The sham of corporate social media customer service

On one level, hapless corporate social media accounts that aspire to the monicker ‘customer service’ are simply one more part of the grey noise of the Internet that we simply tolerate. They exist because the companies have an online presence, we communicate online more and more, and so there is a box to tick.

However, the reality is that most of these accounts are worse than useless. More than just grey noise, they help condition us to accept mediocrity and ineffectiveness as normal when it comes to customer service.

They all follow a basic modus operandi, too.

A superficial sense that the company is listening is often created with a rapid initial public response, sounding concerned, and inviting a private DM so the matter can be properly investigated. Invariably, the person behind it at the time signs off with a cheery first name – ^^Dave or ^^Lisa or similar – in an attempt to affect a sense of informality and personal connection and that the company they represent really does care.

Having already invested time in airing the matter, the customer duly invests another ten minutes in setting out the concerns. This may well invite some security questions, to make sure they are speaking to the right person and intended to create confidence that this is ‘official’, and then various other questions to validate the information already provided in the initial tweet or DM (from recent experience, often simply a repeated request for the same information). Of course, at no point is it clear why any of this required any security whatsoever and couldn’t have been dealt with in public, other than to spare the company some blushes.

After lengthy exchanges (laughably, the most recent, with a well-known hotel chain about a broken coffee machine, and taking four days), the person behind the account, who may very well not be the person who started the exchange, explains that your comments have been passed on to the team concerned. A little more questioning and it turns out there is nothing else they can do (e.g. find out an ETA or why it’s been not functioning for three months). Then comes the excuse. It’s because they don’t hold the data, or because it’s the responsibility of the local team, or because they don’t have authority to access account details, or because blah blah blah.

In reality these corporate social media customer service accounts have a limited, very clear function and it is nothing to do with actually servicing customer needs. They are designed to present a facade of customer concern, while moving exchanges from the public sphere to the private, and minimising the human and financial resources put in to actually addressing customer concerns. They take advantage of an online culture of medicocrity and social management to ensure expectations are managed down. In doing so, they reinforce the sense you are wading debilitatingly through amorphous, pointless gloop. And of course, they get to tick the necessary customer service box for internal performance purposes.

It’s all fuel for a good chuckle down the pub or over dinner. However, it is also indicative of a certain corporate culture that is about cynically managing customers rather than dealing with the issues they raise. And it’s no surprise to see it in a country where public services are denigrated and run into the ground, meaning that even shoddy customer service compares favourably.

Anyway, here’s looking at you Premier Inn and Virgin Media.

Do better.

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