Social media vs customer service

British businesses getting to grips with social media are only dealing with the “tip of the iceberg” according to a study comparing brands and consumers’ digital interaction.

The study, by Fishburn Hedges and Echo Research, found that more than a third of people have already interacted with companies through social media. This is almost double the proportion that it was just eight months ago.

Two thirds of people that have engaged with brands on social media believe that it has allowed them to find their voice and most of them believe social media is a better way to communicate with companies than through call centres.

Eva Keogan, head of innovation at Fishburn Hedges, said: “Many people are currently enjoying the VIP treatment from brands on social media. As millions more catch on to this great route into traditional customer service channels, the challenge for brands will be maintaining the same level of service. Over the coming years, will Twitter become the next call centre? We are urging brands to think about this now, as there are some clear and simple ways to use these new customer service channels to great effect.”

64 per cent of British adult consumers are digitally dormant when it comes to social media interaction with businesses. While it by no means suggests the call centre has had its day, it does imply that the scales will tip towards millions more people adopting social sites as another channel of engagement, depending on their preferences. This will have huge implications for reputation. Training, tools and organisational culture will need to be considered, as the mouth piece of a company becomes even more vital.

Echo Research conducted in-depth interviews with senior executives in customer services, marketing and PR. These interviews identified some common themes in best practice:

Don’t be paralysed by uncertainty: where call centres arguably erect barriers between brands and customers, social media can remove them and bring proximity. It shouldn’t be a psychological straitjacket, so dive in – but clearly define your strategy first

Don’t let social media define you: your brand must define it. It must be a continuation of a brand using the appropriate channels and not a knee-jerk reaction to following how others are using it

Make more of the emotional insight you have: customer data offers insight into behaviour, but social media takes that to a different level, enabling brands to tap into emotions

Pick your battles – but enter them fast: speed is critical in the real-time world of social media, but brands should not feel the pressure to answer every query put to them

Address structural barriers in the business, not headcount: there are many ways to resource social, and new hires are not always necessary. Try sharing expertise and removing structural barriers first

Fear not the #fail: No one is perfect and sometimes, just sometimes, it is simply a flash in the pan

Sandra Macleod, group CEO of Echo Research said: “Our stakeholder studies show that customer service is a strategic differentiator in the market place. Social media is taking off as real people are responding, rather than callers being stuck behind automated call routing and messaging. The best companies are training and releasing their staff to manage this in a professional and responsible manner, to often great results. Welcome to a new and exciting world we call ‘social business’.”