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Why the board shouldn’t blame marketing for poor customer service on social media.

10 July 2014 | 10:27 am

Debate is hotting up this week over the growth of social media and its role in supporting the customer service experience.

Apparently, 20% of us are choosing to take our customer service discussions into the social sphere and trends suggest that it won’t be long before this number reaches a staggering 50%.

Are we ready for the invasion is the question? Apparently not based on the poor customer satisfaction responses people are posting on Twitter and Facebook:

“I suppose a response to this post on Facebook will take as long as it will take you to fix the broken lift” griped Alison Williams a disgruntled resident in Leicester.

Social media is fantastic when people are sharing great news, compliments and generally patting us on the back with RTs! But when there is a problem or a burning question, too many people are being left hanging in the virtual world, with staggeringly long delays in response time – if they get a response at all!

A recent survey identified that the board more often than not consider that marketing is to blame for the issue of poor customer service.  When tested one CEO even went as far to say “the bottom line is that the marketing team need to tweet at weekends because the customer service centre is closed.”

What all weekend? 2am….. Sunday morning?

Critics, also say that social media management is sitting under marketing who stereotypically want to ‘push’ their own messages rather than spend any time listening.

As a proud, experienced (and well trained) marketeer, the last time I read the label I believed that marketing was defined as “putting the customer at the heart of everything that we do.” Shaping communications channels accordingly.  If we don’t listen and engage with customers on their terms they won’t listen. Simple!

So should we be too quick to judge the marketing team?  They are probably some of the best people to empathise with the customers. I have rarely met a marketeer who doesn’t want to make a customer (or potential customer) happy.

So where is it going wrong?

In reality, we find that marketing managers aren’t always blessed with the right tools for the customer service job.  And whilst we don’t want to enter the ‘worker blaming tools mentality’ we have to give credit where it’s due.  Some marketing teams are glued to their phones at the weekend, ‘on call’ in case there is an emergency.

One marketing manager was devastated that she missed a PR crisis tweet because she was at her sister’s wedding! Surely this is above and beyond the call of duty?  We would certainly love to employ her for her diligence to the cause.

An unbelievable number of marketing managers who come along to our training, seminars and exhibitions will tell us that employers will expect them to try to deliver customer service responses using ‘free’ social media tools.  The board refuse to invest in social media management because as the marketing managers will say “they don’t get it”.

The board don’t see the time it takes to manage social media enquiries, to source the information, manually copy and paste the information from emails to respond. In times of a crisis one marketing manager recounted that over 13 members of staff were involved in managing a social media issue which had got out of hand because multiple teams ‘piled in’ over a weekend to try to sort it out, only to make the situation worse with contradiction, panic and inaccuracy.

Perhaps it is something about the physical versus virtual? You can see a call centre (ok it might be a long way away but you can touch it, see it), you can see the call operators chairs, the headset… you get the picture!  Yet when it comes to managing customer service enquiries via social media we have organisations who believe they can do it without any investment, any training or the right tools for the job.

The reality is that there are great tools (including CrowdControlHQ) that are very cost effective. Have you seen how much desks, chairs and call centres cost these days?

Marketing are custodians of brand, message and shape communication of the offers and they need a mechanism for effectively diverting inbound customer service enquiries quickly and effectively to those who can help. They need a way of recording those conversations and keeping an audit trail of responses.

The good news is that much of this can be done automatically, tweets with key terms such as “dirty changing rooms” being referred to the correct team automatically for response.  Emergency flagging of issues critical to the right person, and automated blocks when more than one member of the team step into reply.

Thankfully, our customers British Gas, Experian, Police Forces up and down the country get it! But we are still staggered at how many people don’t and haven’t planned for the growth in customer service in social media.

So as a board, let’s not blame marketing for getting it wrong.  Let’s ask how we can help them to get it right both now and in the future.

CrowdControlHQ is the UK’s social media risk management and compliance platform.  Used by customer service teams across the UK.

Michelle Leavesley @leavesm

Marketing Director, Lecturer in Marketing at Birmingham Business School, Institute of Directors (IoD)