Natalie L. Petouhoff, Ph.D. By Dr. Natalie Petouhoff

I’ve had a number of interesting debates on who should lead the customer social media interaction in the last few weeks. In part, this question comes up because a great deal of social media was initiated in the Marketing department via listening or brand sentiment programs. What we do know is that all departments benefit- marketing, sales, service, product dev, engineering from the voice of the customer information that results from deploying social media.

And while I know that not everyone will agree, after studying all the various departments that could lead social media, I’m still convinced customer service should lead the customer social media interaction. The reason is that while a sales social media strategy might help sell more products or services or a listening platform might help branding and marketing create more convertible leads, those departments are only interested in their objectives – i.e., more sales or more leads… And that is as it should be.

The issue is that someone needs to be the social media customer interaction brand ambassador. Customer service is really the only customer interaction department… the others don’t really have a two-way relationship with customers. They push materials out… they do need the voice of the customer to do that better, but they (and the technology that supports their function) doesn’t support a two-way interaction. (You could argue that social media now enables a two-way relationship, but as a technologist, I’m looking at the enterprise software – MRM or SFA types of applications – that sales and marketing use to do their jobs.) Customer service technology’s only purpose is to interact with the customer. (It doesn’t always create a great experience, but it is built to create that interaction.)

You might think that I feel that way because I cover customer service and the customer experience. I hope that I have a balanced approach and I’m able to assess things as they are and be objective. I do hear the arguments and reasons for other departments leading the initiative or for owning the customer relationship. Mary Beth Kemp, VP and Principal Analyst and I had a wonderful brainstorm about this topic. Laura Ramos, VP and Principal Analyst and I have engaged in this same discussion. Here’s my thoughts:

Imagine if marketing professionals had to sit in the contact center and answer customer complaints about why their bill is so high or that their cell phone doesn’t get service or that their kid just drank some cleaner and needs helps…. Or if sales people had to figure out why a customer’s router isn’t connecting their new lap top to their new DSL service or that a customer hit “send” on a website and it didn’t seem like anything was happening so they hit it six more times and was charged for six airline tickets instead of one… Neither department’s strong suit is those types of customer interactions — nor do I think they would thrive if they spent their days and nites doing this types of activities.

The best strategy for a company is always to have everyone do what they do best. That’s why the various functions departments got created. Customer service is best suited to be the leader of social media customer interactions because that’s what they do, day in and day out. And with the business transformations that occur because of what social media reveals about a company, the things that don’t make sense about how a company interacts with a customer change. Those changes are empowering customer service to finally have the budget, resources and positional power to do right by customers; to create WOW customer experiences and to engage and enroll customers through genuine, authentic and honest communications.

I just had a great inquiry with a VP Of Marketing, who is leading the social media customer initiative at his company. He saw my ROI of Social Media Customer Service research and was interested in it because he felt that the largest ROI for his company will be when customer service deploys it. As a company considers social media, who owns the social media intiative is one of many questions that must be answered.

So in honor of my fav news broadcaster, Walter Cronkite, “That’s the way it is…” 

or it is at least my 2 cents for this saturday morning…

Love to hear your thoughts!

@drnatalie or

And thanks to @txglennross for his suggestion on changing the languaging from “own” to “lead” – I love that suggestion and changed my post because of his feedback.