Social Customer Service and the Psychology of Expectation

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the science behind expected and unexpected rewards, and how marketers can use these psychological findings to spice up their social media strategies.  But there’s a flipside to the expected reward puzzle that marketers also should be aware of: the danger of unmet expectations.

As we discussed previously, British researchers have found that subjects exposed to an unexpected reward display a higher dopamine response than subjects exposed to an expected reward. This is why “surprise and delight” efforts can be so effective in creating customer loyalty and brand preference; the unexpected nature of the outreach can propel a customer into certifiable fandom. 

Yet the research goes even further: if subjects are conditioned to expect a certain reward for certain actions, and then do NOT receive the expected reward, dopamine levels fall dramatically, and can even trigger a pain or depression like state.

Why does this matter for social media? According to research from digital marketing advisor Jay Baer, 20% of consumers who reach out to a brand for customer service or support via the brand’s social media channels expect a response within 15 minutes.  Another 22% expect a response within the hour. Regardless of your brand’s current approach to social customer care, your customers expect that they can get help from you on social media—and if you aren’t ready or able to respond in a way that meets those expectations, you’re setting your customers up for the dreaded dopamine drop.

So what’s a social marketer to do? 

1.  Acknowledge customer outreach first, fix it second.

As the Beatles told us so long ago, sometimes “All You Need Is Love”.  Often, a frustrated customer just wants to feel like they’re being heard instead of shouting into a customer service black hole.  So even if it may take a bit of doing to fully remedy their issue, let your customer know you’re working on it.  This is also a great opportunity to point customers to any available self-help solutions or other resources to resolve their problem.

2.  Spread the responsibility for social response.

Being on-call to respond to customer service issues via social media 24/7 not only leads to things like community manager burnout, it also can be just plain unproductive. Try splitting up rapid response duty among your team to allow every member the chance to unwind, concentrate fully on other projects, or attend meetings without worry that they’re missing something at least once a week.  Don’t give managers and execs a pass—taking the occasional shift on social response will keep your leadership team aware of the types of problems customers are encountering so that they can make better strategic decisions to address them.

3.  Make sure you have the right partners.

Social care doesn’t start and end with community managers or customer service agents. Real solutions take collaboration across teams and departments. Find partners in every department that plays a role in resolving customer inquiries (e.g. product, billing, shipping and fulfillment, or account management.)

The right technology partner can provide context and clarity across these teams and individuals to resolve social customer care issues.  Automated message routing helps care teams get inquiries to the right people for a quick response.  Threaded conversation views and social bios help community managers and care agents see the big picture.

Want more advice on how to build a stand out social customer care program? Download our new guide.

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