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How to Fix Social Media Customer Service

July 27, 2016 by Chris Koch

A brand’s silence in social media is deafening.

Customers who tweet a brand expect a response. Over half (53%) want to hear back within an hour. And when the tweet references a problem, that figure jumps to 72%, according to a study by market research firm Millward Brown Digital.

Yet, the average response time for brands on Twitter is just over four hours – if they respond at all. As confirmation, a study by software company Simply Measured found that the response rate among Interbrand’s top 100 brands averages at just 42%.

Silence Is Met with Anger

Into this silent void flows anger. Sixty percent of customers who feel ignored by brands on social media are likely to share their displeasure, especially if they have a legitimate problem that hasn’t been resolved.

Unfortunately, anger thrives in social media. Research has shown that we tend to share happiness only with those close to us, but we are willing to join in the anger of strangers. That’s why public shaming on social media often draws a crowd that fans the flames with retweets, supportive comments, and Facebook likes. Before long, brands can have a PR disaster on their hands.

Response Is Ad Hoc

Most brands have seen – or even experienced – the potential harm of being late on social media and are putting people on the case. Businesses that employ at least 100,000 people now have an average of 50 full-time employees supporting social media. Yet given social media’s heritage as primarily a marketing medium, most employees in social media teams have marketing or communications backgrounds. They often lack the resources and knowledge to handle customer service issues.

Meanwhile, social media is generally not well integrated into traditional customer service departments. For example, just 33% of customer service centers provide social media contact channels, according to a survey by Deloitte.

Even when brands create designated customer support accounts on social media, service requests may still stream in on other accounts. As a result, responses are often ad hoc and disjointed across the organization, which contributes to slow response times.

Channels are Proliferating

The problems that businesses are having with social media are part of a larger issue: The need to respond to customers across an ever-increasing number of electronic communications channels. Besides social media, there’s chat, texting, smartphone apps, and many others.

Demand for service through these channels will only increase over time. According to a survey by IT services company Dimension Data, Internet and chat are Generation Y’s first choices for interacting with businesses – tying with social media and surging past phone calls, which finished last. The survey also predicted that digital communications – which account for 35% of interactions with customer service today – will overtake voice calls in the next two years.

A Strategy for Coordination

Rather than take a channel-by-channel approach to serving customers, businesses need a strategy for omnichannel coordination and integration. For example, social media is great for answering simple questions, but it isn’t the best channel for resolving complex issues. In these cases, businesses need a seamless process for shifting the conversation from social media to the call center, where a representative can help sort through the problem.

Omnichannel coordination isn’t easy. The various channels inside most companies are silos within their own technologies, processes, and leadership. Bringing them together requires technology integration, cross-silo coordination, and new business processes. But it’s the best hope companies have for ending the deafening silence in social media.

For more insight on how customer service is evolving, see The New Face Of Customer Service.

Christopher Koch is the Editorial Director of the SAP Center for Business Insight.

This story originally appeared on The Digitalist Magazine as part of the 10 Weeks of Live Business series.

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