The decision to engage via social networks is not a casual one. Or, at least it shouldn't be. As evidenced by the recent decision of a Charter Communications to cease its social media efforts related to customer support, social media is not easy. There is a misconception that social media is "free". Sure, it doesn't cost anything to create a Twitter account or a Facebook or LinkedIn Page. However, an investment can be made in branding these sites. More importantly and investment MUST be made in aligning the right resources - human and other.
Charter's challenge was related to resourcing and responsiveness. Their decision was a wise one considering that they did not dedicate enough resources to managing their social customer support channels. If a business does not have the resources or tools in place to listen, monitor and react to issues raised via social networks, they should not use them. Especially when it customer to customer service. Any customer who posts a concern about a product or service on any social network, is looking for an immediate response. The answer may be provided by another customer, but the company must also respond. They must acknowledge the concern and take action to address the concern.
Good social support often combines traditional methods with social solutions. Support communities are just that - a forum for open discussion of concerns shared by many. The benefit is that the community often resolves the issue on behalf of the company, based on its collective experience. A good community manager will thank the member who provided the answer and perhaps point the community to further information about the particular challenge. If the concern is larger than what can be resolved online, the community manager must facilitate the transition to a phone discussion with the right resources to solve the problem.
Social media has change the face of customer satisfaction. It has introduced a new level of urgency - a demand for immediate resolution of any problem. A customer support model that incorporates social media is a high wire act. It demands a balance of core strength - meaning a deep bench of expertise to solve a range of customer issues, and artistry - meaning the vision to understand how to blend traditional, online and social tools to serve the customer.
Many will argue that companies MUST incorporate social media into their support models. Just as many are correct in delaying their use of social networks for support. These are the companies that recognize that they don't have the right resources in place to deliver the level of support their customer will demand. Or these are customers in industries that have been slower in their adoption of social media. These companies will slowly build their capabilities and when they are ready, they will take their first tentative steps.
What's your perspective?