Social media has been getting a lot of good press lately.

Social makes it easier to connect with friends, colleagues, and families. It is fun, engaging, and collaborative. Ideas spread to different communities across the globe.

Today, customers are turning to social networks to find answers by asking other customers about their experiences. Social networking is slowly making inroads in the world of business, turning into a collaborative tool. Many small and medium businesses are benefiting from its ability to drive customer engagement because it can finally create a “more personal” dialogue with influencers and end users. Even as socializing on the web grows, some small companies are still figuring out its value in winning and keeping customers.

The good news is that marketers are discovering its importance in building a better customer service. The latest study released by independent research firm Forrester Research Inc. shows that 27% of web shoppers use online communities like consumer forums to ask questions about a certain brand or product. Online communities are great places for small businesses and retailers to share their views, and promote their products without the big advertising budgets. Despite its meteoric rise in the online world, findings show that social media is still behind the most established platforms. It reveals that telephone and live chat – services usually provided by a call center – are still the most effective channels in terms of usage and level of customer satisfaction. Twitter, a popular social media web site that allows users to send messages in 140 characters (usually called ‘tweets’), is establishing strong reputation for handling customer concerns.

The same study says that customers are depending more on Twitter and call center live chat than they were 2 years ago.

Here is how the study gathered findings from US-based consumers about finding customer service in 2011: Telephone 68%

FAQs 60%

E-mail 54%

Live chat 37%

Click-to-call 27%

Online forums 27%

Simultaneous screen viewing by consumer and customer service agent 25%

Virtual agent 24%

Mobile text message 20%

Twitter 19%

Here are percentages of the study about US-based customers saying they were happy with each customer service channel. These were from their experiences before Forrester’s study in October 2011:

Telephone 64%

Live chat 62%

Simultaneous screen viewing by consumer and customer service agent 59%

E-mail 58%

Click-to-call 57%

Online community 55%

Virtual agent 53%

Mobile text message 20%

Twitter 55%

FAQs 51%

When used strategically with the rest of the communication channels, social media can bring value to both small businesses and their customers. Ultimately, it complements the use of call center services, whether through phone to handle orders or chatting while taking the e-commerce checkout route – to serve customers effectively.

Ask for free quote from Magellan Solutions to find out more about how social media can benefit your business. Follow us on Twitter and Google+.

Source: Forrester Research Inc.