The place where the Customer counts

Free thoughts on CRM, Business and the next big thing

The place where the Customer counts - Free thoughts on CRM, Business and the next big thing

Social Customer Service: is it worth it or not?

Let me explain my personal perspective about this topic cause I see a lot of focus on the importance of providing an innovative customer service program through social media trying to give an alternative to the traditional one provided by “obsolete” contact center.

I recently read a really well-done report by Strategic Contact (you can download it here) where you can find useful information about the main drivers that form the cost structure of a contact center:

  • Fixed staffing (management) – FTEs, Salaries, Benefits and Taxes
  • Variable staffing (agents and supervisors) – FTEs, Productivity, Wages, Benefits, Taxes, Hiring & Training Costs
  • Technology – Investment, Depreciation period, Tech support (fixed labor)
  • Facilities – Space per cubicle, Cubicle sharing, Rent, Build-out, Maintenance, Utilities and upkeep
  • Telecom and Networking – Telecom rate per minute, Cell phones, VoIP and telephony infrastructure
  • Others – Miscellaneous overhead, Travel costs, Other overhead, Chargeback for services from other departments

If you want to have a look at the distribution of the related costs for an average contact center, here’s a good representation of them

So, if companies think that adopting social media as a new customer service channels set is mandatory and an alternative to traditional ones, they normally justify this decision assessing related cost saving (as I see in a lot of posts, articles and books). But there’s always something that doesn’t convince me in this approach especially when it’s used as a main indicator the contact (call) deflection.


As you can see, if you want to reach an effective cost saving you have in this case to tackle mainly the labor component. So let’s try to compare approximately two scenarios (traditional contact and social contact handling) and their potential impact on this cost structure main component (please click the image to enlarge).


As you can see, even if the comparison is simplistic, using CSR or Community managers hasn’t too much impact on the cost structure from a staffing component perspective. Social media presence doesn’t mean self-serving own customers, instead you have to prepare yourself to a more challenging effort made of more demanding service levels and public reputation risks. It’s then more a case of education, training and, for sure, workload optimization that can have positive effects on negative deflection components like abandonment and busy lines (improving at the same time customer satisfaction).

So the real path to massive cost deflection – freeing staff occupancy share – is to “push” internal knowledge outside your company boundaries and to facilitate its integration with collective knowledge (creating a bridge between public and private support communities) in order to match and nurture your customer information expectation. That’s the real driver which will eliminate proactively the causes that move people to take a phone o writing a post to contact directly the company. That’s the real driver for a long-term contact deflection maintaining and/or increasing customer satisfaction and loyalty.


I think that we don’t have to see Social Customer Service as something mutually alternative to the traditional one (at least till the customer will need to communicate with a phone) but as something integrated inside your overall Customer Service strategy. It’s obvious that you continuosly need to keep an eye on costs drivers but please not to the detriment of experience quality.

You need to look at this new communication paradigm as an evolution (really big and challenging I know) of your multichannel approach to Service (look at the capital “s”), an evolution that have to respect the distinctive peculiarity of each channel/media, pros and cons of using each one of them and contextually the relative customer expectations. Therefore:

  • Always consider the customer journey through different channels to fix a problem as a single consistent case and not as a fragmented incoeherent set of experiences
  • Improve continuosly your operational processes so, when your Service staff finds the solution to a customer request, they are able to apply it as quickly as possible (and for this step remember also the preciuos contribution just coming from customers with whom you interact)
  • Take really care of your people. Train and empower your staff (it doesn’t matter if CSR or Community managers) because they are your best official interface to the public
  • Think and act always putting yourself in the customer shoes (that for me is the more important suggestion to drive to a new business mindset)
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  • Emanuele Quintarelli says:

    Hi Andrea,
    I totally agree that social support is not to be considered as an alternative to traditional multichannel customer care but much more a part of it.

    On the other side I think we are missing the key benefit of social support, its impact on call deflection and some very relevant side effects.

    First of all, doing social support shouldn’t really mean answering every single request. As in traditional customer care, thanks to a carefully designed triage process, the social CSR can discern which conversations need an answer and where this doesn’t add value. Many new Social CRM solutions are starting to provide an automated routing functionality and automatic answers don’t look so far away (where it makes sense of course).

    The critical point is anyway that the goal of social support isn’t providing a channeled 1-to-1 answer but more to provide that answer in a public setting where the same information can be reused plenty of times, proactively, by many other customers. Most social support projects still fear this approach and Twitter is probably not the best solution to implement it but forums work very well to store years of solutions.

    When you look at the problem from this perspective, the goal of a social support programme is really helping your customers to put together a bottom-up self-service environment where answers are constantly updated with a limited cost on the part of the organization that is involved only when strictly needed (e.g billing, service not working, etc).

    Under this light, you end up having a higher customer satisfaction, shorter resolution times, lower customer care costs, call deflection, a better brand perception and stronger word of mouth (side effects). Dell Forums and giffgaff are clear examples of the huge benefits you can derive from such an approach.

    Customer service and marketing should be of course carefully aligned and connected (

    • CustomerKing says:

      Emanuele, thanks as usual for your comment. I totally agree with your perspective. What I think is “Social Support” is just what you called self-service community and what i meant with “push internal knowledge outside your company boundaries and facilitate its integration with collective knowledge (creating a bridge between public and private support communities)”

      Social multimedia platforms like forum, mblog, wiki, etc. represent a real alternative to present customer service infrastructures which can really pull down costs as in the GiffGaff example you mentioned.

      Anyway we have to face the reality and what a lot of people want is interacting with the company thanks to phone, email, livechat, cobrowsing, etc. and now also with social media. So you need to provide a great service in terms of quality and experience, but using service community managers instead of CSR and justifying it with wrong indicators and wrong expectations is not fair. That was the objective of my post.