Customers Expect Speed in Social Media

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In a recent survey about customer service, speed topped the list of customer expectations. Of those surveyed, 55% expected companies to respond to Facebook and Twitter posts within 4 hours.

Inspired by that information, I rallied a bunch of friends to help me conduct my own stealth form of customer service survey.

Given my background in retail, customer service and the Internet, I chose 12 menswear retailers from Canada, the UK, the US and beyond. Some were brick-and-mortar establishments with online social accounts while others only had an online storefront; some were single-location operations while others were chains with a number of locations.

I gave my accomplices two different questions and two different retailers to ask. I know that this was not exactly a scientifically run experiment and I am not going to try to defend its statistical significance. The goal was to get a general sense of how long a group of a dozen or so retailers would take to respond to social-based inquiries, if they responded at all.

The results are noteworthy and more interesting than the “we can therefore scientifically conclude that…” type of results, and ones I think you will find worthy of discussion.

Basically, this is a recap of what I did with my collaborators and what happened next.

What did we learn?

Canadian firms were slow to respond

Canadian firms tended to be the slowest of those queried, if they replied at all, and that was more for Facebook because the Canadian firms basically sucked when it came to responding on Twitter.

Canadian companies comprised a third of those queried and only one of them responded to a question on Twitter. Thankfully, the response was within the customers’ desired 4 hours, so we can consider that a success.

To be fair to the Canadian firms, Twitter appears to present a challenge for some, because only half of all of those queried responded on Twitter and the response times varied from as fast as 6 minutes to as long as 16 hours.

Canadian Firms queried: Harry Rosen, Walter Beauchamp, Churchills-Crossings and Gotstyle

American firms generally performed better

The American retailers selected were a combination of “online only” and brick-and-mortar chains. One of the “online only” outperformed the other American firms, but, then again, on their social accounts that firm lays claim to providing “stellar service,” so they are keeping their promise.

There still seem to be some inconsistencies when it comes to responding via Facebook or Twitter, where some firms have no problem responding on one but fail to do so on the other.

American Firms queried: Bonobos, Mr Porter, Jos. A. Bank and Men’s Wearhouse

UK and International win the day!

Only two firms consistently responded via Facebook and Twitter, and also responded promptly. These were Indochino and Charles Tyrwhitt.

One could speculate that Charles Tyrwhitt’s mail-order beginnings may have had something to do with their being quick at serving remote customers or that Indochino’s global clientele make such efforts a necessity. No matter the reason, their efforts certainly stood out from the rest of the pack.

Sadly, two other firms from the UK, Hackett London and Thomas Pink, had not responded to inquiries in either channel by the time this post was being written.

UK and International Firms queried: Hackett London, Thomas Pink, Charles Tyrwhitt and Indochino

Full disclosure: I have been a customer at more than half of the firms queried, so I don’t have one particular horse in this race.

As the post referenced earlier suggests, word about good and bad service gets around very quickly on social channels. Companies just have to decide the kind of service for which they want to be known.

Customer expectations in social media may be higher than companies are accustomed to meeting in other channels and they need to be prepared for these new, higher demands.

Frankly, don’t establish a social media presence if you can’t properly staff and manage it. Not being there at all is better than being there and doing it badly. This is no different than when e-commerce was ramping up and people thought e-commerce sites would run themselves.

They found out quickly how wrong they were.

Moving Forward with Social Media

They can help their situation by preparing customers for the level of service they are going to receive. Companies can give themselves a lot of slack by simply stating the hours of operation for community management and responses to customer inquiries.

Should they wish, they can also tell customers a timeframe within which they can expect a reply. Secretly, they can set their own standards that they want to strive for but with slack built in.

For example, they could state that customer inquiries will be responded to within 4 hours or by the next business day, but secretly strive for something like 2-hour response times. Customers respond positively when you under-promise and over-deliver. Zappos does this with their secret upgrading of customer orders to overnight delivery.

That’s how you win raving fans.

