I’ve recently been reading many posts about the launch of @AppleSupport on Twitter. The posts are all supportive, list the number of Followers, the number of Tweets they’ve sent and the initial observations and insights from the authors’ own social customer care journeys.

The week before @AppleSupport launched, I was reading a post by Esteban Kolsky(someone whose opinion I have always respected) – Vindication of my position: Social customer service sucks. I’m not here to counter Esteban’s view of social customer care, which has never really changed since I’ve known him, but it does serve as an interesting counterpoint to the launch of @AppleSupport.

I’m always delighted (ok, that’s a strong, and somewhat overused, word) … pleased, perhaps (although ‘pleased’ is a bit of a nothing word … any way you get what I mean) … when I read about a company that decides to provide social customer care. Not because I feel that to be an enlightened company you’ve got to offer social customer care, but because, it’s a recognition, an admission, without becoming too Dylan-esque about it, that the times are changing.

But what do I feel after that?

Usually, I feel that it’s a missed opportunity: unfulfilled potential. And here’s why: Because the majority of companies that set out on this path will remain the same. Once the novelty of being on Twitter has worn off, they will become like any other company that has ever had a contact centre. Perhaps I’m being unfair?!

I’m not talking about maturity either. As in, give this company time and it will become more socially adept or aware, more empathetic, authentic, trustful… For most companies, providing customer service via Twitter or Facebook is enough. The end goal is to become faster and leaner. The inherent characteristics that make Twitter or Facebook what it is, that afford companies the opportunity to be bold, are overlooked and nullified in preference to industrialising operations through Target Operating Models, Cost to Serve, Average Handling Time, Workforce Management, First Contact Resolution…

For me, that’s not enough. It’s not enough, simply because, the goal shouldn’t be to conform to a type of customer service that grew out of the mass production of the Model T Ford in 1908. Twitter was the serendipitous result of a momentary need on 21st March 2006. Twitter disrupted the status quo, not by intention, but as a natural by-product of its inherent characteristics. This sense of unintended disruption gave companies the permission to innovate and inspire, and perhaps even, to be bold and delight, not as a cliche, but as a reality. The opportunity for a company to extend its brand footprint from within customer service of all places, was a novelty, that is increasingly becoming ‘business as usual’. Here was customer service, traditionally associated with cost efficiencies and operational rationalisation, suddenly being at the forefront of delivering on a company’s brand promise, not as a theoretical exercise, but directly with its customers, every day.

I want the goal to be the pursuit of a type of customer service that recognises not only the unique characteristics of social, but also what social represents: a mindset, a way of doing, a way of communicating. That recognises that whilst the needs, motivations and desires of the customer has not necessarily changed, the way we do things and what is relevant to us, has moved on since 1908.

I want companies, like Apple, to fundamentally challenge the service delivery model as we know it. Not for the sake of doing so, but because service can be better, should be better, ultimately promises something better. I want it to not just continue the story started by the likes of Comcast, Best Buy, giffgaff and KLM, but to create new storylines, with new plots and sub-plots, and new characters. Goodness knows, we are in desperate need of new characters! This applies to you too, vendors.

It is my hope that out of the friction that exists between traditional and emerging modes of communication, between experience and cost efficiencies, between empathy and response times, trust and privacy settings, the stimulus to be bold, experiment, create new boundaries, enable new ways of doing, engaging and communicating will take flight. I want Apple to do for customer service what it has done for design. I am waiting for customer service’s ‘click wheel’ to emerge and take us to the next part of the journey. Serendipity is only part of the answer.

Image courtesy of – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AIPod_wheel.svg