The Real Reason Social Media Has Changed Customer Service

imagesI may as well fire this shot over the bow right from the starting gate: Customer service as an enterprise business function hasn’t changed all that much in the 30 years since the introduction of ACD (automated call distribution) technology. This is when it became practical and cost effective to deliver customer service at massive scale.

For the ensuing three decades or so, the overall focus of customer service has been centered on responding to customer issues with greater efficiency, greater scale, and greater speed at lower and lower cost.

There’s no doubt there has been noticeable innovation in technology and in the introduction of expanding communications channels through which to deliver the service. That includes social channels such as Facebook, Twitter, community forums, and other peer-to-peer networking sites.  And there have certainly been shining examples of companies that do customer service better than the rest.

But the point is that it’s the same service, the same function, driven by the same mission and measured by the same performance metrics as a generation ago.

The Tipping Point

Customer service is at a tipping point. Real change is needed. Real change is possible. Real change is being demanded.  And social media is the catalyst for this change. And, trust me when I say, I’m not a hype advocate, zealot, nor pushing any social media agenda. For as knee deep as I am in social media, I’m probably more pragmatic than most when it comes to adoption and business value, particularly in huge, risk-averse enterprises.

That said, social media is driving profound change in social consciousness, political debate, medicine, government oversight, and virtually every other aspect of human endeavor. The reasons why social media is so able to affect change differ in all these scenarios. But one thing they all have in common is this; the veil of secrecy has been obliterated. And information, accurate or not, now proliferates at the speed of light.

So what does change look like for customer service? While the tactical components are many, and those are probably worth exploring in followup posts, they can all be summed up this way.

Social media is the catalyst to move customer service from efficient reaction to value-creating proactivity

I’ve tried to test this overarching paradigm shift against every conceivable example. Every element of customer service as we generally know it today fits: enterprise strategic mission, engagement strategy, operational KPIs, interaction flows, knowledge management, financial measures, talent & skill development, data management, analytics, channel mix, workforce management. And, that’s just a partial list.

Is there anything I missed? Is there some element of customer service as we know it today that doesn’t fit this paradigm? Or am I truly in denial about my zealotry? Tell us about it below.


  1. John MacDaniel says:

    Barry, I think your post is spot on. Good read and it really gets to the size of the web that the merger of social media and customer care can cast over the customer service organization. I would add, that when I read the title of your post, I intuitively added a question mark. I then had one thought, the customer. I’ve taken some of the old fashioned customer service metrics that you mention (and yes, they sometimes can still be applied even to social), and continue to be disappointed at the timeliness of the on-line service that is being provided. As technology evolves it triggers an expansion of what is deemed possible, and that it turn causes consumer’s expectations to increase which continues to push customer service organizations into finding new and creative ways to meet those expectations. But to your point, if information, accurate or not now proliferates at the speed of light, then service providers better start thinking in terms of response rates if not at the speed of light, at the very least the speed of sound.

    • Thanks John. And spot on. I’m happy that my key points came through in the post. So, that begs the question about KPIs. Yes I agree that some of the traditional production and quality metrics still apply. And, even some of the customer experience measures, modified. I know you have done a great deal of thinking about this topic. So, whats the next iteration of how we build and measure these business models? What are the right metrics that address specifically things like authenticity, speed of response (and not just in clock time. but in relation to the customers’ expectation), information and communication accuracy and relevancy. I’d love to hear your thoughts on that. Because that’s whats going to drive real change.

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