Is the Golden Age of Social Media Customer Service Over?

For social media customer service, the moment in the brand-building sun seems to have burnt out due to simple lack of effort.

July 18, 2016

All good things must come to an end. In the 80s, Hair Metal bands ruled the airwaves and MTV with their bare-chested monster ballads. Oh Warrant. Oh Poison. Oh Faster Pussycat … I do remember you. At least they gave way for a reason that carried some merit—a shift in cultural mood, Nirvana, the Seattle movement.

For social media customer service, that moment in the brand-building sun seems to have succumbed to simple lack of effort. Sadly. 

Too much of a good thing?

I understand the overwhelm that may have occurred here. If you’re Morton’s Steakhouse and one day you decide to surprise a customer by meeting him at the airport with dinner in response to a tweet—what do you do the next day when 60 customers make a similar request? 

Okay, knowing Morton’s they probably handled it with panache. Nevertheless, the number of customers expecting timely responses to their tweets, snaps, and updates seems to have reached a tipping point, or greatly surpassed it. But rather than hiring a team of social media and customer service experts to take care of the problem, many brands seem to have resorted to automated bots. Today, social customer service responses display the same sort of compassion you get from an automated phone system. You know—the kind that prompts you to press 0 continuously until a human picks up?

Gone are stories to rival Virgin Airlines, where a passenger can tweet from the air that he was skipped during drink service and have his cocktail delivered moments later. This is how you surprise and delight customers today. For the record, Virgin Airlines is one of the last great brands killing it on Twitter for customer service. They got it from the beginning. Built it into their business plan. 

The rise in customer service expectations isn’t new news

Customer experience is today’s competitive battleground. A 2014 Gartner survey predicted that by 2016, 89% of companies could “expect to compete mostly on the basis of customer experience, versus 36% four years ago.” Here we are mid-2016, and apparently very few CEOs listened to that prediction.

I admit to having a small personal stake in this situation. I was on the receiving end of an epic social customer service experience a couple of years ago. When an international corporation sends you a Snuggle Bear with a personal note in response to an innocent tweet, your expectations definitely go up the next time you communicate with a big brand. I’m not the world’s biggest user of fabric softener, but that bear holds a special place in my child’s stuffed animal menagerie, I can tell you.

I don’t complain too much via social—it can come across as a bit petty. But when I have a problem with a brand, I may jump in for a swipe or two just to check on the reaction. Over the past six months, the response has been very surface-y, I have to say. As in, “This concerns us. Please follow up and DM.” 

Great, so they take it offline, and I think maybe I’m getting somewhere. Except that the DM just says, “Please call customer service.” Or it’s a canned apology with no solution. (I’m looking at you, airline industry.)

What Snuggle Bear represents

Are inspiring stories still happening, and just getting lost in the shuffle? I don’t know for sure, but they’ve certainly disappeared from my radar screen. The shiny new object that was once social media for customer service seems to have become a charnel ground for cynics and number crunchers. It’s a crying shame, if you ask me. 

What was once a tremendous opportunity to build brand loyalty and trust seems to have gone the way of the QR-code and the classified ad, and I think it’s a tremendous mistake. As the CEO of Mercedes Benz put it once, “Customer experience is the new marketing.” 

I’d take it a step further. When you meet your customers wherever they are in the buying process or online, respond to their needs in ways that go beyond expectations, and demonstrate expertise in your industry that transcends anything the competition has to offer—that’s the essence of content marketing.

I say Snuggle bear was a brilliant content marketing move. What do you think?