Social Care Interfaces Stink; Google, Can You Please Fix This?

In BillingViews’ earlier days we went so far as to benchmark operators against each other in terms of their social care performance via Facebook. But whether studying it empirically or reviewing it anecdotally, I always come back to the same conclusions: social interfaces provide horrendous customer care experiences that the big U.S. operators use horrendously.

I started thinking about this topic again because of a study of Social Customer Experience from our colleague Teresa Cottam at Telesperience, conducted on behalf of Lithium Technologies. The study found, among other things, that 95 percent of the telecom operators surveyed plan to increase their social media budgets this year. 93 percent say they already connect with customers via public social networks. (Is having a customer scream at you via a stream of derogatory Facebook posts considered connecting…?) So operator use social media, like most everyone else.

Digging deeper, Telesperience found that 41 percent of those surveyed said that customer care is a primary driver behind social media budget increases, while 76 percent say their marketing departments are pushing it. This shouldn’t surprise anyone, because we already know that operators tend to spend more money and energy to upsell than they do to care for customers.

In parallel to this,  the study found that 44 percent of telecoms employ social support solutions today. So, what’s a social support solution? That’s what Lithium sells. In the boilerplate at the bottom of the press release, the company provides links to the “social customer experiences” it enables for a variety of major brands – including AT&T. As an AT&T customer, I was intrigued, so I checked it out. Then I asked it a simple question which, predictably, it was unable to answer.

Here’s the back story – My wife and I moved to AT&T’s shared 1 GB data plan on the advice of our friends over at Save.Love.Give and it’s saving us $15 a month. I bought my wife a new iPhone 5 for her birthday a few months ago and we upgraded without a hitch. I’ve since gone online twice to get myself an iPhone 5 and AT&T’s somewhat ham-handed shopping cart process seems to be forcing me into a 4G data plan upgrade for an extra $10 per month (which it did not do when I bought my wife’s phone). So…I asked the “social support” solution “do I need to upgrade my shared data plan when I upgrade to an iPhone 5?”

The fifth answer on the garbled list that came back actually related to my question. The problem is, it showed me posts from dozens of other similar confused AT&T customers. No one from AT&T stepped up to provide answers. So, my question remains unanswered and I still haven’t gone back to buy my iPhone 5.

Here’s the thing – Devoting more money to social care isn’t going to change the fact that social interfaces are horrendous at providing customer care.  AT&T’s Facebook page provides a good example. The operator used to present a poorly labeled  link into its online care interface through Facebook. It had a team of care agents behind that interface to support customers who used it. But where’s the Facebook link to customer care today? I don’t know; apparently it’s gone.

Verizon Wireless’s Facebook page provides a thumbnail link to Customer Support right up front; it’s easy to find. The funny thing is, the thumbnail is a photo of a woman on a telephone headset and phone numbers for customer care are printed in large type on the page to which the thumbnail links.

I haven’t touched this subject in about a year because it seemed at the time like we were a bit ahead of the market (or our smaller group of readers at that time wasn’t very interested). But, revisiting the subject today I find that operators aren’t any better at social media-based customer care and support than they were then. Very little progress has been made on this front.

While social care and support seem like good ideas in theory, and social customer engagement is – at the very least – a PR necessity these days, social interfaces continue to be extremely poor media for attending to telecom customers’ complex and highly individualized needs. If I had to bet on any company figuring out a superbly simple way to make online, social-style care effective, I’d bet on Google. Google is great at helping people find answers to obscure and specific questions. So, Google…can you do our industry a multi-billion dollar favor and figure this out?

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About Edward Finegold 122 Articles
Ed is now Director, Strategy for NetCracker. Previously, for 15 years he was a reporter, analyst and consultant focused on the OSS/BSS industry and a regular contributor to BillingViews.

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