What Charter Doesn’t Understand About Social Media

by · December 13, 201223 comments

In a move that surprised even the most jaded customer, Charter abruptly pulled the plug on its social media customer service team. But why? A brief statement from the company:

“We believe speaking directly with a customer is a more personal, effective and consistent way to answer questions, solve an issue or provide information, and we will focus our efforts on these means of communications. We’re committed to treating our customers with great care, and we believe that person-to-person interaction accomplishes that in a more meaningful way for more of our customers.”

…and some analysis from SME’s Ike Pigott:

Is this proof that social just can’t scale for customer care? Is the cost too high? Or is there something else happening here? Please share your reactions (and theories) in the comments.

(Especially if you work for Charter, and have some inside scoop. Identities withheld.)

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About Ike Pigott

Ike Pigott

In his previous life, Ike Pigott was an Emmy-winning TV reporter, who turned his insider's knowledge of the news cycle into a crisis communications consultancy. At the American Red Cross, serving as Communication and Government Relations Director for five southeastern states, Ike pioneered the use of social media in disaster. Now -- by day -- he is a communications strategist for Alabama Power and a Social Media Apologist; by night, he lurks at Occam's RazR, where he writes about the overlaps and absurdities in communications, technology, journalism and society. Find out how you can connect with Ike or follow him on Twitter at @ikepigott. He also recently won the coveted "Social Media Explorer contributing writer with the longest Bio" award.

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Comments on Social Media Explorer are open to anyone. However, I will remove any comment that is disrespectful and not in the spirit of intelligent discourse. You are welcome to leave links to content relevant to the conversation, but I reserve the right to remove it if I don't see the relevancy. Be nice, have fun. Fair?

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  • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

    Awesome thoughts, Ike. As you’d expect, I’m 100% in favor of slapping a big #FAIL all over this. But some food for thought: IF (and stressing “IF”) we agree that social is simply another communications channel, AND we have limited resources and can’t be everywhere and everything to everyone, why is routing people to a company-preferred channel a bad thing? Those of us in the social space have said it’s okay to tell Twitter, “We’re on Facebook for that,” or vice-versa … establishing expectations for our audiences. Why then would we draw a line and say, “Well you can’t do that outside of social … it doesn’t count?” Food for thought.

    • http://occamsrazr.com Ike Pigott

      Totally with you – it’s a company prerogative, and there do exist data-driven decisions as to why you might handle things in one venue over another.

      I do admit I have no idea what Charter was measuring to determine that was the direction to go — nor do I have any idea *whether* Charter was measuring anything.

      But my point stands: Utilities that have used social media to engage and inform customers get much higher customer satisfaction scores from JD Power. That alone would be enough for me to say “We *need* to be in that space, the only question is Scale.” 

      The telling point is that Charter did not say a word about cost-effectiveness of the approach, only that they want the customer experienced standardized. The real screw-up here is they needed to follow that up with “We’re rolling these 17 customer-care rockstars back into the general pool, and we’re putting them in charge of changing our culture there for the benefit of everyone.”

      But that’s not happening either.

    • http://twitter.com/Nichole_Kelly Nichole Kelly

      The only challenge with that Jason is that the customer isn’t part of the “company’s strategy”. They are there to get answers. If you have the channel you have to be prepared to service and handle whatever the audience brings you. The big problem I see here is when companies try to tell the customer what a channel is for, rather than understanding how their customers are using that channel and then having the appropriate approach to manage the conversation. Saying you are going to use Twitter to generate leads doesn’t mean you won’t get a customer service request that needs to be managed. If you have a customer asking a question on a channel you are on, why the heck would you not answer it? Because the customer doesn’t fit into YOUR strategy. That seems like a recipe for disaster if you ask me.

      I view customer service through social as another way to operate a “live chat” just like you would on your site, only now you have the ability to see 3rd party platforms where the conversations are happening. Tons of companies have figured out how to make live chat a viable service platform for their customers. And there is a big reason why. Live chat is more mature, it has integrations with CRM and call center technology. Therefore, their agents get notifications right in the window they normally use for managing their day. Admittedly, I know a little “too” much about live chat as one our clients (Velaro) is a live chat provider. 

      Today social requires “another window”. The data isn’t passing and agents can’t make intelligent decisions about the customer they are handling because when they need help it doesn’t bring up their account with the question on their monitor. 
      This lack of integration is what makes it easy to say there isn’t enough volume. If social monitoring were integrated into their system and worked with their normal response protocols they wouldn’t care if it was 5 customers or 5,000 customers they would want to service them. But requiring another process, another skill, and another window puts a roadblock in the way that many organizations simply aren’t prepared to justify.

  • Faye

    Wow. Most of my dealings with Comcast are via Twitter. Quicker service and I feel just as valued, maybe more.

  • http://www.sideraworks.com/ Matt Ridings – Techguerilla

    A couple of things here that struck me (thanks for balancing the “We don’t know why” with “This seems stupid” btw, rarely done these days).

