What is “social customer service”?
Clarabridge describes it as “… the act of providing customer support through social media channels.
Many companies now use social media to augment their call-based customer support activities. These include addressing complaints, answering questions, providing guidance and even issuing refunds via social channels.”
With social media often being a customer’s first port of call when complaining, it would be totally remiss of any company not to make sure it’s well-manned by a team of people able to respond in a timely and effective manner.
Get it right and social customer service can reap huge benefits. You just have to look at Starbucks’ social media channels to see great social customer service in action.
Get it wrong and you could be the next Pigalle. You’ll have to click on the link to read that one, we’re too embarrassed for the company to put it on our pages.
So how do companies make social customer service work for their brands? Well, we’re glad you asked…
Don’t – Overlook Your Strategy
“Fools rush in,” so the song goes. Social media communications without a robust, customer-centric strategy are a ticking time-bomb of cringe-inducing gaffs wrapped up in a PR disaster. Make sure your name isn’t on that fuse.
Every social customer is a potential advocate and if you’re not sure what customer advocacy is, Trustpilot describes it as “a state of marketing where customers are the spokespeople for your brand. It takes place when you have customers that love your brand so much that they are willing to sing your praises to everyone.
This is an excellent way for businesses to leverage their most passionate customers to increase brand awareness, sales, and your bottom line. Today, customer advocacy is becoming very popular due to today’s intensely competitive world and need for differentiation.
Customer advocates are more than just brand ambassadors or loyal customers. They are the lifeblood of your business. Unlike influencers, customer advocates are your everyday customers, who are much more relatable. Customer advocacy can be a game-changer for businesses.
Note their use of the phrase, GAME-CHANGER! That’s exactly what it is and should be at the forefront of every business’s mind when it comes to social customer service.
However – that doesn’t mean you have to ask them to get your logo tattooed on their head.
Before you start off, mastermind a plan that aligns the needs and goals of your business with those of your customer and wider audience. Social media moves fast and there are plenty of tools available, free and subscription, which help you keep up. Company size, operational scope and audience types will determine what tools are required. Workflow process support will benefit brands managing high volumes of customer feedback and every account should be monitored for mentions, DMs, retweets etc. That’s just the start. There’s a world of analytical platforms out there; try a few for size. Remember to integrate these tools with your CRM and any other customer service databases or you’ll miss valuable insights and opportunities to further engage with communities.
Social media isn’t fast, it can also be furious. So….
Do – Be Prepared For A Crisis
It doesn’t matter if your brand is a garden accessories supplier or a data-pilfering, search giant, escalation and crisis management must form an integral foothold in your social customer service strategy. Taking a heated conversation offline can prove difficult when tempers are frayed and, in any case, this is an opportunity to demonstrate your customer relationship nous.
Who needs to be involved in coordinating a response; legal, PR, others? How will you get to the bottom of what has happened, remembering there are myriad sides to every story? Time is of the essence, as is an honest, non-defensive approach. How will you move the situation forward without hurrying the customer, before it amplifies further? Make sure you’re truly listening to the customer’s issue and needs before articulating a response. Treat each customer as an individual and learn how to apologise with grace. A digital tone differs greatly from a physical voice.
There are no easy answers to the above and certainly no “one-size-fits-all”. But if and when the proverbial hits the fan, you’ll feel 100 times better knowing a remedial strategy is in place.
Do – Be Available 24/7
Social media is like New York, it never sleeps. The human Richter scale of exasperation hits its zenith about 4.5 minutes into waiting for a complaint or query to be answered. Social platforms offer the nifty, real-time ability to snap up these missives and show your customer they have your ear and that you’re working towards a swift and satisfactory resolution. If your operations simply cannot stretch to round–the–clock cover, consider engaging an outsourced partner or, at the very least, clearly state your contactable hours and estimated times for response – and then stick to them. It sounds obvious, but make sure you are available on the platforms that your customers use and that your brand’s activity is appropriate. Not all platforms are created equal.
Do – Choose The Right People
Your social customers are likely to engage with your brand on multiple platforms, including that old-fashioned way – in the flesh. It’s important that your social staff have the same positive attributes your customers benefit from in a physical setting; personable, intuitive, empathic, helpful and professional. However, not every customer service employee is a natural with social media for business purposes; and that is the key here – natural. Using social in a personal sphere is wildly different from a professional environment.
Once you’ve got the right people in place, make sure they have an in-depth understanding of your procedures and protocols, and that all-important tone of voice (more on that next). The right people will understand the impact, both positive and negative, that social can have on your business and the importance of each team member’s role in protecting and enhancing your brand. Document all FAQ/standardised responses, highlighting the need for personalisation, and workshop any unusual queries or interactions to make sure you represent a united, professional front.
Don’t – Lose Your Voice
Tone of voice is vital in social media customer service, as it is across all your business collateral. Develop comprehensive brand guidelines including a style guide to foster consistency and authenticity. There’s still plenty of room for individual personality in your team’s communications – we’re not getting Stepford Social here. Social media interactions by brands such as First Great Western are signed off with the agent’s first name, which a cynic might see as an attempt to humanise the employee and thereby diffuse inundating rage. Either way, people need and respond to people and the less they see you as a faceless form adrift in the ether and more a person trying to help, the better off you’ll be.
Do – Appreciate The Long Game
A customer requesting an order update or commenting on a new service improvement is also a potential advocate or ambassador. That doesn’t mean you have to get creepy asking them to get your logo written across their head (but if you did, we found someone on Fiverr who will do just that…)
Just be aware of the natural cycle advocacy takes when a customer is delighted with the customer service they receive. If they’ve said something nice about your brand, use it in your marketing collateral. Retweet it, engage with the person, invite them to subscribe to your newsletter or attend your event. You can even solicit feedback on new products or services from your community using polls or surveys; your ‘ROI-ometer’ gauge just hit the roof, take the rest of the day off!
Review your engagement data on a regular basis; what elements of your service/products got people talking most and what were their high and low points. Are they discussing benefits or features, or both? How does that compare with your competitors’ engagement? Be sure to consider both market-level and brand-level data.
Like any part of your business strategy, social media customer service requires forethought, knowledge, dedication and the right team. It can be a game of two halves and you’ll probably be able to tell how well you’re performing as your community won’t hesitate to let you know! All said and done, social customer service is simply a more amplified and public version of your traditional provision. Learn how to perform well in the spotlight and you’ll be just fine and if you would like one of our experts to help put a social customer service strategy in place for you, we’re right here.