Charter Communications Inc, the fourth largest cable provider in the United States with over 5.2 million customers in 25 states, decided to let its social-media based customer service unit go last December. Account name “Umatter2Charter” was the social media outlet for customers of the cable provider in Twitter and Facebook. The company said that it will no longer take complaints from social media to resolve issues.
The move may seem to be in conflict with the dramatic growth of social media, but it also underscores the challenge some businesses are facing when dealing with the barrage of round-the-clock complaints and information, as well as the expectation of right-away responses.
As Facebook users number at over a billion now and still growing, while Twitter is attracting 200 million, Charter’s move may be hard to believe, but it is not the only big company to do it. At around the same time last December, the largest grocery store in New England called the Wegmans in Northborough, Massachusetts, closed its Facebook page even if it has around 8,000 followers.
J.D. Peterson, vice-president of marketing division for Zendesk, a company that helps companies manage their customer service unit, said, “It’s a tough sport. The real-time nature of it – at times the volume that can come from it – it’s very new and different for businesses.”
Peterson’s company always recommends to its clients to be where customers are–in this case on social media–he said that not all companies believe in the same philosophy, or even have the resources to deal with customers in such an open venue as Facebook and Twitter. However, he added that a company with a big online presence does not have much choice on the matter as working with customers through social media is clearly expected of them.
Supporters of the idea that companies should have social media customer service think that the problem can be transformed into an opportunity by letting customers know how responsive they are to complaints, which can also translate to more revenue.
“I have seen this time and time again, and the end result is that the interaction often turns an irate customer into an advocate for the brand. And that is worth it’s weight in gold,” Mike Rowan said. Rowan is currently working as the chief marketing officer for Swarm, an Atlanta-based company that helps companies manage their social media interactions with their customers.
Land’s End think it that way as well.
Lands’ End’s senior director of public relations Michele Casper says, “When we started using social media tools like Facebook and Twitter in early 2009, it gave us a new opportunity to do what we’ve done for 50 years, which is connect with our customers. Whether it is through social media, our call centers or online, we offer the same level of customer service through each channel.”
Charter defended its position by saying that the company is not leaving social media for good. It mentioned that customers have ample opportunities to get support from its phone support, live chat on its web page, and customer service counters.
“We communicate with thousands of customers each day on the phone and in person, and that’s where we’ll focus our efforts, “said Anita Lamont, the spokeswoman of Charter. “While social media is a method some consumers choose to seek help, Charter offers phone and web-based contact solutions where all customers can access resources to provide assistance.”
Wegsmans store’s move to deactivate its Facebook page caused a big fuzz among the store’s “fans”. The store said that the real reason for the its abandonment of its Facebook page was due mainly to the inability of its store personnel to break away from their primary job to answer quickly to customers’ comments on Facebook. The delays or failure in responses, which is a big no-no in social media, forced the store to leave Facebook for good.
“Our top priority has always been, and will continue to be, providing incredible service to customers who shop in our stores. And it isn’t as though there aren’t other avenues for folks to connect with us if they have a question or concern,” Jo Natale, the store’s spokeswoman said.
She added that the store could not manage to respond to customers in a timely manner, so a decision to terminate support through Facebook was reached.
“They quickly discovered, once the store opened and got very, very busy, that it wasn’t so easy to stay on top of comments or to find the time to post,” said Natale. “In a retail operation like ours, there isn’t anyone sitting at a PC or checking a mobile device throughout the day. It’s a fast-paced business that requires our people to be on the floor serving customers.”