In the UK, millions of consumers have used social media for customer service, and in some cases, they have good reason to: a number of companies have effectively turned their social media accounts into VIP customer service channels.

This doesn’t mean, however, that the use of social for customer service is without challenges. There are plenty, and companies that don’t approach social customer service thoughtfully risk failing.

Unfortunately, according to a new J.D. Power and Associates study, many companies are falling short in their efforts to use social media as a customer service channel and marketing channel.

Walking and chewing gum at the same time

In looking at 100 companies across industries and analyzing 23,000 consumer responses, J.D. Power and Associates found that “hardly any companies are doing equally well on social marketing and social servicing.” In other words, walking and chewing gum at the same time is difficult on social media.

There are good reasons for this. Popular social media services like Twitter, for instance, are for obvious reasons not ideal platforms on which to engage in a customer service dialog. Additionally, it’s not easy to create siloed social media presences for marketing and customer service. Although some companies, like Dell, have dedicated accounts for different purposes, there’s nothing stopping your customers from tweeting their problems to whatever account they find first.

Raising the stakes unnecessarily?

The challenges associated with serving customers through social media create significant barriers to success. And failure can come with harmful effects.

According to J.D. Power and Associates, positive interactions between companies and consumers via social channels improved overall perception of a company and that this perception was correlated with increased likelihood of purchase. Likewise, negative interactions decrease the likelihood of purchase. This may not be entirely surprising, but confirmation of what one might assume serves as a powerful reminder of the stakes when companies engage with consumers through services like Facebook and Twitter.

So what should companies do? The J.D. Power and Associates study suggests that companies need to be more strategic. Yes, they should be considering the possibility that social media can serve as a channel for customer service, but they shouldn’t necessarily rush to make it one.

Providing quality customer service is arguably more important than providing customer service everywhere, and with email remaining the most popular customer service channel among online shoppers, companies would be wise to consider that customer service strategy doesn’t necessarily have to mirror marketing strategy when it comes to new channel adoption.