Always provocative! Always a bit contentious. Intentionally so. I believe he wouldn’t have it any other way. A wry smile not very far away either. I’ve never met Esteban Kolsky, but our paths have crossed virtually across Twitter, blogs and LinkedIn since about 2008. His is one of the few voices in a sea of noise whose opinions and views I genuinely respect.

As I have remained faithful to the possibilities that social customer care brings, Esteban – I hope he doesn’t mind me calling him by his first name – has remained steadfastly critical of it. And rightly so. But the critical word here though is ‘possibilities’. For me, social customer care per se has been a means to an end, a platform on which I can explore, experiment and converse about the changes, the disruption, the need for change that is taking place today. Where Esteban sees limitations in social customer care, I see it as a starting point. A starting point to understand that it is simply a different way to interact; no more, no less. The inability of Twitter or Facebook to scale in customer service, is less about their limitations (things only have limitations when compared to something else; they are what they are), and more about our limitations, our desire to force these platforms into a model that evolved decades earlier. Twitter and Facebook emerged serendipitously, they filled a narrow gap, and that gap widened and began to disrupt, not just the status quo of customer service, but the status quo of how people consume and share information with each other. The shadow it cast encompassed notions of trust, transparency, privacy, ownership…

So coming back to what Esteban said in a recent talk: “Customer service in 2025 is not going to exist. We’re not going to have customer service anymore in 10 years at the pace we’re going in. Customer service is going to be so bad that nobody’s going to want to do it. And the question that I have for you is are you ready for this. Is your company ready?”

Whether your company is ready, is another question entirely, and one that I’m not going to address in this post. But the simple answer is: probably not. Your company is probably not going to be ready, regardless of what happens in 2025. But that is the nature of companies. But my question would also be – ready for what? Perhaps a different question might be – is your company able to adapt at speed to change?

When Esteban talks about 55% of requests in social and social channels being ignored, that social offers no benefits, doesn’t really work, or that over time the number of companies trying customer service through Twitter and Facebook decreases, my sense is that he is looking at social customer care from a company perspective. Let’s also not forget that social won’t scale either; although Best Buy tried to do it with #Twelpforce and giffgaff with their customer service community (Why was 2009 such an innovative year in social customer care?!). But based on this logic, why have companies persevered with email campaigns, when click-through rates are still woefully low?

For me, the point about social is that it has flipped the status quo. Whether it scales, whether it works, whether it offers benefits to a company, in my mind, is a moot point. For the person complaining about poor service, I’m not sure they’ve ever considered the benefit-cost ratio of Twitter vs Email vs Phone, as they click the ‘Tweet’ button. As a company, however, I am sure you have spent countless hours trying to work this out; actually many people have been trying to work this out since Frank Eliason sent that first tweet.

I agree that Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat, WhatsApp aren’t great channels for customer service, but debating the benefits of each is a largely pointless exercise. Customers use these channels, get over it. If you want to be truly forward thinking my suggestion is to do the following:

  • understand the behaviour of your customers, but pay very close attention to the relationship between context and communication channel; single view of customer is not always king
  • add Google to your Help page and focus on the 20% where you will make a difference for your customer
  • think about the characteristics of the medium of the telephone and innovate around that with Skype or something that offers a more visual option of engagement
  • really think about the agent experience. Is it really the customer you always want to make happy? What about an agent satisfaction survey? Are your agents genuinely satisfied with the experience you have created for them? The reality is that you’ve given your agents processes and workarounds.
  • adopt a social- and mobile-first mentality. Notice I wrote ‘mentality’ not ‘technology’. Don’t succumb to a contact centre mentality!
  • be bold and embrace change

…and if all else fails, as Esteban says, prepare to get rid of your customer service entirely by 2025!