Should customer service be in-house, externally or a combination?

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Should you manage customer service through social media in-house, externally or through a combination of both?


Social media platforms have grown immensely over the past couple of years to become prominent in the marketing and advertising space. Many of your customers will access social media on a daily basis and quite often multiple times, across various devices.

Customer needs are increasingly changing and social media has evolved to become an important and prominent channel where customers expect to receive excellent customer service and in real time. Customers have begun to realise that the fastest way to get a response to an enquiry is to do it where other customers can see it. As customers start to move away from traditional channels such as phone, email and post, they are looking for a multi-channel experience with social media serving as one of these touch points.

24/7 customer service

Managing your social media accounts 24/7, 365 days a year can be overwhelming and time-consuming. Especially as customers expect a response within a few hours, even if that message was sent out of office hours.

One of your social media objectives may be to respond to all queries and comments directed at your brand, if this is the case then you may want to assess how you will manage this. As most of us work Monday – Friday, 9:00 am – 5:00 pm, an agency may be able to help you manage activity outside of your normal working hours. You could also spend some time analysing your customer behaviours to establish when they are reaching out to you and when you should dedicate time to responding to queries. Whether you choose to manage this in-house or externally, using a social listening tool to capture any conversations about your brand will aid in your responses.

If you are an SME and managing your social media in-house, you could state when you are available to respond to queries, for example, from Monday – Saturday, 10:00 am – 4:00 pm. So that your customers feel that they can always reach you, you could also include your phone number or email address in your page bio which will help to manage customer expectations.

Many brands will set up a different profile, separate from their brand messages (particularly on Twitter) which is purely dedicated to managing customer related queries and complaints. This can be particularly effective if you deal with a large quantity of queries or if you want to create an online space for your customers to actively follow and engage with you for guidance and advice on your products or services. However, to maintain this presence, you will need to invest time and resource into creating specific content for this space.

Not every customer comment can be resolved on your public profile, therefore, some of your queries may need to be taken offline. This is particularly true when a customer needs to provide personal data. It may also be the case when you need to ask several questions to find out more information from a customer before you can start to answer their query. If this activity is managed externally, you will need to think about how an agency would access your customer data, or even if you are willing to share it.

Time and resources

One of the main challenges to providing great customer service on social media is deciding where to focus your time and resources. In order to manage aspects of your customer service on social media, it is important to have a fully functioning team or dedicated person, depending on the size of your business, to manage this effectively. You will need to identify if you have the resources in-house to manage this, as well as the expertise to deal with customer service online as this requires a different set of skills to those needed to manage customer service offline.

To help you to make this decision it is also important to decide if you want to manage the relationship with your customers in-house or if you are confident in briefing an agency to manage this for you. If you choose to go external, it is important to establish a tone of voice and brand personality on social media so that there are no discrepancies between your in-house team and external agency. It may also be beneficial to work out a schedule of when each party will cover the management of your social media platforms. This will ensure that you always have someone who can respond to your customer queries.

The conversations you have with your customers on social media are very visible to the public; therefore transparency is important to show that you can interact with your customers in a meaningful way. As your responses are visible, this could also lead to fewer questions and complaints as customers will be able to see if their queries have already been answered.


To provide your customers with a clear and consistent message, from both your in-house team collectively or via an agency, it is important to have documentation on your response protocols. Often, a simple workflow with various scenarios and situations with detailed responses can help to give clarity when dealing with complaints or a crisis situation. This documentation should also include estimated response times, how to escalate a query, standard responses to queries (including tone of voice) and how to move a conversation offline when necessary. Providing clear guidelines, allows both your in-house team and/or agency to deliver the same level of service.

Depending on your industry, you may also want to provide a detailed background behind why you will or won’t respond to certain messages. Whether you choose to manage your social media in-house, externally or as a combination of both, this provides unity and clarification for both parties which in turn will create a unified message for customers.

So whether you are looking to start exploring the use of social media for customer service or have a well-established presence, it is important to assess whether you have the time, resources and knowledge to execute your customer service on social media in-house, externally or through a combination of both.

Short of time?

Five things you should consider when assessing whether to conduct your customer service on social media in-house, externally or through a combination of both:

  1. How labour intensive are your customer service needs? People expect a 24/7 service and quick responses. Can you meet this demand internally?
  2. Do you have a team of people that can manage this effectively? Do you have the scale and expertise in-house?
  3. Do you have the documentation to provide to an agency? (Including; crisis management, response times, escalations, out of hours management)
  4. Can an agency access your internal documents, information and customer data?
  5. What are you using your social media channels for? Do you need separate channels for customer service?

By Hannah Bland

Member of the DMA Social Media Council and Digital Marketing Executive at Aviva Investors


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