The First Mile: The Broken Link of Social Media Customer Service


Part One. An edited excerpt of What’s the Future of Business, Changing the Way Businesses Create Experiences

For all that social media is doing to change business for the better, it’s not yet enough. Interview any executive and ask them what their priority business goals are for 2013 and I’m sure you’ll see some element of customer-centricity on the list. Yet the challenge that exists for any organization trying to get closer to customers lies in the definition of customer-centricity. If getting closer to customers is a key objective, why do many businesses neglect the first mile of customer experience? Sure products and services count for almost everything. But if and when a customer has a question, wishes to share ideas or provide feedback, or needs help, why is it often the beginning of buyer’s remorse or resentment?

Over the years, companies invested in automated solutions to improve the efficiency of inbound customer engagement. Sophisticated voice recognition systems alleviate the hardship of pushing a button to direct calls. Improved call transferring lessens the frequency of getting dropped. Web forms, click to talk applets, and email now ensure that the first round of automated replies you receive look more human than ever before. And, internal metrics are now designed to reduce the amount of time we can get our issues resolved, reducing the need to build comfort, confidence and trust in each call. No, I’m not serious. But this is the reality that a majority of human beings experience to attain satisfaction or resolution.

The Customer is Always Right—Right Now

Enter social media. Customers no longer require a “hotline” to express sentiment nor do they need approval to do so. Everyday people express themselves through every channel possible. You’ve heard it before. A happy customer tells a few people, but an unhappy customer tells…everyone. Thanks to Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Yelp, blogs, Foursquare and a myriad of other social networks, customers now possess the ability to share their experiences and affect the impressions and ultimately decisions of an unprecedented number of peers each and every day.

If you’re reading this, you probably already get this. Yet, still today, almost eight years after the inauguration of the social media movement we know today, there’s still a disconnect between the importance of social networks and customer expressions and the ability for executives to appreciate the affect and the consequences of not engaging. It’s the difference between the function of customer service and the intentional result of customer satisfaction.

In the realm of social media however, every comment either compliments or peels away from the sanctimony of an engineered brand. And, if the formula of happy customers telling a few and unhappy customers telling many more holds true, the collective of customer experiences are indeed indexed for others to find and consider in their decision making cycle. One must not need be a mathematician to understand that when someone searches about your company, chances are that without engagement or design, posts, comments and real-time conversations will work against you. In February 2012, American Express published a report that found 46% of US internet users stormed branded social media presences to express frustration about poor experiences.

Imagine considering a series of brands related to a product category you’re investigating. In the first round of research, you find a series of posts, videos, and conversations that reveal negative experiences and the inability for the company to positively change opinions. Chances are that you’ll react accordingly.

In Part 2 of this series, we’ll discuss the disconnect between social media marketing and social customer service within the organization. We’ll also take a look at how the majority of time, money and resources are invested in marketing campaigns and not in supporting customers. If customer retention is the new acquisition, a shift in the balance of marketing and support is desperately required.

The story continues…#WTF

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Photo Credit: Shutterstock

This post is based on a piece I wrote for AT&T’s Networking Exchange

  • iQuanti

    Totally get this. I think we will see more companies move towards a customized platform that meets their customer service needs, who knows . . . they may even eliminate “formal” customer service all together and replace it with a direct line to brand managers or self serve.

    The key is the data, make you sure collect it. That is half the battle. Once you have that data the possibilities are endless.

    • briansolis

      So true…

  • Anonymous

    In many cases, I think it is simple overload – especially at an enterprise level. They aren’t allocating enough resources to manage their social assets and respond in a timely manner (or at all, in some cases). Upper management has to understand the connection before an engaged community can become reality and a part of the corporate culture. It’s often a seismic shift in thinking that isn’t easy to make. Middle management could also often take a more aggressive role in educating the c-suite on what should be done and why, and connecting it to c-suite goals/objectives in a way they can assimilate it and respond.

    • patrickdh

      It is the upper management gap, and like you say, bringing in the customer or the engaged community, can be an additional source of pressure pushing middle management out of a certain comfort zone if it’s done without alignment

    • briansolis


    • Sarah Bauer

      Absolutely, Morgan. Could it be that there is a roadblock at the enterprise level for not only allocating the resources, but defining the resources – giving the role for social support a name, a set of duties and responsibilities, a position within the company? Perhaps we just don’t know where to start…

      Sarah Bauer
      Navigator Multimedia

    • Carrie Morgan

      I think you are on to something, Sarah, when you say that many organizations don’t know where to start. I think it has a lot to do with how many silos are impacted (sales, customer service, marketing, c-suite, etc.) and the intimidation factor of making such a massive change. Creating an engaged company literally changes the entire culture of an organization.

