Social customer support: 5 rules to avoid disappointment

Over the past few years, social customer support has really taken off. KLM was covered in the business press for making its service agents available through social media channels (they’re on Twitter with 316k followers and 94k public tweets, Facebook with 2.1m likes, Google+, Pinterest, etc.).

It starts well, for example, the response comes back very quickly:

However, no solution was then given to this problem: after a few follow-up questions, the @KLM team advised me to use my desktop browser. (And since last month, I haven’t tried the mobile site again — I’m not sure the payment form has been fixed.)

I was left frustrated on my primary goal (couldn’t book the upgrade), an irritated that my issue was not understood and dealt with. And I’m not sure KLM picked up on the actual problem in their mobile app, which makes me unlikely to use it again: why would I waste time with a mobile booking that may fail at the time of payment?

Social customer support rule #1: solve your user’s problem, or die trying. When that’s impossible, offer apologies, as you’re letting your user down after creating an expectation.

Social customer support rule #2: make sure to understand what actual issue is underlying that user’s problem, and when it’s a real problem with your product or service, launch an internal project to fix it for everyone.

Social customer support rule #3: follow up, so the user’s trust in your service is restored. This implies some kind of continuity in tracking the issues and the internal projects that relate to them.

Another one, when I was faced with a check-in problem, with the intro text hawking a possibility that wasn’t actually available in the options listed underneath:

I would never have believed I’d see an instance of “we tried it and it works” in the wild! What an amazingly unhelpful answer.

Social consumer support rule #4: afford your users the same standards of respect online as you would offline, although allowances must be made for the 140 character limit, and the informal nature of online interactions.

A few months ago, I was stuck in a traffic jam on the highway to the airport (an accident blocked traffic for a couple of hours). When pinged, @KLM’s answer was: call the airport, which in itself was rather unhelpful. But what’s worse: no phone number was provided. I was back at square one, and vaguely irritated.

Social consumer support rule #5: when offering support, make sure you’re empowered to actually solve the user’s problem, whether googling something for the user, or navigating the internal teams of your organization and roping in the appropriate resource. Act as a concierge, rather than a switchboard.

I think it’s great that KLM is trying hard to be closer to its passengers. However, the rush to use social channels has undermined key success factors for customer service. And in my personal case, the heightened expectations have led to disappointment, and damaged KLM’s brand image as flailing and useless.

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