Social media has revolutionized the world of communication and commerce. It is increasingly used by billions of people around the globe to interact with each other, access information, and recommend products and services. It is now a common practice for companies and organizations to use social media to not only market products and services, but also to build relationships and exchange feedback with customers.
Customers are increasingly turning to the U.S. Postal Service’s social media platforms — including Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram — to contact the Postal Service. Customers might use social media to comment on a particular retail experience or to seek Postal Service responses to complaints, questions, or other information.
The Corporate Communications group oversees the Postal Service’s social media strategy, including monitoring customers’ postings to its social media platforms at the Social Media Operations Center (SMOC). SMOC staff members respond to select inquiries made through the Postal Service’s Facebook and Twitter accounts Monday-Friday from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. EST. Collectively, these accounts received over 390,000 posts in fiscal year (FY) 2016.
A variety of research has been conducted identifying leading practices for responding to customer inquiries over social media. This research highlights that social media users expect responses to all of their Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram posts within one hour, seven days a week. Social media research also suggests that leading organizations are striving toward an “omnichannel” customer service approach — one that integrates customer interactions across various channels such as voice, email, text, internet, mobile, and social media — to provide a consistent customer experience.
Our objective was to determine how effectively the Postal Service responds to customer inquiries that are submitted through social media.
What the OIG Found
The Postal Service did not effectively respond to customer inquiries submitted through social media. First, the Postal Service did not respond to all actionable customer inquiries. For example, the Postal Service:
- Did not consistently respond to Facebook inquiries.
- Did not respond to inquiries on Instagram.
- Closed 23 percent of actionable Facebook and Twitter inquiries as not actionable.
- Automatically “flushed” (i.e., deleted) Facebook and Twitter posts from the SMOC response dashboard prior to being reviewed by an agent within 48 hours. Thirty-five percent of posts in the SMOC were flushed in FY 2016 and 68 percent were flushed on December 23, 2016 — one of the busiest mailing days of the holiday season.
Second, when the Postal Service did respond, it did not do so in a timely manner — taking 16 hours on average to respond to customers’ initial posts. Only 43 percent of responses occurred within the Postal Service’s 6 hour target.
In August 2013, we reported concerns about the Postal Service’s use of social media, recommending areas of improvement like enhancing customer engagement, identifying subject matter experts, linking social media sites for easier navigation, sharing analytical reports, and evaluating how social media can be used within a comprehensive customer care program.
While the Postal Service did take some corrective action, we are concerned about the lack of sufficient progress aligning the SMOC response operations with those of the customer care program — a separate organization that handles the majority of telephone or website customer inquiries.
We found that coordination between these groups remains problematic. Staff do not share information due to the continued segmentation of their responsibilities — shortcomings that hamper efforts to move to an integrated customer service platform advocated by many leading organizations.
Management attributed the lack of responsiveness to the program still being in an informal pilot phase and related shortcomings in resources and staff. Nevertheless, the current approach and performance conflict with leading industry practices and consumer expectations. In addition, the Postal Service’s continued inability to effectively respond to social media inquiries could create frustrating experiences for customers, increase customer complaints and customer care costs, and ultimately harm the Postal Service’s brand and revenue.
What the OIG Recommended
We recommended management develop immediate strategies to address resources and staffing shortfalls to respond to all actionable customer inquiries posted on Postal Service hosted social media platforms within the Postal Service’s six-hour target; and enhance the coordination between the SMOC and customer care program.