The relationship between social media and customer service is no longer just flirting; it’s getting serious.  Among US retailers, 23% offer customer service via community forums and another 27% plan to implement; 16% offer customer service via Twitter and another 21% plan to implement. We’re starting to see Twitter listed in an online Contact Us support section (see Xbox and Rogers).

The essence of social media is having conversations. Customers want to talk about their experiences. These experiences relate to customer service — complaints, compliments, looking to peers for support.  Savvy eBusiness professionals are leveraging social media to offer social customer service in several forms, including facilitating (i.e., helping customers assist each other), resolving (i.e., using social media such as Twitter to resolve customer service issues), and redirecting (i.e., using social media to listen and redirect customer service issues to appropriate customer service channels for resolution).

This is fundamentally changing how companies approach social media and challenging notions of who “owns” social media. Social media was born and nurtured in marketing and PR departments, but its customer service objectives come with uniquely customer service requirements including alignment with customer service objectives and metrics, integration into customer service technology, and support skills.

Interactive marketing, public relations, IT, and customer care departments must understand the distinctions between social marketing and social customer service to ensure that both areas can maximize their efforts. I’ve just written a report called “Getting Social Customer Service Right” that I hope will add some helpful insight into this conversation.