Social media dispute resolution stumps some companies

Thu Jan 17, 2013 12:58pm EST
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By Mitch Lipka

(Reuters) - If HBO cuts out on you in the middle of the latest "Girls" episode, and you have Charter Communications Inc as your cable provider, don't try tweeting your dismay to their customer service department. Nobody will hear your lament.

Charter, the fourth largest cable provider in the U.S. with 5.2 million customers across 25 states, closed up its social-media based customer service team in December. "Umatter2Charter," as it was known, had been taking customer complaints over Twitter and Facebook and trying to resolve them, but the company says it is now done with working out customer service issues in social media forums.

The move, which might seem to conflict with the growth of social media, highlights the difficulty some businesses are having with free-flowing, round-the-clock social media, its public nature and the expectation of immediate responses.

With Facebook users numbering about a billion and Twitter drawing 200 million, it might be hard to believe that any retail enterprise would drop out of the fray, but Charter isn't the only major company to announce such a move. Also in December, the largest single grocery store in New England - the Wegmans in Northborough, Massachusetts - shuttered its Facebook page despite having some 8,000 fans.

"It's a tough sport," says J.D. Peterson, vice president of product marketing for San Francisco-based Zendesk, which helps companies manage customer service. "The real-time nature of it - at times the volume that can come from it - it's very new and different for businesses."

While Peterson's company recommends going where the customers are - and a big chunk are clearly on social media - Peterson says not all businesses share the same philosophy or have the ability to engage those consumers in these open forums. But any company that has a significant online presence doesn't really have a choice, he says, working with consumers through social media is expected of them.

Advocates for the use social media say the challenge actually presents an opportunity for businesses - showing they are responsive to complaints and care about their customers can bring in 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," says Mike Rowan, chief marketing office for Atlanta-based Swarm, which manages social media for companies.   Continued...

A Twitter page is displayed on an Apple iPhone in Los Angeles October 13, 2009. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni