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Companies have rushed to embrace social media marketing, but there's more to social media than marketing.
Increasingly, whether companies like it or not, consumers expect companies to respond to customer service inquiries submitted via social channels like Twitter and Facebook.
Unfortunately, it currently appears that companies are generally more adept at social marketing than they are at social customer service.
According to a survey conducted by Auros, which looked at twenty-five of the UK's top retailers, only 25% of the retailers with a Twitter account responded to a question posed to them on the popular microblogging service.
On Facebook, just 17% of retailers responded to positive comments left on their walls; that figure dropped to 11% for negative comments.
To be fair, providing customer service through social channels isn't without challenges. Twitter and Facebook weren't designed for customer service, and as a result, setting up processes for customer service on these platforms requires some effort.
But even so, Auros' survey found that companies on Twitter and Facebook responded to social media inquiries, on average, in under two hours -- much quicker than the ten hour response time typical for email.
So how are companies using Twitter and Facebook? Here are a number of high-profile examples.
ASOS, like other companies, has a portfolio of Twitter accounts, each serving a different purpose. Its @ASOS_HeretoHelp account is for customer service, and with it, ASOS fields questions from
The good: The @ASOS_HeretoHelp account is active, as evidenced by the 25,878 tweets it has sent.
The bad: Certain kinds of requests may be problematic. Customers are sometimes asked to reveal order numbers publicly, and ASOS appears to reveal tracking numbers as well.
From pre-sales questions to technical support requests, BT's @BTCare Twitter account allows potential and existing customers to interact with the company through Twitter.
To help make the customer service inquiries more manageable, BT has a website which is operated by customer experience management vendor RightNow.
When a Twitter customer service request requires further investigation, @BTCare directs the customer to a form on bt.custhelp.com that also collects the Twitter username of the customer, allowing BT to keep the request associated with Twitter, where it originated.
The good: BT has a system in place for dealing with customer service inquiries that require further information. When @BTCare provides a customer with a http://bt.custhelp.com/ link, it takes them directly to a form that allows BT and the customer to escalate the request without much additional hassle.
The bad: When you're having problems with your internet connection, communicating with BT through Twitter is probably not going to provide the instant gratification desired, and when having to fill out a customer service request form, there's no guarantee that a Twitter-originated request will be handled any more quickly.
Vodafone's Facebook Page sports a "Customer Services" tab that provides customer service information to the company's Facebook fans in a central location.
The tab features links to Vodafone's eForum, phone and device support pages, and help topics.
The good: Vodafone didn't forget customer service when building its Facebook Page. By dedicating a tab for customer service information and links, the company makes it easier for Facebook users to get the help they need.
The bad: The Customer Services tab simply links to customer service content on external websites. Therefore, Vodafone isn't really using Facebook itself to provide customer service.
The retail giant launched its Facebook presence earlier this year, and in a few months time has accumulated over 250,000 fans.
Like Vodafone, Tesco's Facebook Page features a tab dedicated to customer service, which lists Tesco customer service phone numbers and links to customer service websites off of Facebook.
But Tesco also goes a bit further; it has customer service staff responding to inquiries via the Discussions tab. These inquiries range from questions about products and promotions to issues with accounts.
The good: Tesco is not just providing links to external customer service resources, it's interacting with customers through the Discussions tab.
The bad: The Discussions functionality Facebook provides is little more than a simple threaded message board, and leaves a lot to be desired as a customer service tool.
This article was originally published in the fourth issue of Econsultancy's JUMP Magazine. Click here to download a free copy. For more information about the JUMP event on 12 October 2011 and to book your place, please visit http://cometojump.com.