How eBay uses Social Customer Service

We recently hosted a fascinating webinar on Monitoring for Social Customer Service. Joining us on the panel was Ronan Gillen, who heads up Complaints, Community and Social Customer...

We recently hosted a fascinating webinar on Monitoring for Social Customer Service. Joining us on the panel was Ronan Gillen, who heads up Complaints, Community and Social Customer Service for eBay in Europe.

Ronan shared some fascinating insights into why eBay feel social customer service is so important and some of the challenges they have faced.


eBay has been offering social customer service in Europe since mid-2011. The company had been using social networks as a marketing platform for some time before then, but came to realise that staff from Marketing were not always the right people to respond to a lot of the queries they were receiving. Often they would require specific knowledge about company policies and processes, or they would need client data that they didn’t have access to. The result was that many conversations were being missed.

The company took the approach that wherever customers were having conversations or required assistance, eBay should be there to help. This resulted in an interesting evolution. Ronan and his team were once there to support Marketing, but now they have a specific channel dedicated to helping customers resolve their problems – @askebay.

This was not the only goal. eBay soon realised that monitoring social conversations helped to highlight problems that would otherwise have gone unnoticed or taken longer to identify. As well as resolving customer’s problems, social media helped eBay to prevent these problems happening to other customers in the future.


The process

When looking at how eBay organises it’s social media team and processes, the thing Ronan was most keen to emphasise was the importance of empowering the people on the front line. You must trust them and allow them the flexibility to make their own judgements.

Another essential element is making sure that all the staff know each other well and interact on a daily basis. This does not only apply to Customer Services, or to Marketing and PR, but to everyone involved in social from all parts of the business. The relationship between different departments is essential and to foster this they should have regular face-to-face contact.

As far as social media monitoring tools are concerned, there are a few essential features you need to have in place. Leon Chaddock (CEO of Sentiment Metrics) explained the importance of being able to see the full conversation history and any previous conversations you’ve had with that user – something his team works with some of he UK’s leading brands to deliver. It’s also essential to manage social media engagement within a team environment, so that as soon as a team member clicks on a tweet, everyone else is locked out, thus avoiding duplication. Your monitoring tool should show you exactly who has dealt with each mention and any tags that have been added.

Another consideration is how you will handle spikes in activity. You can never know when a spike will happen, but you need to be equipped to deal with them all-the-same. Obviously, you cannot plough unlimited resources into this and have staff sitting around waiting for a social media crisis to occur, but you can offer training to staff in other departments who are able to get online and start responding. Famously, UK mobile operator, O2 have hundreds of staff from all across the business that they can call on and eBay has adopted a similar approach, training up staff from outside the core team who can cover holidays, sick-leave or help when there are unusually large numbers of mentions.


Customer expectations

It seems that eBay’s customers have very high expectations. Generally, they expect a response to social media enquiries in an hour or less. Although it’s not always possible to resolve their issues in such a short period of time, it’s important to make contact and let the customer know you’ve heard them and you’re working to resolve their problem. It shows you care and the customer will greatly appreciate it.

Another potential problem with social customer service is that customers who mention you aren’t always looking for or expecting help. Sometimes they just need to get their frustrations out in the open. Whilst there have been times when users were somewhat surprised to see eBay stepping in and responding to them, most the time they are delighted to see that the company is actually listening.

Whether or not to engage with a user who isn’t directly asking for help is a delicate decision. As Leon pointed out, you wouldn’t butt into someone else’s conversation in the pub, so take care if you intend to do it on social media. There’s no magic formula here, but eBay is happy to let their staff make a personal judgement.



A point of contention is whether or not you should prioritise responding to influential people. Social media analysis enables a brand to prioritise a complaint from someone with half a million Twitter followers over someone with ten, but for a major brand, there’s something deeply unsettling about doing that.  According to Ronan, eBay prioritise enquiries by how serious the problem is. Urgent enquiries are dealt with as quickly as possible, regardless of how “influential” the user is thought to be. He did, though, concede that the value of the customer to ebay might play a part in who responds to them and how.

He also suggested another use for ‘influencers’. When there’s a widespread problem and lots of users are struggling with the same issue, influencers can help to get messages and updates out to the wider community more quickly. Under these circumstances, eBay have found it worthwhile contacting influencers first.


There’s no doubt that Social Customer Service is a challenge and no brand should dive in unprepared, but by having the right team, strategy, tools and attitude in place eBay have found it a valuable way of maintaining relationships and improving the customer experience.

You can listen to the full recording of the webinar here and join future webinars by visiting our events page. We also urge you to attend our unique, a 1-day training course on Social Customer Service in London on 12th March. Again, booking details are on our events page.

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  1. Avatar

    David Newton-Dines Reply

    eBay & Customer Service. An hilarious oxymoron if ever there was one…

  2. Avatar

    David Newton-Dines Reply

    eBay & Customer Service. An hilarious oxymoron if ever there was one…