See how CustomerXM works

Watch Demo

How to integrate social media into your CX program

14 min read
Bring the power of social media to your customer experience program – and see how your business can benefit.


Why pick up the phone or compose an email when a tweet will get you a fast, helpful response? With a relatively small number of users, the level of service available to social media customers was high, helping to drive expectations of quality and responsiveness.

As social became more mainstream and the number of people using it as a customer service channel increased, brands put more resources and effort into their social customer care strategies, but in some cases, were caught out by the sudden growth in volume of enquiries and struggled to meet customer expectations.

Customer experience vs customer service

When social media customer experience is mentioned, it’s usually in the same breath as customer service. So what’s the difference?

Customer experience is a much wider concept than just great service. A great customer experience comes from the efforts of an entire business, from the staff who are directly in touch with customers via the brand social accounts, to the strategists, managers and product owners who make things happen behind the scenes.

Social media factors into the customer experience in all kinds of ways. It can be used to provide customer service and to gather direct feedback from individuals. Via metadata and trends, it can deliver insights on customer behavior and preferences. As a broadcast channel it can be used to entertain, engage and inform. And thanks to its viral nature it can connect your business with potential customers and provide spaces for brand advocacy and growing a customer community.

How social media changed customer service

To understand the potential of social media and the customer expectations around it, we need to wind back the clock and review how things have changed in the last decade or so since social media emerged.

When brands first began to explore social media as a way to reach customers, their approach was often metrics-driven. The focus was on growing social audiences as fast as possible and grabbing a share of the new territory social media represented.

Many businesses used likes, comments and shares as an indicator of success, sometimes without establishing whether there was a clear correlation between high engagement figures and a healthy bottom line. The idea of driving experiences through social wasn’t yet front of mind.

Meanwhile, customers in the early days of social customer service, many of whom were early adopters with a savvy mindset, saw a means of circumventing traditional channels and receiving first-class customer service.

What do customers expect from brands on social media?

We are now at a point where social media is a major communication channel between brands and customers, and certain standards have been established, at least among larger companies.

Customers come to a brand’s social channels with certain generic expectations that are standard whatever the nature and size of the business. But that doesn’t mean companies who have made the grade can sit back and relax. 81% of people acknowledge that their expectations of digital service are higher than they were a year ago, according to a report from Conversocial.

So what does social media best practice now look like? What’s the starting point you should be working from if you’re integrating social media into your CX program?

Here’s what we know:

1. A fast response

Over a third (37%) of customers expect a response in under 30 minutes on social media when they ask a question or make a complaint, according to the Conversocial data.

Looking at the whole set of responses from the study, the need for speed is even clearer – 26% expect a response within 4 hours and 31% expect Social media plays a key role in connecting customers with businesses and has done since day one. But the expectations around that role have evolved rapidly.

Are companies meeting this expectation? Not so much – yet. Research from Brandwatch found that only 11% of retail brands managed a response time of an hour or less, while 65% answered their customers inside 24 hours. That means there’s a strong opportunity for companies who can respond fast to pull ahead of the competition and deliver an excellent customer experience.

2. A human connection

Although you may be thinking that the answer to speedy responses is automation, Conversocial’s data suggests caution may be advisable before you trade all your agents for chatbots.

The study found that 59% of people consider it ‘very important’ that a human being handles their query, rather than a ‘programmatic response’. 35% said it was ‘somewhat important’ and just 6% said it was not important.

This indicates that there’s still mistrust around automation and that many people doubt the ability of an AI to solve their queries, thinking that a human agent will be more effective.

3. A customer service capability

We know that customer service isn’t the be-all and end-all of a great social media customer experience, but it’s definitely a necessary component.

Customers expect brands to be primed and ready to provide customer service via their social channels. SmartInsights found that 63% of customers expect brands to deliver customer care via social, and 90% said they had used social channels for this purpose in the past.

What’s more, customers actively prefer social media customer service to other channels. 34.5% said social was their preferred option, ahead of live chat, toll-free phone, and email.

However, there’s a significant gap between the service companies think they’re providing and the reality of what customers perceive. SmartInsights’ data shows that 80% of companies believe they’re delivering exceptional social media customer service, but only 8% of their customers agree.

4. Getting it right first time

Conversocial’s survey – of no less than 2,000 respondents – found that 100% of customers expect to have their issue resolved within a single interaction on social media.

Are customers demanding a lot of brands? It may seem so, when compared to the standards established by more traditional channels like phone or email where things take days rather than minutes and customers may need to contact multiple people.

