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Social Media Customer Service - Use It But Don't Abuse It

Frequent readers of this blog and people who otherwise know me well would be aware that I'm a big fan of social media customer service.

Many years ago, I wrote Customers Of The World Unite, You Have Nothing To Lose But The Call Center Hold Music to explain why I found the channel very effective for reaching out to brands. I reiterated that perspective more recently by declaring that Social Media Has Become My First Port Of Call For Customer Service (hyperlink removed to comply with Finextra Community Rules but this post will appear on top of Google Search results when searched by its title).

Over the years, social media - especially Twitter - has become popular with customers seeking service from companies in BFSI, Ecommerce, Retail, Telecom and many other industry verticals. While call centers haven't gone away, social media has certainly gained a lot of traction during this period.

If you look at the adoption lifecycles of many technologies, you'd notice that use has often been followed by overuse, and in some cases, abuse and regulatory usage control e.g. email leading to spam triggering CAN-SPAN Act.

Social media customer service is no exception.

In this blog post, I'll describe a few areas of overuse, bordering on abuse, of social media customer service and the reaction of brands, service providers, government and other companies to this unfortunately growing trend.


In my experience, @RailMinIndia is one of the most responsive companies on Twitter.


Despite mastering the provision of customer service on social media, Indian Railways recently felt it necessary to develop a separate customer service app and divert passengers to it for logging complaints about train service.


This guy dines at a restaurant in Essex, UK. He complains that the food is undercooked. Restaurant makes up by giving him a hefty discount. The guy is still not satisfied and leaves a scathing review on the restaurant’s Facebook Page. Restaurant says it can never satisfy this guy and bans him for life! See the following exhibit for the full story.


The body administering the Goods & Services Tax in India recently stopped providing social media support via Twitter. According to Economic Times, the GST Council took this decision after taxpayers started citing tweets from @askGST_GoI to dodge penalties!


As you can see, the reaction of companies to abuse of social media customer service has ranged from weaning away from the channel and boycotting select users through to shutting down the channel altogether.

Even though I lean towards consumers in most customer service situations, I'm siding with the companies in all of the above cases.

Let me explain why.

I've seen people requesting @RailMinIndia to open a railway station on their backyard (just joking), grant a workplace transfer to their spouse's location (not joking) and many other frivolous things in between. In responding to the drivel with its usual alacrity, Indian Railways runs the risk of not being able to reply to serious questions, such as the one in which I'd offered an opportunity for it to blow its own trumpet.

A separate app does pose friction but, in the overall interest of the passenger community, I think this step is justified. Besides, it's not as though Indian Railways has totally stopped Twitter support. I still see responses on Twitter from @RailMinIndia, so the transition to the dedicated app seems to be happening gradually, which is more than fair under the circumstances.

I've heard stories of people threatening restaurants and food delivery apps with poor ratings and negative reviews unless they get a free meal. According to me, such cheapskates should be summarily blacklisted by these companies. What the guy in UK did is worse, and he definitely deserved to get banned by the restaurant for life.

Tax laws runs into hundreds, if not thousands, of pages. Using the snippet of information squeezed into a 140 or 280 character tweet in an attempt to transgress tax laws is the height of abuse of social media customer service. Ergo, GST Council is totally justified in its decision to stop Twitter support.


I could give many more examples but I'm sure you get my drift.

I'm a self-appointed evangelizer of social media customer service and want the technology to spread far and wide. Besides, as a digital marketing professional, I have a vested interest in ensuring that social and digital media landscapes stay clean and vibrant.

Abuse of social media customer service undermines both of those pursuits.

Therefore, I humbly request people seeking customer service to use Twitter and other social media channels responsibly. Otherwise, we'll lose a very convenient way of reaching out to brands and be forced to go back to the painful days of hearing call center hold music and navigating phone trees.



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