      But frankly, with so many fantastic resources, consultants and agencies available to help them create a custom strategy that will actually work for them and drive that transformation, it’s an excuse that doesn’t hold much water, IMO!

      Their brand reputation is being formed with or without them, and it heavily influences sentiment. The longer they stay removed from the process, the less control they have over how their brand is taking shape online. It is foolish for companies to not be involved in such a critical piece of their marketing.

      It would be like letting the guy that hands me french fries at McDonald’s build my car, then expecting a Mazarati. If you don’t get involved in the process and leverage the right tools and people, you can’t complain about the outcome.

      These are also often the same companies that don’t have a social media crisis management plan in place, and/or that don’t respond to customer complains on Twitter or FB. This is far too common…

    • briansolis

      Thank you for the comment Morgan. You raise important points. I agree about your thoughts on middle management. At the same time, anyone who is a stakeholder should figure out ways to align around not only preservation but also adaption and innovation.

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  • Brittany Howell

    Interesting read. Thanks for sharing!

    • briansolis

      Thanks for reading!

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  • patrickdh

    46% stormed branded SM presence – yet another reason why some may be even more pleased, about keeping a presence that is specifically designed to make it impossible to have this type of immediacy and pressure to scale customer responsiveness. To think that 7 years have already gone by – aren’t we probably only half way?

  • Deborah Shane

    Customer retention took the top spot back in 2008-11, when keeping customers was far more important than new business, which disappeared. That shift in priority and the free speech, open social landscape make it essential to give customers not great, or exceptional service , but “unexpected”. Surprise me and over deliver and I will remember you.We the consumer have a strong voice and should be using much more than we actually do.I had a problem with BrightHouse recently and Tweeted them, and it and in 5 minutes Nick showed up and resolved it. Great post Brian.

    • briansolis

      Great story Deborah…and great comment! Thank you :)

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  • Pellon AutoCentre

    Hi one of the biggest priorities right now is to collect as much customer data as the law allows us to use in the future, to stay in touch with our core customers. Social media has been great for a small business to interact with, i am old now but it helps to develop trends and learn about what the next generations may be looking for and so direct us in the right direction. thanks eric roberts

    • briansolis

      Thank you Eric for sharing. I would love for my auto center to develop a better experience based on my needs and expectations rather than make me conform to the experience that “I get” just because they didn’t think about it. That’s part of the problem these days…businesses get caught up in the product or service and forget that it’s the experience that becomes part of the differentiator as well.

  • Anna Pham

    Thanks for an informative post, I totally agree with you that social media plays such important role in maketing and bussiness should pay more attention to what their customers say on their blog, facebook, twitters and react to them soon, especially when the comment are negative.

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  • writing services

    The first break in the customer service chain starts at the expectation by businesses that an automated reply will be any sort of solution at all. Happy customers will go on with their lives once they are satisfied with their purchase but unhappy people will now go to your social media pages looking for satisfaction. This creates an opportunity to turn a negative into a positive that too few businesses understand enough to profit from simply because they are looking for low effort, automated solutions.

  • Robert Bacal

    Brian, I think that social media, for the most part is horribly suited to deliver good customer service, and to be honest, from my own survey results, customers don’t want it, ALL THINGS BEING EQUAL. I’ve said elsewhere is the net result so far is worse service, not better, and that has to do with basic economic issues, and non-scalability. (Seven Reasons Why Social Media Makes Customer Service and Experience Worse

    Why we always expect technology to solve human problems is beyond me.

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Brian Solis is a digital analyst, anthropologist, and also a futurist. In his work at Altimeter Group, Solis studies the effects of disruptive technology on business and society. He is an avid keynote speaker and award-winning author who is globally recognized as one of the most prominent thought leaders in digital transformation.

His most recent book, What's the Future of Business: Changing the Way Businesses Create Experiences (WTF), explores the landscape of connected consumerism and how business and customer relationships unfold in four distinct moments of truth. His previous book, The End of Business as Usual, explores the emergence of Generation-C, a new generation of customers and employees and how businesses must adapt to reach them. In 2009, Solis released Engage, which is regarded as the industry reference guide for businesses to market, sell and service in the social web.

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