Would you be frustrated if all you got was an engaged signal, or say you left a message and did not hear back for several hours? Would you be frustrated in that instance, again, probably yes?
For most consumers, when working with large brands, there's a certain expectation that if you contact a company during the day, customer service will be available. If not, you'll probably start thinking about looking somewhere else to get that cable or phone service.
Is that expectation about the level of customer service response too high, on the part of consumers?
Steve Furman, a colleague in social media, and a community supporter and customer when I was at Forrester Research thinks this expectation is too high, in a blog post he wrote called, "Note to consumers, operators are standing by."
In the post, Steve writes "I’m concerned that the speed of social will cause consumers to think traditional communication channels are obsolete and have been disconnected from the grid. Big brands have spent millions of dollars staffing call centers and maintaining web sites to provide customer service. They won’t be chucking those investments any time soon. Folks… folks… Let’s get real. A single consumer will always be more agile than a large organization on almost everything. Companies have not promised, nor can they right now, monitor hundreds of millions of conversations and respond as part of their service contract."
I have to disagree with Steve on this one. I don’t disagree that companies have to promise they will monitor social media and respond quickly. Many companies are not as adept at social media response as pioneers like Comcast or Dell.
Where I disagree with Steve is that consumers have the right to expect companies will respond in this way. Once the bar for customer service has been set higher, I think consumers will come to expect higher standards, that bar has been set higher.
While a consumer might not be able to find their expected level of customer service from most companies, isn't a consumer want, like this, what the market and marketing is all about? Listening to customer needs and wants.
If customers want a quick response, but a company will have to charge more, isn't it up to companies to set expectations? A company can set the expectation that if a consumer wants a faster social media response it will cost more, or if the company does not provide that higher level of response, a company can set expectations about what they will do and what they will not do.
I’d also question whether big brands need to throw away their investments in traditional infrastructure. If you look at some of the best case studies around, existing departments reorganized them selves to adapt to the new social media communications tools. Instead of responding to a call by telephone, Dell customer service people reached out to customers on blogs and twitter. With Comcast, Frank Eliason’s described to me, in a SNCR case study, how he finds customer complaints online and then responds to people via the telephone.
I don’t know if Dell & Comcast have run the numbers, but has customer service through social media actually helped to reduce customer service costs, partly because you nip issues in early before they develop too fast.
I know from Steve Wilder at Intuit, the big reason they have established a big social media presence using forums is because the forums are helping to reduce their support costs by having customer evangelists help answer customer service issues.
Now I don’t expect a customer evangelists’ in a forum community to monitor and respond to a customer blogger’s issues with a company, but I do think that having a community of customers who have received support in social media, makes it more likely that a friend or reader of an irate customer’s blog will drop them a note about how to solve their problem. Again, Comcast documents this happening in Twitter.