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When you read that just 11% of retailers respond to negative comments on Facebook, while 81% of businesses use social media for marketing, it’s clear that something has gone drastically wrong in the world of social customer services.

But what, exactly?

After reading the shocking statistics in Vikki Chowney's social customer service post on Econsultancy a few weeks ago, I asked several of Our Social Times' largest clients why their customer services teams hadn’t fully adopted social media yet.

Here’s what they said, with added notes and suggestions.

1. Training

Traditional contact centre staff don't have the skills to engage with customers via social media. While they can manage one-to-one phone-calls and emails, social media is a public environment, so requires a completely different skill set.

2. Culture

Many organisations are still struggling to implement an internal culture that allows staff to engage with customers via social media. 30% of UK companies still ban their staff from using social networks at work.

3. Legal

Many industries, such as banking, health and accountancy, have tight legal and industry restrictions on data they can reveal online. Banks, for example, cannot publicly acknowledge that you are a customer. This makes social customer services very tricky.

4. Legacy

Lots of legacy CRM solutions don’t offer effective social media integration and lack the social media monitoring, engagement and social CRM (sCRM) features that customer service teams really need.

5. Interoperability

Conversely, many of the newly emerging social CRM systems don't integrate effectively with legacy systems which they are competing against for market share.

6. Access

Much of Facebook’s data is restricted, Twitter has very little user data to offer and most review sites/forums, such as Tripadvisor, restrict the user data they share and limit API access. None of this is conducive to end-to-end social customer services.

7. Ownership

In many companies, because Customer Services has been slow to wake up to social media, it has lost ground to other departments, such as Marketing and Communications. These now control the corporate Twitter/Facebook accounts.

8. Desire

Customer Service teams are frequently measured according to the number of queries they answer and the time they spend on them. Adding a new channel which (a) doesn’t suit their existing processes and (b) makes it difficult to close off issues, may not be something they really want to take on. New methods of measurement are needed.

9. Fear

Nobody wants their problems aired in public. Many Customer Service teams are ignoring customer queries on social media for fear of opening a can of worms, or having criticisms snowball into crises. All the evidence indicates that the opposite is more likely to be the truth, but fear is pervasive.

10. Leadership

While many of the pioneers of social media, such as David Meerman Scott, and Seth Godin, have come from Marketing or PR, Customer Services has remarkably few social media pin-ups. Beyond Frank Eliason, it’s hard to name names. Thought leadership is greatly needed.

Join me at The Social Customer (London, 29th March) where Frank Eliason, plus brands such as Citibank, BT, First Direct, British Gas, Marks & Spencer, Expedia and Everything Everywhere will be discussing social customer service.

Luke Brynley-Jones

Published 14 March, 2012 by Luke Brynley-Jones

Luke Brynley-Jones is Founder at Our Social Times and a contributor to Econsultancy. You can follow him on Twitter or connect via LinkedIn

12 more posts from this author

Comments (9)

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Tom Howlett

Tom Howlett, Digital Marketing Executive at Koozai

I think it may also be a question of timing also. If companies are not always on top of their social media activity, it soon could reach the point where a company believes it would take too much time to deal with. The amount of time a company would have to invest in 'catching up' is unlikely to seem like a worthwhile time investment for most companies I assume.

over 4 years ago


Matthew Hayles

Hey Luke, great post. Your point about ownership is a really good one, as in a lot of cases marketing or PR has had a first mover advantage, and are seen as the social experts internally. The downside to that is that neither of these departments have the talent or expertise to deal with social customer service issues.

PR/Comms has been remarkably successful at launching social media channels, but just aren't equipped to become a lightning rod for customer complaints, which is how a lot of customers are engaging with brands on social media. The end result is that many businesses run great engagement programs to amplify their evangelists and bla bla bla, but won't engage at all with their detractors. That's where churn happens.

One last observation: you make a great point about lack of interoperable tools for social customer service. In my work at Edelman on this very problem, I've noticed that many of the best SMMSs are built for marketing teams, and don't have any of the workflow that a customer service team really needs, like conversation history, tagging inquiries for different topics, closing tickets when they're complete. They also won't report on customer service metrics, like time to respond, volume of tickets per agent, and so on (Cotweet/Social Engage is one exception).

