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Many firms began using social media for some form of customer service just as soon as consumers started tweeting and posting complaints about their brands online—and while the decision to respond to those messages may have been a good one, transferring significant customer service functionality to social sites may not be a good idea. Even for the simplest of inquiries, the vast majority of consumers prefer other forms of communication.
According to research from American Express, 23% of US internet users have used social media for customer services purposes at some point. The reasons they do so, however, most frequently do not involve looking to get help from the firm in question. A majority of people who used social for customer service did so to praise a company for a great experience, and half did so to vent their frustration with a bad one. Just under half wanted to share their experience with other consumers. Meanwhile, what firms might think of as typical customer service—a customer reaching out to a firm for help, and expecting a response—came in fourth place, with 40% of respondents.
And that's just among the group who did use social for customer service purposes. Among the larger group of US internet users, American Express found that social networks were hardly ever the preferred channel for making customer service inquiries.
For simple inquiries, the most preferred way to get help was via a company’s website or email, with speaking to a real person on the phone in a distant second. For difficult problems, nearly half of internet users wanted to talk to a human on the telephone, with face-to-face help coming in second with almost a quarter of respondents.
Meanwhile, only 5% of respondents wanted to use social networks for simple inquiries, with an even smaller 3% looking to solve hard problems via social.
For brands, this doesn’t necessarly mean it’s a good idea to start ignoring customers’ problems when they’re posted to social sites. But it may be more a question of damage control and managing negative social buzz than of actually helping customers with their problems.
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