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Can you really provide Technical Support through Social Media?

Posted on: 30 August '10

When Jeff Jarvis posted a public complaint about Dell’s service in his blog BuzzMachine, Dell probably had no idea what it was going to turn into. It became a viral firestorm that compelled Dell to get involved in Social Media (SM). Dell started reading blogs and responding to customer complaints in various social media channels.

Subsequently, many product companies started formulating their ‘Social Media Strategy’ to engage their customers in Social Media Channels. But this is still a nebulous concept and Social Media appears to mean different things to different companies.

For few it is one way to sense the kind of problems their customers are facing and proactively add content to their online Knowledge bases. For many others, Social Media is a marketing initiative. (After all, if there is a conversation going on in SM and many of your customers are talking, good or bad, about your company, you simply can’t afford not to meet your customers there). For a very few brave ones, SM is yet another official channel for providing support, besides phone, email and chat.

There are too many questions around how best a company can leverage Social Media for technical support. This means there is a lot of scope for service innovation in this area.

If there is a legitimate complaint from a customer posted in an SM channel, you want to address that expeditiously, before it turns into a PR nightmare for your CEO. While the mistakes made in SM are public and can potentially create firestorms, a customer’s genuine grievance addressed in SM (also in public) will also create huge amount of goodwill for your company. But, doesn’t this sound more like customer service rather than technical support?

Assuming that you start providing full-fledged technical support through SM when your customers start using this channel hundreds of thousands in numbers, do you have the required resources to address all of them? If not, how do you prioritize them and how do you respond to other customers? Is this going to be a proactive and positive initiative towards improving the overall support experience for your customers or is it going to degenerate into a damage prevention / control exercise?

In a way, Social Media has not been new to technical support. Moderated user groups and forums have existed for years before blogging and tweeting appeared on the horizon. What makes the new SM channels different is that the discussions are totally controlled by customers and it is very difficult for a product company to make sure their technical support through SM is consistent with other channels.

What are your thoughts?

Srinivasa Rao

Srinivas has 20 years experience in the IT industry and currently heads the Technical Support practice at Mindtree. He started his career as a design and manufacturing consultant for CAD/CAM. With core expertise in Unix system administration, he supported fault-tolerant HP NonStop-UX systems and Mirapoint's enterprise secure messaging appliance servers. He led teams that developed test suites for fault-tolerant features of NonStop-UX. In his current role he is responsible for technical support service delivery excellence, building world class support teams, technology learning initiatives, customer relationship management. Srinivas has a Master's degree in machine dynamics and robotics from Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur.

  • Nigam Mehta

    Thats true KSR sir, its more of customer service rather than technical support.
    But yes as you mentioned serving customers through forums is best way as lot of customers faces similar kind of issues and they call up for repeatable same issue, it is smarter way to put the solution that is searchable globally by the users and the search engines. The customer can easily click on the product name, to sort out their issues. Also, a forum can provide various solutions to a single problem so that the customer can choose the most suitable one. Along with better and quick customer support, a forum may reduce our customer service calls, as the customers are getting the solutions through the net.
    Also communication through social networking sites can be means for better customer service for organizations. Social Networking sites like Facebook, Orkut and MySpace can be used to send out the update bulletins about the product and service and manage the reputation and the image of the brand. These sites bring us closer to the customers, which enhance customer support. Building community, starting an event or social networking forum, would ultimate result in better brand image through proper customer service !!

    But again as you mentioned regarding resources, yes there should be certain amount of dedicated resources for doing this work !! 🙂

  • Bhavani Shankar

    The above comment is true sir. Forums with dedicated moderators and subject experts provide reasonably quick and reliable answer to a question asked by the customer/user (Infact mailing lists are also very useful in this regard if properly moderated) and through indexing methodologies used by search engines it becomes easy for a remote user to just key in the symptoms of the problem he is facing and can get a near accurate answer on the forums whereas social networking can be used to improve one’s image or branding in case of a company but regarding quality of support rendered, I’m a bit skeptical sir as its a open to all platform and not many people would have the expertise and/or inclination to provide quality answers as to do with a dedicated forum sir 🙂