When was the last time you checked in with your customer care department? American businesses lose $41bn every year to poor customer service. And if you think your company is all good, there’s a reasonable chance you’re mistaken: while 80% of businesses believe that they are offering superior customer service, a mere 8% of customers agree.
These would’ve been tough enough figures to deal with a couple of decades ago, but today the reach of the internet means that bad customer service becomes bad word of mouth – or even worse, it becomes a viral sensation before your customer care rep even turns up for work in the morning. One third of social media users will contact your business using social media first; they expect to be dealt with quickly, and they are aware of the vocal power they can wield online if things don’t go their way.
The flipside of this is that social media becomes a great opportunity for free publicity. Deal with a complaint well, own your mistakes and stay on-brand, and you can come out of such a situation stronger. While it’s not quite true to suggest that all publicity is good publicity, you can at least see each mention as an opportunity to improve.
If your business is still making the transition from in-person to online customer service, a constructive step to take is to get hooked up with a social media management tool, such as Sprout Social. The makers of services like this are aware that businesses of all different sizes are today trying to cope with the unpredictable flow of social media traffic that is generated by interest in their products.
Sprout Social, for example, offers different levels of service dependent on your budget – ranging from $59 to $1500 per month. They can help you to prioritize complaints, enquiries and other messages as they come in – which is important, as online customers expect a response, even if it’s just an acknowledgement, pretty quickly. Remarkably, 70% of complaints made via Twitter go unanswered: how many of these are missed by overrun customer care departments and how many are ignored by complacent business owners, we don’t know.
The switch to online customer care should not mean that your interactions with customers are any less human. Just as a store rep would have a name badge or a helpline operative would introduce themselves by name, it’s good practice to get your social media operatives using their first name (or at least a consistent pseudonym) and to address the customer by name where given. It’s easy for individuals at either end of the discussion to forget that they’re interacting with a person rather than a robot. Using a customer’s name reassures them they’re being dealt with as an individual.
It can be advisable to try to guide a public online conversation into the private sphere if it involves personal details or it looks like it is not going to get resolved any time soon. It’s great if a broader social media audience are able to witness the satisfactory outcome of a customer complaint, but a heated public discussion is not good publicity.
Remember that the person who’s making the complaint might not be familiar with the usability or the etiquette of their primary or subsequent mode of communication. Your customer care operative should try to remain clear and open throughout the exchange.
When the situation is resolved successfully, try to find a way to share the outcome publically, for example retweeting the customer’s final ‘thank you’ tweet. Again, if some of the transaction has occurred in private – over email or telephone, for example – details that were exchanged should remain private.
It’s important to remember that social media customer care is not all about waiting for and dealing with complaints. Your business should be proactively monitoring the online conversation by searching for and sharing positive mentions, and seeking out ‘sub-tweet’ style complaints in which a customer expresses dissatisfaction without contacting you directly.
Be careful not to be too intrusive or to overdo the sharing of positive feedback, but be aware it exists. Again, Sprout Social, or an app such as Hootsuite, can be used to set up saved searches to tip you off when people are talking about your brand.
Social media can also be about pre-empting problems and complaints and cultivating an atmosphere of openness and accessibility. If you find you’re repeatedly coming up against the same complaint or misunderstanding, address it in the FAQ section of your website. You might want to share this FAQ section via Facebook and Twitter from time to time.
You can also create a culture around your business by blogging about areas that people might otherwise struggle with. If there is an aspect of your service that you are particularly proud of, share a few words about how and why you designed it, with ideas on how it might be used. If you’re short of topics to write on, don’t be shy about raving on someone else’s product if it’s something you like. There’s plenty of business to go around. Suggest how your product or service and that of another company might be used together for an unusual outcome.
These days, your customer base is also your audience: keep them updated with what it is you do, and their expectations are less likely to be disappointed when they next pay up.
And finally, a word on trolls: don’t feed them! Unfortunately, a small minority of social media users seem to go online primarily to provoke arguments and controversy. If someone is badmouthing your business online, try to deal with them diplomatically. If they refuse to enter into rational conversation or they keep changing the subject, chances are the only thing that will satisfy them is to see you blow your top. Don’t let it happen.
A new infographic from Headway Capital provides everything you need to know to make the transition to a culture of online social media customer care. Get familiar with it, share it with your customer care team, and start forging those new relationships. No business today can afford to ignore the power of online customer care.
A Guide to Social Media Customer Care [infographic]
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