Social Media Customer Care: Whose Job Is It Anyway?

How to optimize social media customer care in your business.

social media customer care

social media customer care

Richard Dumas is the director of product and solutions marketing for cloud contact software leader, Five9. He has led product & corporate marketing for social community software provider DNN Software, launched VoiceXML solutions at Nuance Communications and led marketing and product initiatives for Apple and Sun Micro.

In my last post, I described some of the most common reasons that brands often fail to respond to customer questions and complaints on social media. One of the main reasons is confusion over whose responsibility it is to respond.

Historically, responsibility for social media has fallen to marketing, PR or corporate communications. That made good sense because social was used primarily as way to build brand awareness and encourage word-of-mouth marketing.

However, brands have realized that social media is not just a promotional tool, but also a channel for customer care. It has become crucial to ensure that the right department (or person) can respond accurately and effectively. In many cases, that’s not a marketer, but rather someone in sales, billing, tech support or customer service.

In a February 2014 survey by the International Customer Management Institute (IMCI), 73 percent of organizations reported having an active social presence. When asked who “owns” social media customer service, 52 percent reported that the contact center now owns or co-owns responsibility, which shows a growing recognition that social care can often best be handled by those skilled in answering sales, service and support questions.

Brands do face some challenges when attempting to broaden the scope of social response. Two top challenges include: 1) sorting out organizational roles and responsibilities and 2) developing an effective process for how to respond.

The following are recommendations for how to address these issues.

Build a Cross-Functional Team
Since social media response tends to span multiple departments, it’s important to develop a forum for planning and implementation that crosses departmental boundaries. Many organizations start by setting up a tiger team comprised of managers from the key departments.

Each member of the team will bring a unique perspective. The corporate communications team will know the importance of having a mechanism to quickly resolve potentially brand-threatening issues. Sales can benefit by being able to reach out to prospects when they are dissatisfied with competing projects. Customer success knows that by reaching out to your own at-risk customers, retention will improve. Support and service organizations realize that they need to go beyond responding to phone calls in order to support highly-connected customers.

For smaller organizations or for those that don’t have an established social presence, it is also possible for an individual department to “take the bull by the horns” and develop a process for responding to specific issues. For example, some businesses have set up a dedicated Twitter handle for customer support, enabling that team to listen and respond to support-related inquiries.

Listen and Observe
Next, you’ll want to get a clear understanding of where your customers are talking about your brand and what they’re saying about it. For larger brands, the sheer number of social mentions can seam daunting. According to a Burson-Marsteller study, Fortune 100 brands were mentioned 55,970 times per month on average in 2012.

For many large brands, just finding all of the web sites and blogs that discuss their brand can be difficult. For example, a major airline might not only have a Twitter handle but also hundreds of travel sites and blogs where customers discuss their business.

Many brands start by conducting a listening exercise. As my colleague Ed Margulies outlines in “Social Engagement for Customer Care,” you’ll want to observe what your audience is saying on the sites and networks where they interact digitally. For some, that might be your Facebook fan page and Twitter handle. For others, that might encompass blogs or peer-to-peer communities. This can be done manually, but a social listening tool will help you to listen to a broad set of data sources more easily.

Next, select a time period and count the number of social posts, categorizing them into like clusters — for example, “news mentions,” “brand endorsements,” “complaints,” “questions” and “spam.” This will help you begin to understand the volume of posts in each category and to determine which types of social posts actually require a response.


Typically, a significant portion can be identified as spam. Out of the millions of social posts processed by Five9’s social solutions, about 40 percent could be automatically tagged as spam and removed from agent queues. An even greater percentage could be identified as brand mentions, retweets or other types of posts that didn’t require a response.

Build a Process
After determining which types of posts require a response, you’ll be able to start building a playbook that documents which team is responsible for responding to which category of posts. If you decide to use an automated solution for social engagement, you can easily remove the non-actionable posts and organize the remaining ones into the categories that you have defined. You will also be able to include routing instructions into a set of business rules that can automatically direct posts to the appropriate workgroup or individual.

Your playbook should be used to document corporate policies for engagement, approved responses and the tone that should be used when interacting with various authors.

It will also be used to document workflows. For example, a customer service agent may determine that a high-priority customer is about to cancel their service; a workflow can be defined that instructs the agent, possibly through an automated “next best action,” to forward that customer to your retention desk.

As you build a plan and a process, you’ll also want to answer some other important questions.

  • Are those who will respond generalists or specialists? This is likely to be based on the size and skill set of your team and may change over time as your business grows.
  • What level of response do you want to implement? Companies like Zappos have differentiated themselves based on the level of service that they are willing to offer customers, even if that drives higher support costs. However, many businesses will find it useful to define business rules that determine the level of response for specific types of inquiries.
  • What kind of content will you use? Will you answer questions by pushing answers stored in a company knowledge base or would you like to move certain types of conversations into real-time phone or chat channels?
  • Do you want to use key drivers like sentiment, social influence or customer loyalty to prioritize customer interactions?
  • What type of supervision do you want to have? Will your agents have complete autonomy to choose which issues to resolve? Or do you want a greater level of supervision to determine which posts gets assigned to which agent?

Monitor and Report
Finally, you will need a way to accurately track performance. As you begin to route support and service requests, you’ll want to evaluate group as well individual service-level agreement (SLA) performance metrics like average/max handle time, average/max queue time and average/max resolution time.

You’ll also need to be able to allocate and redistribute workloads as necessary by monitoring the volume of transactions at various stages in a workflow — for example, the percentage of posts in queue vs. those being worked on by an agent. Members of your team will also be interested in tracking outcomes or “dispositions,” for example, the number of interactions that led to a problem being resolved or to a sale being made.


By monitoring and measuring performance over time, you’ll be able to optimize your social care program. Your team will be trained to respond more effectively and to use your tools more efficiently. You will also be able to refine your process as you learn about new, trending social topics.

Additionally, with advanced solutions for social engagement, a natural language processing engine will “learn” as you use it and become more efficient at tagging spam and identifying issues by topic, helping you to increase the productivity of your team. And remember that your playbook is a living, breathing document that should grow and evolve over time.

As you develop your strategy for social customer care, remember to begin by thinking team and process. Solid planning will give your project a running start and help to propel it down the road to success.