    1. Since when is social not a channel for speaking ‘directly with the customer’?  That seems an odd turn of phrase for anyone who understands customer service in social. 
    2. ‘Consistent’ seems to me to be the keyword in this whole thing.  Which is another way of saying ‘scripted’ and ‘lowest common denominator’ or in other words…back to the same old same old.
    3. I’ve never believed that great customer service in social could scale.  In fact wrote a piece on exactly that 2 1/2 years ago using Charter as the example http://www.techguerilla.com/does-twitter-customer-service-scale .  

    My suspicion is that the PR value of doing CS in social had long worn off and they made the decision to continue viewing CS through a lens of efficiency vs one of effectiveness.  Social cannot win with that lens.  That speaks volumes about the long term view of company culture there, but I’m sad to say not surprising.

    Thanks again for the balanced view.

    Cheers,

    -Matt

    • http://occamsrazr.com Ike Pigott

      You’re quite welcome, Matt.  But allow me to pose this:

      1) There are many types of outage situations where you can impact call volume for the better by pushing updates onto a public stream

      2) Call centers already have some representatives who deal in text-only, whether it is TTY services for the deaf, or email inquiries. You don’t even have to take people off of phone duty — just have a small corps who pick up Mentions as they go, and in between calls.

      3) The Customer Satisfaction scores do not lie. Offering customers an alternative, even if it is not a universal one, only helps in customer retention.

      4) Charter is about to learn a lesson about ROI. I know of several people (my own brother included) who have stuck with Charter specifically because of the care of this team. Yes, it is “special” as you put it, and you can never scale up a Frank Eliason. But you can turn to qualitative measures (like first-call resolution) instead of quantitative ones (like churn.)

      Ideally, you transform your organization into one where social media interactions are no more special, because the overall treatment improves through existing venues.

      (I know you know all of this — and that you also know that there is only so much you can forcefully inject into a company culture. Such battles are won within, and the people who had led the charge for a better kind of service just got decommissioned.)

      • http://www.sideraworks.com/ Matt Ridings – Techguerilla

        Without question you can utilize social channels, but if only for efficiency measures or to provide the same level of service you end up with short term math.  Short term math says there isn’t enough volume to justify it, even with increased satisfaction/retention.  Long term math says there is more at play here than typical customer service measures (basically it becomes math based on ‘relationship marketing’ models and not customer service models).  

        Can a commoditized product with equivalent margins afford to take a white glove approach?  Sometimes.  Virgin America is trying but failing at moment, the jury is still out though.

        • http://occamsrazr.com Ike Pigott

          I totally agree that with small volume, it’s silly to have someone just sitting there. But why can’t they take regular calls when they aren’t handling “Tweets at the speed of chess-by-mail?”

          (I have suspicions that this is more personality/management driven, and not bottom-line.)

  • http://twitter.com/freighter Marty Thompson

    I don’t have enough information to either applaud, or condemn their decision. But I can say that in my experience with a variety of clients, that there are some very common problems that can arise from including social channels in a support mix. First off, many, many organizations just don’t have their act together when it comes to support. Long response times, fractured processes, lack of training, the  list goes on, but my point is that when any organization tosses social in the mix, and they are not winning on the service and support front, they will be in the weeds. 
    Second, even with some modicum of pre social deployment discovery, many companies don’t get the basics, the absolute basics of best practices. How do we effectively move social conversations to email, phone, etc, and then circle back, indicating resolution on said social channels? 
    Third, how were they capturing information into a usable knowledge base?
    Were they trying to add sales and marketing into their social support effort? 

    • http://occamsrazr.com Ike Pigott

      Marty, I remember sitting back for fun and watching Comcast/Charter and Dish/DirecTV go at each other on Twitter. When a customer complained about one the others would jump in and see if they could snake a sale.

      Here is the big structural obstacle for customer service in social media: there isn’t a defined entry point.

      In the past, customer service was always a passive affair, and every interaction was initiated by the customer.
      - Customer walks into store.
      - Customer rings bell.
      - Customer sends email.
      - Customer dials phone.

      But in social, sometimes the customer isn’t so much talking TO you, but talking ABOUT you, and you eavesdrop on it.

      Customer service organizations have never had to develop a fuzzy-logic protocol that dictates when to extend the invitation to talk. And for those that are strongly process and flowchart-driven, this is just too much to map.

      If an organization can recognize this obstacle and develop a protocol to deal with it, then it doesn’t have to start from scratch. A good customer-centric team doesn’t need to be told how to empathize, listen, or handle issues. It just redirects those finely-tuned instincts into another channel.
      Thanks for your points!

  • OBVAVirtualAssistant

    I think there should be balance in both, social related customer care and one to one customer care. A complete tie off from social is not a wise thing.

    • like2trade.com

      so true!

  • https://twitter.com/sanketpatel Sanket Patel

    Social media is vast marketing network that attracts many customer.  But sometimes It couldn’t be easier for any kind of brands to connect with their lots of fans and launching the marketing campaigns. Sometimes it  happens that people can go in wrong direction and massed up the whole thing. So, In each and every situation they have to be take care about the customer care.

  • http://www.vmrcommunications.com/ Hugh Macken

    Companies like Charter view customer care as a cost of doing business rather than as a key aspect of the actual product. That sort of mindset results in a decision like this.

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