It may surprise you, but I am not a believer that the "customer is always right." Individuals can be wrong, sometimes. Each of us, at one time or another, has been an unreasonable customer demanding something that a brand could not and should not provide us.
However, while an individual customer may not always be right, once a significant portion of customers express the same expectation, the time for debate is past. The question stops being what is fair, reasonable or right and becomes how the company must change to meet those expectations. We are well past the time for deliberation with respect to social customer care.
There are plenty of studies that demonstrate what consumers expect from brands in social media when it comes to customer care. For example:
- In 2011, Oracle found that 46% of worldwide Internet users expect brands to furnish information and customer service through their Facebook pages.
- In 2012, American Express found that 17% of consumers have used social media at least once in the last year to obtain a customer service response, and of those who did, 83% have not completed an intended purchase because of a poor customer service experience. [Note: American Express is my employer.]
- A 2013 study by LiveOps found that 89% of consumers surveyed believe it is important to be able to communicate with companies by any channel, including social media, and still receive the same quality and efficiency of response.
- A 2012 Nielsen study found that one in three social media users say they prefer to use social media rather than the phone for customer service issues.
- In 2012, Edison Research found that 24% of US internet users 12+ who have contacted a brand in social media expect a reply within 30 minutes, regardless of when the contact was made.
- Finally, a new study by Lithium and Millward Brown reveals that, among those who engage with brands on Twitter, 53% expect a brand to respond to a tweet within an hour. That number jumps to 72% of consumers expecting a response if the tweet is a complaint about the brand or its products. The study also found that 38% of respondents said they felt more negative about a brand if the brand did not respond to a tweet in a timely manner, and 60% claimed they were more likely to take a negative action toward brands that did not respond to tweets in an acceptable time period.
The consumer has spoken! How are brands doing? Pretty darn poorly:
- The LiveOps study found that about 70% of complaints on Twitter and Facebook are ignored, and more than one-third of retailers have erased a customer's question from their Facebook page.
- A 2013 Ragan study revealed that around 70% of companies involve their marketing and/or PR departments in social media, while just 19% of firms involve their customer service department. That same study found that while 87% of companies engage in social media with a goal of raising brand awareness, only 38% do so to improve customer service.
- And a recent study out of the UK revealed that fewer than half of customers who have used social media to secure service are happy with the experience (but that was still better than satisfaction with the phone channel!)
Increasing numbers of customers expect brands will be available to furnish customer care in social media. That expectation is neither fair nor unfair; it simply is. One can debate the fair-mindedness of customer expectations until the cows come home, but it will not change the reality of the situation.
Some tasked with customer care question the reasonableness of consumers' response time expectations, but it is difficult to understand why that is. Corporate customer service centers have found a way to staff phone lines so that the average telephone hold time in 2013 is just 56 seconds, yet if that same customer tweets to a corporate social profile, an hour seems an unreasonable time to respond. (Shouldn't we thank consumers who turn to social channels for their service requests--they have given us the luxury of taking an hour to reply versus demanding we pick up the phone in 56 seconds?)
What many find so infuriating about the brands that struggle to furnish social media customer care is that many of these same companies have no difficulty staffing their social media marketing teams or spending increasing amounts of money on social media advertising. The recent Altimeter study found that companies are 75% more likely to have marketing staff dedicated to social media than customer service staff.
In the coming years, more consumers will turn to social media for customer service and their expectations for rapid response will only grow. Is that reasonable? Far more so than your brand expecting consumers to follow, engage and share its marketing in social media while the company ignores the same customers' questions, requests and feedback in the channel.