I have written, talked about and debated the role of social media and customer service; I have even presented at a conference on the topic but never found the need to use social media for customer service myself. For me at least, the telephone has always seemed much more convenient.

But in a recent article in Clickz that caught my eye, the author, quoting from a study, predicted that social media will be the primary mode of communication—surpassing even the phone—between business and customers. The study went on to say that inside of five years, social media will account for 60 percent of the interactions and customer care will easily represent the major part of this. This raises a concern of scalability: can social media scale to the volumes needed for the primary communication channel? Surely this is not even possible. I asked this question of Seth Brewer, director of social media at The Hartford, and his response was very simple: “It has to scale, like it or not. As customers use social media more and more for daily activities, they will see it as a place to ask questions.”

With these factors ringing in my brain, I had the opportunity to try “social service.” Let me point out, it was never my intention to do so, but I was driven out of a sense of frustration. Frustration would seem to be a growing driver for consumers jumping onto social media for service. When I ran into a problem recently, it was much more natural to pick up the phone, with the luxury of being able to articulate the issue using more than 140 characters. But in this instance, I hit a brick wall, and I could have used 140 books and still gotten nowhere.

Let me explain the issue—I recently bought a new LG kitchen range from Home Depot but within a week broke the ceramic top. I fully accept it was partially my fault, but there was clearly (in my opinion) a contributing product defect to allow it to break so easily. I called LG and Home Depot, and despite having taken out every possible warranty, I got nowhere. Customer service works to set rules; either they are responsible or they are not, and according to their rules in this case, they were not.

LG stands for Life’s Good but that did not describe my experience at this point.

Anyway, back to the point. The numerous phone calls got me nothing more than a flat battery, so I opened Twitter. Unable to describe the problem in a Tweet, I simply expressed my frustration—this was my little act of defiance, “sticking it to the man.” To my surprise—which should not have been the case, I suppose—LG tweeted right back, providing me with a hotline to a goddess called Christina. When I called, Christina knew all about my problem. She had access to all the case information and was very pleasant. My head of steam dissipated immediately, and I even felt a little embarrassed to be making such a fuss. Best of all, she was reasonable—she did not accept full responsibility and she protected the company, but she suggested a compromise that was very fair.

The lessons here: First, it didn’t all happen on Twitter; the compromise was worked out on the phone, a far more suitable channel. Twitter was used to identify a customer who needed help, not to help me. Second, Christina had access to the case history and could deal with the situation quickly and efficiently. My expectation of having to yet again “regale” someone with the entire story was unfounded and further deflated any remaining anger.

As we move to self-service, dehumanizing sales and support, we are losing the personal connection with someone we can turn to solve problems—and don’t talk about the impact of IVR systems. In the insurance industry, we are well-aware of this trend. We must however accept that part of the price of this trend will include growing customer frustration, and this will drive social media activity. Agents are very adept at dealing with messy situations, but now we must build a social media safety valve deep into customer service. Indeed, consumer expectations are growing rapidly, maybe unrealistically so, and while I was thrilled by receiving a response from LG on Twitter, I might already be in the minority with that reaction.

In a recent study conducted by Oracle, more than half of Twitter users expect to receive a personal response from an organization within two hours of tweeting a question or complaint. And finally, I now highly recommend LG appliances, thus I have been converted from an unhappy customer to an advocate—as long as Christina is at their Twitter desk, life is good.

This blog was posted with the permission of the Customer Respect Group.

Terry Golesworthy, president of The Customer Respect Group, has covered technology issues and innovations in the insurance industry for many years.

Readers are encouraged to respond to Terry using the “Add Your Comments” box below. He also can be reached at terry@customerrespect.com.

The opinions of bloggers on www.insurancenetworking.com do not necessarily reflect those of Insurance Networking News.

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