Social media has become the frontline for customer service. According to a 2012 study, nearly half of American consumers used social media to ask questions, report satisfaction, or complain to a business. One-third of social media users preferred “social care” to the phone.
Whether you’re prepared for it or not, your customers are using social media to discuss your business and its products. While this can seem overwhelming, it is an exciting opportunity to reach customers and potential customers directly.
We asked experts in many industries about their experiences with providing customer support through social media. Read on to see what works for them and what recommendations they have for your social media efforts.
Tip #1: Think Conversation, Not Conversions
Leave the corporate jargon for internal memos and the sales targets for the sales team. On social media, use a friendly tone that will encourage conversations with your customers.
“Social media for us is about conversation, not conversions,” says Bailey Palazuelos of New Western. “We gain customer loyalty when we make an effort to communicate directly. Twitter and Facebook allow us to be friendly and post things that engage our customers, not just generate content that is informative or sales-like.”
James Nuttall of Roman Blinds Direct adds, “The businesses who have got it right so far, seem to be taking really natural, casual approaches to helping people over social media,” striking a “great, genuine tone with customers.”
Tip #2: Prepare Your Employees
Don’t leave your social media team out to dry. Prepare them to respond to customer service queries by putting the appropriate messages and systems in place.
“It will take time to develop these messages for every situation, but they are invaluable,” asserts Cortney Hickey of lookthinkmake. “When it comes time to respond, employees will feel confident knowing they can handle the situation and respond appropriately.”
Sometimes it’s best to get the customer service team directly involved. “[Our] strategy is to get them in touch with our main customer service team ASAP, because they’re best placed to track down and resolve issues with their existing systems,” Nutall says.
Think about who will respond to social media comments and how. Will they need input from the customer service team or from managers? How should they respond to complaints? What happens if a team member missteps on social media? Develop contingency plans and make sure your team knows what to do.
Tip #3: Embrace the Haters
It can be difficult responding to complaints, but it’s necessary.
“The mindset to ‘pick and choose’ when to respond to ‘haters’ or criticism is a mistake many businesses make,” says Jay Baer of Convince & Convert, whose upcoming book Hug Your Haters is centered around research as to how and why people complain. “Social media platforms have turned customer service into a spectator’s [sic] sport where 33% of of issues go unanswered. Differentiate your business and respond to every customer – the complainer or ‘hater’ is not your problem, ignoring him or her is.”
Ellen Cagnassola of Sweet Soaps goes further, saying it’s more important to address negative comments than positive ones. “Reaching out and directly asking how you can turn around a problem shows you care and can turn a detractor into a brand ambassador.”
“People want their complaint heard and acknowledged.” Respond to their complaints honestly, without canned answers, which feel dismissive to the complainant, according to Lauren Maiman of the Midnight Oil Group.
Tip #4: Listen to What Your Audience Wants
Smart companies use social media to learn what their customers want.
“Customers are tweeting at companies with suggestions, ideas, complaints, pictures and reviews. All this user generated data can be analyzed for business development,” points out Max Cron of Online Optimism.
Incorporate feedback from your social media team into your business planning and operations. If your social media team receives the same question over and over again about a certain product’s specs, add those details on the product page. If there’s a particular feature people always rave about on Twitter, add that feature to other product lines.
“I have used Twitter for crowdsourcing product ideas that became #1 sellers,” says Cagnassola. “Remember people are watching you and if you impress you will quickly gain new customers, especially millennials.”
Tip #5: Offer Support All the Time
You wouldn’t ignore a customer who had walked into your store, would you? Similarly, you can’t ignore someone who has reached out on social media. Prompt response times on social media are absolutely essential. A slow response time can lead to a huge PR disaster.
As Maiman puts it, “To get a customer engaged and then leave them hanging is not only poor social media etiquette, it can surely leave a bad taste in a customer’s mouth (who might’ve been quite happy prior to that online experience). Again, imagine you are running a sale on an item and are heavily advertising that sale, but the second someone walks into your store, there isn’t a soul in sight to help the customer purchase the item. It doesn’t make much sense, right? Same with social media – don’t put a message out there that you can’t follow up on.”
Cron agrees. “… respond to everything. Every review and every comment should be addressed, to show your customers that you care about their insight, compliments, questions, or concerns. 90% of customers say that their buying decisions are influenced by online reviews. That is a number that businesses can’t afford to ignore.”
People notice whether you respond to social media queries, and it affects the perception of your brand. For that reason, it’s important to respond even to those who aren’t your customers.
“Our Facebook page often receives requests for service from other international customers. We service them as best we can, even though they are often the customers of other distributors,” says Christina Chambers of Chanson Water USA. “In this age of transparency, it feels right to assist anyone and everyone via Social [sic] media, even when they’re not our customers.”
With a bit of planning and a skilled social media team, it’s easy to provide timely, honest and conversational responses to customer service queries on social media. Doing so will work wonders for your brand.
As Marine Dumontier of Igloo Software says, you can be absent, reactive or proactive on social media. With these tips, you can adopt a proactive approach which will go a long way in making sure your customers and soon-to-be customers will love your business – and tell others about it online.
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By Matt Walker, CEO and Founder of Main Path, Inc.