Most of the money for SMMSs has been coming from marketing, so that's where vendors have focused. That's going to have to change if PR/Marketing and Customer Service are going to collaborate on providing a brand experience online that is both engaging and helpful.

over 4 years ago

Huw Waters

Huw Waters, Head of Marketing at Capita Learning Services

Great post! Related to Training though is investment in new people. If you don't have the right people in house, you need to get them. That means more heads in the business at a time when most companies cannot afford it. Moreover though, it is the owners of social media within the company - more often than not, Marketing / PR - that need to view the bigger picture and realise social media is a channel to fulfil numerous objectives for the corporation and that they need to get the right departments involved from the outset - they need to provide the leadership for the company. Too many marketers fail to see the bigger picture. I would guess a lot of them have never even spoken to their own customer service department...

over 4 years ago



This article gives the light in which we can observe the reality. This is very nice one and gives indepth information. Thanks for this nice article.

over 4 years ago

Luke Brynley-Jones

Luke Brynley-Jones, Founder at Our Social Times

Valid points all.

Matthew - Agreed. There's a definite market gap for social media dashboards that are focused more on managing customer engagement than marketing. I've been using Engage Sciences and some of the fan analysis features would be invaluable for customer services, but it's sold (and priced) as a marketing tool.

Huw - I agree the skills gap is one of the most critical issues. I've just spoken with a global contact centre company that claims to have a completely 'socially-savvy' workforce, though I'm not certain we have the same understanding of what it means to engage effectively via social media channels.

over 4 years ago

Katy Howell

Katy Howell, Director at immediate future

Luke, this post really isolates the key barriers to social media adoption. But it is missing one: Scale.

Once buy-in from the senior team is in place, and sometimes even when a pilot proves the business case, the barrier to full integration centres on the unknown – the scale required for internal adoption. Couple this with the cost, resource, management and technology and it becomes a daunting task. And it often results in social customer service sitting at the fringes, with all the associated risks.

We have found amongst our clients that predictive modelling isolates a clearer roadmap and allows companies to incrementally build skills, resource etc, rather than dash at it all at once! Have you seen any other ways of tackling these barriers?

over 4 years ago


Martha de Monclin

Great post.
Those that have embraced social media do not seem to have linked up with other departments in the organisation. I recently had an issue with a hotel reservation and mentioned it on Twitter. This was immediately picked up and dealt with on Twitter but there was no follow through by whichever department the complaint was escalated to.
This has been and continues to be a huge issue with CRM and why it is often considered to have failed. The customer should be at the heart of the business and CRM should be fully integrated into the overall business strategy and into the very fabric of the company.

over 4 years ago


Guy Stephens

Woah, little bit harsh. It's too easy to look at something like social media customer service and say it's all wrong. But then I'm not sure what right looks like either, and who are the arbiters of right and wrong?

The opportunity exists for all companies to engage in social media, whether that's from a customer service, sales, marketing etc perspective. Some have embraced that opportunity, whilst others are still to do so.

The customer service ecosystem is expanding to include this thing called 'social media', alongside what we might now term 'traditional' channels. We are in a period of change, and whilst there may be a time when 'social' becomes the norm, so there will likely be a time beyond that when something else becomes the norm.

We are seeing the service ecosystem gradually decentralise, moving away from Taylorism back towards something more humane and intimate.

We are all working through many of the issues you raise above - ownership, training, access, legal etc. Some are further along in their journey than others. We should celebrate those who have begun their journey, and cajole those who are not so far along it.

It takes time to break habits, whether on a personal or organisational level. Think of your own habits, which one are you going to change today?!

over 4 years ago

Luke Brynley-Jones

Luke Brynley-Jones, Founder at Our Social Times

Sure - I'm making a pretty negative case and lots of the items relate to the inevitable process of change. I guess my key point is, how come Marketing and PR have developed sophisticated social media skills, roles, processes, integrations, metrics etc. while customer service appears to be just getting going? I don't blame Customer Service for this lapse. I think it's a symptom of the low esteem that customers have been held in by many large brands that Management Teams haven't prioritised Customer Service's case to engage via social media over other, shall we say, "better heard" departments.

over 4 years ago

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