As brands continue to expand their social media presence, so does the need to provide customer service through these channels. Read on to learn five best practices for offering customer service via social media.
Many small business owners think of social media as an extension of their marketing arm, leveraging these channels to offer discounts and announce company news. But as the popularity of social media continues to grow, so does the demand for customer service directly through social interactions. In fact, 80% of companies already plan to use social media for customer service, whereas 62% of consumers have already utilized social media to ask customer service questions.
While some may cringe at the idea of offering customer service in a public setting, social media provides a unique opportunity to build connections with both current and prospective customers. Furthermore, engaging with customers via social media can provide new insights into your business, including potential areas where you can improve your product offering.
Beyond the benefits that quality customer service through social media can provide, the need to assist customers on Facebook, Twitter and beyond is becoming inevitable – naturally, when customers are given the opportunity to interact with brands, there will be an increase in customer service requests.
Whether you’re just beginning to offer customer service via social, or are looking to make improvements, keep these five fundamental ideas in mind, especially if you’re a small business:
1. List hours of operation
Unlike megabrands who can afford big teams and large-scale social media management tools, your small business likely doesn’t have the resources to offer 24×7 monitoring or support to your brand pages. This means that you’ll need to set expectations with your social community by explicitly listing hours of operation on your pages.
For example, you can mention that “This page is monitored from 8am-6pm Central” in your Twitter bio and/or background, while including this callout within the “About” section of your Facebook page or on any other Welcome tabs that you might have. While this won’t prevent users from asking customer service questions during off-hours, at least customers won’t expect an immediate response.
2. Learn to take conversations offline
One of the worst things that can happen is when a customer service inquiry turns into a customer service rant, especially on Facebook. Not only does this take up valuable real estate on your page, it can also become a public forum for other customers to express their less-than-positive experiences with your brand. This makes the idea of “taking the conversation offline” an important tool in your customer service belt.
For example, if a customer has a question that’s specific to their account, try directing them to send a private message, email you at a specific address or call your customer service line for additional information. Beyond taking the customer service inquiry out of a public arena, you’ll also minimize the risk of customers oversharing sensitive information via social.
3. Be responsive
Believe it or not, a study by A.T. Kearney found that, of the top 50 brands, 56% didn’t respond to any customer comments on their Facebook page in 2011. This statistic is particularly out of sync with customer expectations, as another study indicates that 55% of consumers expect a same-day response to an online complaint. In other words, ignoring customer comments simply isn’t an option once you decide to begin offering customer service through social media.
To be truly responsive, the first step is to actively monitor conversations about your brand. If you can’t afford a social media monitoring tool (or if your social presence isn’t large enough to merit one), take advantage of free tools, such as HootSuite or TweetDeck for Twitter. You can also set up your Facebook page to send emails directly to your inbox when someone comments or posts on your timeline.
Once you have your monitoring system in place, it’s time to start responding. Best practices tell us that the more quickly we can respond to customer comments/complaints, the better, but from a practical standpoint, you’ll have to find that sweet spot between monitoring your social channels like a hawk and performing other business activities like processing orders, inventory, etc.
4. Have an internal communications plan
If you’re truly going to incorporate social media into your customer service model, it’s essential to have a plan to escalate and communicate social media complaints within your internal team. In other words, what process does your organization have from the time a customer service inquiry is made to responding to the comment?
To get started with your plan, sit down with key stakeholders, including your front-line customer service representatives and your marketing team. Plan out a clear communication path, identifying which person is responsible for each stage of the process. Once that’s completed, make sure that everyone is in agreement with the policy, and that each member of the team has a copy of the plan for their reference.
One word of caution: don’t get too bogged down in the process – one critical element of customer service via social media is to ensure that responses are timely, so try to keep your internal communications plan as agile as possible.
5. Embrace the nature of social media
I’ll tell you this from experience – with social media, you never know what to expect, and that’s perfectly okay. In order to provide quality customer service through social, you’ll need to shift your mindset to accept the unknown while thinking on your feet.
Another thing to remember is that everything published on social media is fair game for journalists and bloggers. This means that you’ll need to keep your PR hat on when responding to customer service issues, ensuring that everything you say on social is brand-appropriate and won’t get you in trouble later.
Finally, it’s important to develop a thick skin – part of having a social presence is knowing that there will be people who come to your profiles with the intention of blasting you. This can be upsetting at first, but you’ll quickly learn to decipher between those who have a legitimate issue and those who are just looking to vent. Keep your head up and you’ll be on the fast track to success.
Opening your brand to social media is an invitation for customers to interact with you, so welcome the opportunity to build these connections. Offering assistance through your social profiles is a great chance to increase customer loyalty, so don’t be afraid of extending yourself a bit further than you have in the past – as you continue to improve your customer service efforts via social, you’ll see the benefits to your brand and overall business.
-Matt Winn, Volusion