India warms to social media for customer service

Four in 10 Indian consumers use social media for customer service but phone calls still preferred method for problem resolution, new report reveals.

Customers in India are warming to the use of social media for customer service, with the proportion that have received service through this channel, more than triple that in the United States and the United Kingdom, a new study has indicated.

In a Wednesday statement, Ovum reported that nearly four in 10 Indian consumers use social media for customer service. In comparison, only 12 percent of consumers in the United States and United Kingdom have done so. The survey findings were published in an Ovum report titled "Consumer Preferences in Customer Service: India".

Ian Jacobs, Ovum analyst and author of the report, attributed the usage pattern to the lack of alternative online communication channels in India. "Many Web-based channels, such as e-mail or Web chat, depend on businesses providing a route to a specialist customer service organization. Social media has no such dependencies therefore any consumer with an Internet connection can use it," he explained.

In addition, companies in markets such as U.S. and U.K. often support many Web-based channels for customer service, Jacobs noted. Social media is "just one route to customer service among dozens", he said.

According to Ovum, a majority of Indian consumers who had used social media as a customer service channel promoted the services they have received, while a 44 percent of them used social media to complain about bad service or faulty product.

Although Indian customers are receptive to being served via social media, Ovum found that they still consider a telephone conversation with a customer service representative the best method to solve a problem at the first try. The survey revealed that Indian consumers who are more tech-savvy view social media as a viable alternative to the telephone.

Mobile phones are the preferred method for contacting customer service in India, which Ovum said is "no surprise" due to the proliferation of such devices in the market.

However, smartphone adoption is still slow--only 16 percent of users use such devices to contact customer service, said the analyst firm.

In an April report, AMI-Partners predicted that the rollout of 3G will spur smartphone adoption in India. The Indian government finalized the auction of the country's 3G spectrum in mid-2010. Smartphone users in the country typically do not use the data services on their smartphones due to insufficient data bandwidth, AMI-Partners said.

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