It seems like ages ago: When you needed customer service, the phone was the only way to reach a company quickly. Today, leading brands respond to questions, requests, and complaints on social media channels like Twitter and Facebook. Many of us turn to social media for customer service; some even consider it the best avenue for getting problems resolved.
Now, with service orgs struggling to transition to work from home and people using social more during the pandemic crisis, this trend is bound to grow. Reports indicate that people are spending more time on social media platforms in the past few months as they seek out communication while holed up at home.
Combine increased social media usage with the fact that people need customer service more than ever, and it’s clear that companies need to make social media customer service a priority.
Given the sprawling nature of social media with all its channels and 24×7 operation, this can seem daunting. Here are some best practices to ensure that your social media customer service strategy is effective. Your customers get what they need, and your brand shines.
Social media customer service: Best practices to foster loyalty and growth
- Find your customers
The first step is to learn what social sites your customers use. While Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn are popular, your customers may favor other sites such as Instagram, YouTube, TripAdvisor, or TikTok. This will help you focus your efforts amid the vast sea of social media and inform your social media customer service strategy.
- Listen to your customers
There are a lot of tools that help monitor social sites for brand mentions and keywords related to your business, but it’s also important to analyze what people are saying about your company. This “social listening” helps you understand what kind of issues customers are raising on social media and what they need. With this kind of analysis, you can catch when customers talk about your company without mentioning your brand, and proactively respond.
- Have a plan
Once you have an idea of what people are saying about your brand, you can develop guidelines for what you will prioritize and how you will respond. There should be guidelines for responding to complaints and common questions, an escalation plan, when to take an issue offline, and what kind of offers your company might be willing to provide to unhappy customers.
Keep in mind that there is a ton of noise on social media; the plan needs to provide clear guidance so the team avoids getting mired in incendiary social trolling.
- Respond promptly
Your customers can post to social media at all hours, so you’ll need to keep up. According to a study by Facebook, 61% of people in the US expect a faster response through social messaging than if they used traditional means of communication like phone.
If your resources can’t scale to 24×7 social customer service, an option might be to provide an immediate standard response via a chatbot indicating that you’ve seen their issue and are working on it. Then make sure to follow up on the promise.
- Be human
While automated tools can help for certain tasks, it’s important to maintain the human element in working with customers on social channels. Customers today expect personalization, and social media communications are no exception. Engaging with them at a human level – acknowledging mistakes, showing compassion, and forgoing stiff corporate-speak – will go a long way in building customer trust and loyalty.
- Be consistent
As you respond to customers on social media, make sure your tone of voice accurately represents your brand and is consistent across channels. Your social media persona should represent your brand values and beliefs and use language accordingly. Snarky or sophisticated, it’s important to remain classy and always take the high road.
- Take the bad with the good
The harsh reality is that people are quick to take to a social platform to complain, often with hashtags attached to the word fail. You can’t ignore the bad stuff, or go on the defensive. Responding quickly to diagnose the problem and if necessary, fixing it, will protect your brand. Customers want to be heard and the right response will put your brand on top.
And of course, make the most of positive feedback. Naturally, always thank them, and then consider other ways to engage and make customers smile.
- Train your team
Providing customer service on social media requires skill and tact. Depending on your organization and which employees are handling social service, you may want to consider ways to provide training. Cross-training may be essential so that social media and customer service teams are on the same page. Regular meetings to exchange ideas and information will encourage collaboration and foster consistency.
- Measure your efforts
Track the impact of your social media customer service in order to understand what’s working and areas that need improvement. You can analyze a variety of data points such as service response times, the number of service conversations or tickets, and customer satisfaction.
Social media is always evolving, with new platforms suddenly the hottest thing while older ones fade into the sunset. (Remember MySpace?) Moreover, social sites are constantly changing their formats and requirements; for example, Twitter used to limit the number of characters in messages to 140 characters (280 characters are now allowed). You need to keep on top of what platforms your customers favor, as well as the changing rules of the various sites.
Time to act
For brands that are already using social platforms for customer service, it’s a matter of stepping up the efforts and making sure they’re effectively meeting customer needs during this time of crisis. For others who haven’t paid attention to their customers on social, it’s time to face the facts.
While individual social media platforms may come and go, social media isn’t going away, especially now when it offers an important means of communication for an isolated population. Customers will remember the brands they could trust during the crisis.