Repeat customers are the lifeblood of any business, and good customer service is necessary to keep as many consumers coming back as possible. This means offering as many convenient options for customer service as possible. Many consumers use social media to ask questions of retailers. New research from around the world shows the challenges business owners have in using social media for customer service.

After years of seeing growing numbers of consumers using social media for customer service, recent data suggests that consumers are less than satisfied with the level of customer service they receive when they try to connect with brands through social media.

According to the 2016 Consumer Experience report released by NICE Systems and the Boston Consulting Group (BCG), customer service through social media has declined over the past few years. Their multinational survey of more than 1,700 adults showed that consumers going to social media channels to resolve customer service issues more than doubled between 2011 and 2013, the totals have declined in the years since.

The number of survey respondents who do not use social media rose from 58 percent in 2013 to 65 percent in 2015. While some of this is due to the nature of social media and the types of queries people want to ask, but a part of the issue is businesses not paying enough attention to their social channels.

Of the two out of three consumers in the survey 2015 who didn't use social media for customer service, they gave multiple reasons for the drop in social media use. A third (33 percent) commented that it takes too long to use social media. A similar portion (32 percent) cited the limited functionality of social channels and 30 percent said it isn't feasible for complex tasks.

"This year's survey serves as further proof that customer service is becoming more complex and more critical for a company's success," said Tom Dziersk, President NICE Americas, according to media reports. "When an organization can create a perfect experience, there are many dividends, and as the report's findings make clear, ample room for improvement creates many opportunities for businesses to set themselves apart."

While it may be challenging to handle complex customer service issues through social media, social marketers can make their networks inviting by offering quick response times. This helps even in situation where customers have to be referred to other customer services channels. The fact that social media can be (and is often) a faster channel for response was confirmed by another recent study.

Researchers with The Eptica Multichannel Customer Service Experience Study found that the average wait-time for consumers to get an emailed response was just over 34 hours. Oddly enough, the researchers also found that only about two-thirds of businesses offer email support to non-customers.

Combined, these factors give advantages to social media. First, non-customers can send messages to a brand on social media. Since these posts and messages are often public, businesses have an incentive to be attentive to all consumers who send requests via social media.

Additionally, social media wait times are much lower than email marketing and in fact getting lower. The Eptica researchers found that on Twitter wait times went from from 5 hours 27 minutes (2015) to just over 4 hours.

While there are some challenges to using social media for customer service, these studies provide evidence that there's still use in social media, so long as brands respond quickly to queries and comments.

Check out this article for more news on how social media can help with customer service.