But from another perspective, customers only expect from brands what they expect from one another – to do what’s normal on social. In a medium where near-real-time conversations occur between people, authentic relationships are formed and questions are answered in a single tweet, brands are simply expected to keep up with the pace.

4 ways to make social media your number one customer experience tool

Most companies are aware of the power and importance of social media as a marketing channel. But just 58% have managed to integrate social media into their existing customer experience program, according to research by Hootsuite. If you’re among those who have not, here are 4 places you can get your social media CX operation started.

1. Integrate using a single platform

The backbone of a great customer experience is integration. Integration across the different parts of your business, which collaborate to serve the customer’s needs. And integration across the touchpoints and channels where customers interact with you, so that they never have to repeat information, re-identify themselves or otherwise feel their connection with your organization has lapsed.

For many businesses, a centralized system for managing customer relationship information is the key to integrating customer experience over many channels. A platform that’s capable of integrating, either directly or via an API, with a number of third-party channels means customer relationships with your brand are carried seamlessly across multiple social spaces.

2. Break boundaries in your corporate culture

Integration is about technical setup, but it’s also about the culture of your organization. If your business and the people in it think in terms of departments and remits, rather than experiences and goals, you may run into problems when you try to serve your customer a seamless experience on social media.

Fortunately, integration is second nature to social media users and the platforms they frequent. Signing onto one social platform using details for another is commonplace, even when the services are owned by different companies. Sharing is enabled between different platforms to enable user-generated content to travel frictionlessly across social space. Social platforms and the third-party apps and services that spring up around them can provide some of the best role models for customer experience and ease, especially when it comes to UX design and innovative features.

For these reasons and many more, being immersed in social media can help your corporate culture move to a more fluid, less siloed place, even if your business is decades, rather than months old.

3. Use chatbots (with care)

We noted that most customers expect a human, rather than a programmatic response to their messages on social. But if you can provide a non-human response that’s relevant, capable and able to tailor itself to the user’s requirements, there’s huge saving and scalability potential in using chatbots to field routine enquiries. This is especially true if the chatbots are integrated well with your live agent workflow.

Although plenty of people are happy to deal with chatbots, Conversocial’s data showed that there is also significant mistrust of AI and bots on social media, so to reap the benefits while keeping customers happy requires a bit of a balancing act.

One strategy that shows promise is to start the customer off with a chatbot, then hand them over to a live agent. The AI will perform triage by asking a few questions that will identify the customer and categorize their query. This may result in the customer not needing to speak to someone at all, although the option is there.

When using this approach, it’s important that the customer knows they’re talking to a bot and will be connected to a live agent shortly. Making it clear that a human is available and present can help to reassure the customer that they’re making a meaningful connection to your business.

Meanwhile, the AI can save time and effort on the human agent’s part by identifying the customer and gathering details that will help route them to the right place quickly and smoothly.

4. Move between channels when it makes sense to do so

Sometimes, due to privacy and personal data concerns, an agent on social media is left with no option but sending a customer over to private messaging to deal with an enquiry. This can be a real customer experience stumbling block.

Bear in mind that a reported 96% of users don’t actually follow the brands they mention on social media. Moving to DM can frustrate people because it may involve them taking extra steps like following your account and having you follow them back. There can also be friction around taking a public exchange into a private realm where there’s no guarantee they’ll get a satisfactory answer.

Although it might seem counter-intuitive, a better option may be to transfer the customer to another channel, maybe by supplying an email address or asking them to follow a link to a live chat window. This cuts out the follow/follow-back issue, and customers may find it reassuring to be on an owned platform like livechat, or in their own inbox, rather than to find themselves DMing with a stranger.

From an omnichannel perspective, it makes sense that staying within a channel matters less than using the best tools for the job – if you’re doing everything else right, the customer’s sense of connection to you should be solid regardless.

Fortunately, with a customer relationship management platform that’s integrated with multiple channels, you can achieve a single customer view. This means you can pick up the conversation with your customer regardless of channel, without adding extra steps for your agents or technical teams.

5. Make sure your solution is scalable and portable

The world is only getting more connected, and the flow of interactions isn’t slowing down. Make sure you’re set up to deliver excellent customer service and a positive customer experience whatever the volume of traffic coming your way.

This is especially important when dealing with newer social channels that serve younger segments of your customer base. What seems like an outlier today could be the main customer contact channel of the future, and you need to be ready to flex your resources in order to meet demand on any given platform.

Investing in a CRM or CEM platform with robust integration capabilities can give you the potential to connect with your customer on any given channel. Because your knowledge about each customer relationship is held in a centralized system, rather than tied to a single platform, the conversation can continue effortlessly and you can meet your customer wherever they happen to be.

Build better customer experiences with QualtricsXM