Why Marketers are to Blame for the Demise of Customer Service

A whopping 65% of  social media users now think it’s better to contact companies through social networking sites than to make a call to its call centre.

The reasons are obvious: social media sites seem to attract a faster response, they’re quick and easy to use and, er, remind me, how do I make an old-fashioned phone call on this fancy smartphone?

Perhaps this shift to direct internet-based customer service is now unstoppable, but I can’t help but think that many marketers are partly to blame for the demise of traditional customer service channels.

A phone call to a human being who can quickly understand your problem and put things right often leads to better long-term issue resolution than those achieved through indirect communication routes. It gives brands an opportunity to show their human side, a central tenet to developing a trusted long-term relationship.

So, if brands really care about delivering great customer service, why have we allowed well-entrenched customer behaviours to change so dramatically in the few years since Facebook and its many imitators came to the fore?

The answer lies in marketers’ near-instinctive, knee-jerk reaction to the rising tide of customer contacts and complaints through social media channels. Faced with empowered consumers opting to air their grievances in public after years spent in the shadows, many organisations were quick to deploy customer service agents to the social media front line to deal with these complainants. And because the rules of social media dictate that everything must happen terribly fast, we pulled out all the stops to ensure that angry tweets received faster resolution than furious phone calls. After all, this made good sense; if the whole world can see what’s happening on Twitter, we had better make sure we look as good as possible. Meanwhile, in the dark recesses of the call centre, customers are squeezed into a queue and dealt with one by one in the time-honoured fashion.

But that’s OK, because when you’re on the phone to a call centre no-one can hear you scream.

What’s the outcome of all this? Only 7% of consumers now prefer to use a call centre over direct interactions through social media channels. We’ve learned to hit ‘Post’ or ‘Tweet’ when we want quick answers to our problems. It works for us and it seems to work for the brands.

My tweet assistant is not in the office today

Except it doesn’t. An issue resolve quickly—but often clunkily—through a social network might help get the angry monkey off the marketer’s back, but it could ultimately spell commercial disaster if it fails to deliver long-term loyalty and trust improvements. If all your brand offers is speedy issue resolutions through flavour-of-the-month shiny new media channels, yet it fails to invest in improving other touchpoints at least as much, it’s only a matter of time before your customers pick up on the inherent unfairness of your strategy.

A more intelligent long-term solution for brands lies in developing a more balanced approach to improving all customer touchpoints so they remain in step with the expectations of the most demanding new customers. If Twitter users expect answers within minutes of their Tweet, we must improve all customer service channels to this new standard. And if a clever start-up company develops a tool that allows near-instant resolution of customer complaints and enquiries, we’ll have to improve all existing channels to match—or even exceed—this new standard.

The solution to delivering great customer service no longer lies in putting sticky plasters over under-funded, seemingly outdated complaint channels. It lies instead in understanding the highest expectations that our customers have and seeking to meet or exceed this through every touchpoint they wish to use. The result of this more enlightened strategy will be a consistent experience for every customer, continually improving standards of care, and customers who love your brand because your work on their terms, not simply dance to the tune of the shiniest new channel.