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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
A recognized senior social strategist, speaker, and blogger. He has held senior strategy roles with wireless, e-business, financial, and social CRM service providers, helping clients remain competitive by embracing social media and digital technologies.