Open Voice or Private Message? The Hidden Tug-of-War on Social Media Customer Service

Forthcoming in Production and Operations Management

42 Pages Posted: 17 Dec 2021 Last revised: 1 May 2023

See all articles by Shu He

Shu He

University of Florida - Information Systems and Operations Management

Shun-Yang Lee

Northeastern University - Marketing Area

Huaxia Rui

University of Rochester - Simon Business School

Date Written: September 7, 2021

Abstract

Firms use social media as a great marketing tool and a convenient platform to deliver customer service. However, due to its public and social nature, social media tends to amplify a brand’s successes as well as failures. Reluctant to subject their customer service to public scrutiny, firms are increasingly turning to private messaging on their social media channels for customer service conversations, which amounts to a reincarnation of traditional customer service in the social media era. Nonetheless, whether customers are willing to relinquish their newfound power is unclear. In this paper, we analyze a natural experiment where the inconvenience of the private channel with the treated firm is suddenly eliminated, and we find evidence that customers prefer to complain through the public channel. A randomized survey experiment further confirms this insight. Overall, firms’ and customers’ diverging preferences toward public or private channel reveal a hidden tug-of-war between the traditional mode of customer service featuring firm control and the recently emerged mode of customer service featuring shared control. These findings have important implications for firms’ customer service operations.

Keywords: social media, customer service, communication channel, complaint, natural experiment

Suggested Citation

He, Shu and Lee, Shun-Yang and Rui, Huaxia, Open Voice or Private Message? The Hidden Tug-of-War on Social Media Customer Service (September 7, 2021). Forthcoming in Production and Operations Management, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3951591 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3951591

Shu He (Contact Author)

University of Florida - Information Systems and Operations Management ( email )

Warrington College of Business
ISOM Department STZ
Gainesville, FL 32611-7169
United States

Shun-Yang Lee

Northeastern University - Marketing Area ( email )

Boston, MA 02115
United States

Huaxia Rui

University of Rochester - Simon Business School ( email )

Rochester, NY 14627
United States

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