Social media continues to transform how businesses interact with customers, especially when it comes to providing support and resolving issues. While field service organizations are warming up to social media sites to monitor customer sentiment, most organizations (and their customers) still rely on a phone call or email to solve a problem. But that could change as more businesses tune into social sentiment and predictive analytics, according to the Technology Services Industry Association’s new report outlining the State of Social Support in 2015.

John Ragsdale, vice president of technology and social research at the TSIA, surveyed more than 250 service leaders for latest report. Whether you are a social support skeptic or true believer, here are the main takeaways you should know:

Social Monitoring on the Rise

Despite having a presence on popular social media sites like Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, less than half of B2B technology companies use social channels to provide direct customer support, according to the survey.

shutterstock_156141602The main reason? Support via social media isn’t in huge demand today and, frankly, many companies don’t have the resources to offer it.

Social media conversations, however, are helping companies take the pulse of their customer community. The TSIA study found that two-thirds of businesses surveyed are monitoring social conversations to better understand customer sentiment and stay on top of industry trends. According to Ragsdale, ongoing social monitoring should help companies identify issues with their products and provide better support to customers in the long run.

Online Support Forums Remain Popular

Though social support is still a ways off for many companies, 75 percent of tech support organizations do offer an online support forum to address customer questions and problems.

What’s more, about one-third of respondents say they hold themselves to an internal service level agreement regarding response times for customer queries on social forums. Average response times range between 12 and 24 hours. (External SLAs between companies and customers are still a few years off.)

“Analyzing social streams can not only help you identify trending issues, but can also help you understand customer sentiment around specific topics or products and gather the information much faster than using traditional surveys.” — John Ragsdale, TSIA

The survey also found that newer companies that offer online support forums tend to open them to the public, but users must register before posting responses or asking questions. Traditional and on-site service providers, meanwhile, opt for secure, private online support forums that require registration to access content.

Whichever approach a company chooses, it’s important to let Google index community content so it shows up in search results. The majority of TSIA’s respondents said that Google is their starting point for self-service.

Lack of Resources and Customer Adoption are Biggest Hurdles

For the third year in a row, companies cited a lack of internal resources as the main hurdle to establishing and maintaining a social support program. The second and third biggest obstacles were lack of customer adoption and a lack of ROI measures to justify the cost of implementing such a program.

To drive more customer interaction, Ragsdale suggests making the social channels more prevalent in customer maintenance agreements and marketing the services more aggressively.

“The customers need to know you are there — they shouldn’t have to research which social media channels you support,” Ragsdale says. “Include your support Twitter handle or Facebook page in advertising, email responses, on your web page, and in all customer communications. Repetition is important to keep reminding customers you are listening.”

What Does the Future Hold?

All the valuable customer data that social media provides is a huge opportunity for businesses to apply predictive analytics, says Ragsdale. Larger tech companies such as Cisco and Avaya are already hearing about product and service problems via social channels several days before a customer officially calls or emails about the issue.

“Analyzing social streams can not only help you identify trending issues, but can also help you understand customer sentiment around specific topics or products and gather the information much faster than using traditional surveys,” Ragsdale says. “With 63 percent of companies doing some social monitoring today, hopefully they will begin to see this value and continue investing in analytics.”

ABOUT Preeti Upadhyaya

Avatar photoPreeti is a multimedia journalist with expertise in technology, economics and markets reporting. Her work has been featured on Marketplace, Chicago Public Radio, MarketWatch, the Wall Street Journal and other publications. Preeti has a M.S. in advanced business reporting from Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism.