost of providing support over phone. After the internet revolution in ’90s, many companies started offering online “self-service” customer support where customers can log an issue and search FAQ or solution database for resolving their problem. This helped reduce cost of providing support drastically.

Customer Support over Social Media channels can help companies further reduce cost of providing support as on Social Networks, brand advocates/loyal customers help other customers out by answering their questions or suggesting solution, rather than company Reps trying to answer all the question. Role of marketer is to provide necessary platforms and tools for support and moderate the online discussion where ever required. But majority of “support” is provided by brand advocates and loyal customers.

Think of it as support center outsourced to other customers! This can dramatically reduce cost of providing customer support.

What do you think? Should companies provide Customer Support on Social Media channels?

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13 responses to “3 Reasons why you should provide Customer Support on Social Media

  1. When I first read this I scratched my head – surely this is a statement of the obvious? But then I realised that of course you are right on the money. Of course in many spheres this has been going on covertly for a long time. When I was running a digital agency, all my developers had their support network via forums (or is that fora?) and chat. This was social networking before we called is 2.0. Canny suppliers quickly harnessed the power of these channels long before we had a label for social networking.
    I would suggest that therin lies the problem. Many companies (or their senior executives) are nervous, suspicious or downright scared of social media. I’m sure that you could present a plan and business model for customer support that was fast, reactive, self-generating and self-supporting, running 24/7 with hundreds of volunteer helpers and they would bite your hand off… just don’t mention it used social networking.

    • Thanks Ian for sharing your thoughts, I couldn’t have said it better!!

      Harish Kotadia, Ph.D.

    • Unfortunately, statements of the obvious are often subtly wrong, which is the case here. Notice there’s no documentation, evidence or anything other than the usual assertions, and I’ll let you all in on a little secret. Executives didn’t become executives by accepting the word of any and every person with an opinion.

      All three arguments are flawed and/or need important clarification to be accurate, and data is required. Otherwise, don’t bother.

  2. Pingback: Tweets that mention 3 Reasons why you should provide Customer Support on Social Media | Dr. Harish Kotadia -- Topsy.com

  3. “Outsourcing customer support to customers!” as you say, can work really well. Online forums which are accessible 24/7 have answered many a question for me, at hours when ordinary businesses are closed. Having good search capabilities and at least once a day checking by one or more experts can lead to an excellent customer experience.

    I have seen that Bank of America has a customer support Twitter account with at least six reps, with names and photos and initials! Very innovative. I’m not sure managing customer service by Twitter is a great way to go – because of lack of database, inadequate search capabilities and deletion of Tweet history, but it’s great to have a point of contact to direct customers to another site with the right infrastructure.

    Very important topic, especially in economic hard times when companies have cut back staff, and in innovative times, when new businesses are launching on the internet with minimal resources!

    Forums get little coverage in the Facebook, Twitter and Google dominated news, but they offer functionality and subject specialization that is vitally needed.

  4. It’s an important topic. Somehow we have to make it so people will look to the web first for support instead of the phone because most people (especially non-tech savvy) prefer to talk and listen the old fashioned way.

    Another thing is companies should do a better job of providing access to support resources on their own end because, as stated above, not every person hangs out on forum and even less know how to navigate them.

    Nonetheless we are entering an age where support will only be a ‘follow’ away.

    • Thanks @jorgebarba for your comment. I agree with you that “we have to make it so people will look to the web first for support instead of phone” Social Media can help in this as when customers share their questions/concerns on Social Channels, they are sharing with their Friends on Social Network. It is easier to seek help/advise from a friend or contact on Social Networks than search on the internet. Quicker companies realize this and tap into this potential, better for them.

      Thanks again for your comment,

      Harish Kotadia, Ph.D.

  5. Very valid points. Another good reason to handle customer service through social media would be that Customer Support through Social Media is also a good mechanism for research.Tools like Get Satisfaction and User Voice enable companies to get an insight into what problems their customers face, and what customers expect from their product, how customers view the company, etc. on a macro level (even validated by voting in many cases) which the company can use to prioritize feature requests, and the product’s future development overall.

    I wonder what your views are on the disadvantages of doing this though. No product is perfect and opening up your support conversations to the world might just make the limitations very public and there’s also the risk of customers ganging up against the company.

    • Thanks @Achint for your comment. Much appreciated!

      I agree with you that Social Media can be great source of information about customer preferences and company can gain valuable insight about their products/brands from Social media channels.

      Social Media can also be challenge if many customers have negative views/opinions about your brand. Rather than shying away from Social media, companies to embrace them and engage customers to meet this challenge head-on. If customers feel that company is making an honest attempt in redressing some of their complaints, it will go a long way in building trust and confidence in the brand – rather than not doing anything.

      Thanks again for your comment.

      Harish Kotadia, Ph.D.

  6. i partially agree with it, because this goes well for developed countries but countries where internet penetration is not that high or only in urban areas seems to me it is big challenge because companies need to spend money on awareness as well. lastly, what about those customers who exploit/blackmail company reputation over social media? to me going social for all kind of support has its own pros & cons. it would be two sided sword.  

    • Thanks Waqas for your comment:

      I agree this can be a challenge in countries where internet penetration is low. But silver lining in such cases is access to mobile phones. As 3G/4G voice & data services and mobile phones become readily available, even in developing countries we will see widespread use of Social Media. 

      Regarding customers who “exploit”, well – brand advocates can take care of them I guess!

      Harish Kotadia, Ph.D.

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