Setting Expectations

Unfortunately, only a few displayed the operating hours of their brick and mortar locations yet they did not clarify if their social accounts were monitored during those same timeframes or if they were being monitored after hours.

Only one firm, Indochino, had a dedicated customer service social account with the hours of operation very clearly stated on their account homepage.

Companies need to realize that customers are going to make customer service inquiries via a preferred channel and increasingly, social media channels are becoming the chosen routes.

Customers like the accessibility and the ease by which they can engage a company. They do not have to know your 1-800 number nor slog through your automated phone system. They can tweet or post from their mobile phone, tablet or computer and the onus is on a company to respond promptly.

This is where a lot of companies fall down. Customers don’t care how your company’s business units are organized or how they communicate and share information.

They just want to be helped in a timely manner. If you can ‘t pick up a tweet, a Facebook post, any other social inquiry, or even an email and route it to the right parties internally, and get a response back out to the customer within the timeframe you promised or they expected then you have much bigger issues to deal with.

Companies need to prepare themselves for the new service demands and meet or exceed these higher standards being established in social media.

Some companies may be service stars offline but find the new online environment incredibly challenging and are left lagging behind new market entrants who have made it a priority to put all of the necessary elements of social customer service in place.

Do you have examples of companies doing it well? Doing it badly? As always, we’d love to hear your thoughts and comments.

12 thoughts on “Customers Expect Speed in Social Media

  1. AmyMccTobin says:

    Excellent stealth work! 😉    I’ve had this conversation again and again, and the reality that many businesses don’t want to face is that their customers expect VERY timely responses.  If you have a social portal, you’d better be manning it.

  2. bowden2bowden says:

    Good work Andrew and I appreciate the early share last night with marketer2marketer. Thanks for joining in and sharing great insight into “our” working world with helpful and enlightening information as you have shared in this post. rcb

  3. Great work – and a fair representation of the retail industry as a whole, we conducted a not dissimilar study on 100 of the top internet retailers in the US which you can find here
    The retailers who are doing this well are seeing it pay dividends. But then as you point out the core principles here such as under promising over delivering, and responding in a timely way to meet expectations are hardly new to the customer relationship – it’s simply a new medium through which they’re being played out. The key difference though and reason companies should be motivated to get their act together asap is that these failings are being played out in public in front of thousands of other customers, and are not confined to a private one-to-one interaction via phone or email.

    • ajenkins says:

      DanHesmondhalgh Thanks for taking time to share and comment. Like you, I think that people witnessing poor customer service and/or having it brought to their in social media will drive companies to get their act together. They have had a bit of anonymity on their side and dealt with customer service privately in the past. Granted, someone from the Four Seasons once said, “If you have an irate customer in your lobby, your first priority is to get them out of the lobby” so there is something to be said about handling customer service offline. Whether online or offline, companies should strive for a positive outcome and just maybe customers will share their happiness regarding the outcome with their social graph. Wouldn’t that be nice?

  4. dbvickery says:

    From something as simple as actively monitoring using HootSuite – to something more enterprise extravagant like Pulse Analytics – these firms will start adopting a more active and responsive presence on social channels.
    They will have to because it will become the differentiator to win and retain customers. I mentioned in a recent #CXO Twitter chat that I purchased my TV and surround system – all things considered equal – from the store that engaged me quickly and courteously on Twitter based upon a Foursquare check-in. I’ve also experienced a quick response by Men’s Wearhouse when I took a tux in to get altered.

    • ajenkins says:

      dbvickery Here’s hoping the adoption happens sooner rather than later. Thanks for stopping by to comment.

  5. ShellyKramer says:

    NWhitewood Me too. I’m not four hours worth of patient!

  6. LinkedMedia says:

    The danger we keep experiencing with customer is the anticipatory speed they all have with social media; i.e. traction, lead gen and/or traffic will occur overnight. Time takes time – many of these brands should imprint this mantra as they move forward with social media marketing.

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