Social media experts confuse capability vs. use, and it costs big time

Where The Customer Service And Social Media Experts Got It Wrong

For the introduction to the topic of social media and customer service, and how it’s not “delivered”, click here.

The Fundamental Problem: Capability Versus Actual Use

When new “things” emerge, particularly new technologies emerge, it’s natural that most of us get excited about what can be done, what can be accomplished with these new things. As technologies or media hit critical mass, and more and more people use them, the excitement grows. Oh, the potential of, let’s say, computers to revolutionize education, or television as a learning media. Or social media as a force to democratize the world, or “empower customers”.

It’s natural to look at something like these things in terms of what they “could” do, because technologies bring with themselves, certain potentials that jump out at us. That’s often because we look at technology divorced from how people actually use them.

Here’s an interesting example. In the 1960’s television had been around long enough, and achieved enough market penetration to make it of considerable interest to solve a a number of woes. With televisions in so many homes, it made sense to look at what “could” be accomplished with the medium. In retrospect, it’s not surprising that people looked at this medium, and say a huge potential for it to revolutionize education. Wouldn’t it be possible to deliver education via the “box” so people could learn at home? Some predicted the end of formal schools, as television could become the primary learning vehicle. In theory, that “could” have happened, but of course, we know it didn’t.

Schools With Rooms Full Of TV’s

In the 1960’s I went to an excellent elementary school with a catchment area that included primarily upwardly mobile lower middle class families, not affluent, but coming into their own. At great expense, and taken with the educational potential of television, the school purchased a good fifteen televisions and special stands so they could be brought into the classroom, and used for learning purposes. There was a room dedicated to the storage of the devices, which was good because that’s where they spent almost all their time. In the eight years I attended, I recall TWO instances where a television was used in one of my classrooms, once so we could view a historic NASA space launch, and the other, frankly, I can’t recall.

In my high school I do not recall a single instance of television use. When I got to university, almost all the lecture halls were equipped with multiple TV’s. The only time I recall any of them used was in so people could view a historic hockey showdown between Team Russia and Team Canada. We (Canada) won.

We can debate the many reasons why this technology that was perceived as having huge educational potential didn’t achieve that potential. Our point here is simple. When you look at a technology and envision what it “could” do, if only people used it the way you think they should, often the results are completely different.

Later research, actually much later, discovered that television viewers didn’t or couldn’t learn very well from watching television, presumably because the attention they paid to the content was such that remembering concepts or information wasn’t happening. The conclusion was that people actually used television for entertainment, and not learning, and that that was THEIR choice. The promise of TV for education was shanghaid not because of a technology issue, and not even that the content wasn’t available, but because people simply didn’t WANT to use it to “learn”.

Another Example: The Apple Computer Education “Revolution”

In the 1970’s, the microcomputer emerged as a new technology heralded as a complete game changer, and in many ways it has been. Apple, with its Apple ][ and then the Macintosh poured heavy money into positioning their machines as THE option for schools to be used to revolutionize learning, and not only did they supply machines, but invested heavily in the development of educational software. Expectations were huge, and predictions, once again about the revolutionary effects this would have on schooling and education were rampant. At the same time much research and efforts were made to develop authoring languages so “regular people” could author learning software like Plato, etc.

In retrospect it didn’t quite work out. In fact computers still haven’t revolutionized how young people are educated. They still go to a central place five days a week, and are still primarily taught by real people, not machines. That’s despite absolutely humongous advances in technology, radically better software, and huge price drops for both the hardware and software.

If you look only at the technology per se, as did all the computer learning advocates at the time, and what it might bring, who could fault you if, even in 2013, you believe computers will revolutionize education.

However, when you look at how people actually USE technology, you find that while they DO learn, it’s hardly because they are following some software learning program. Some do, of course, but not very many, and not to the extent that it can replace — completely replace learning via human contact.

. It simply turns out that computer learning advocates, even present day ones that predict e-learning will make “live” learning obsolete” simply haven’t looked at how people actually use, and have used the technology. have brought – its capabilities for learning.

Social Media – Capability Vs. Reality

In terms of “penetration” (i.e. the number of people using social media), we’re just about at the same point as we were when television hit critical mass and many, if not most households had at least one TV. We’re at about the same point with social media that we were with “microcomputers” when prices fell, software was good enough to make the devices useful to accomplish personal and business tasks. While we haven’t mentioned it yet we’re at about the same place as we were with the Internet, after the world wide web, and browsers, not to mention connectivity improvements, made it possible for many people to have access.

In those cases, all kinds of hopes and claims emerged, many suggesting we were entering into a new “revolution”. In many cases, that IS what happened. However the specific claims, for example, about TV or computers eliminating schools, have not come to pass. Mind you, it COULD have happened. The capability for technology to replace schools is still there provided you look at the technology IN ISOLATION from the people that use it.

With social media, we have a technology that “could” be used for many things. Pundits have been saying for years that social media will

  • Empower customers so they can get better service
  • Force companies to improve customer service
  • Make companies more transparent in how they deal with customers

None of that has happened. The reason is that these claims are based on a false understanding of how people actually USE social media. On the surface, these claims make sense, since social media “should” enable these things. Until you look at how people use it. Then some of the assumptions underlying the claims become clearer, and it’s easier to understand the realities of social media and consequently, why it hasn’t and is not likely to result in better service.

In the rest of this chapter we’ll look at the realities of customer service, while in later chapters we’ll look at a number of more specific myths about the claims made about social customer service.

Social media posts are so transient, so temporary, and so unread but they SEEM to provide exposure. Read more.

Author: Robert Bacal

Leave a Reply