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How to provide great customer service through social media

Tuesday, 2 September 2014 | By Daniel Scheltinga

Social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter have evolved to become more than just platforms for sharing, marketing and advertising. Increasingly, consumers are also using social media to ask questions, report satisfaction or to complain.


Social care needs to be part of your overall customer service and this can provide challenges for time poor startups. The good news is that once mastered, it has the potential to be faster and more cost-effective than traditional support channels and can positively impact sales and customer loyalty.


Because the consumer—not the brand—wields the most power over a brand's image on social media, the bottom line is that neglecting conversations that occur on sites like Facebook and Twitter can have staggering consequences.


Below are some best practices for providing great customer service through social media:


1. Be where your customers are


Even in today’s connected world, you can’t be everywhere. Decide where most of your customers are and that’s where you need to focus your time and resources. For most startups in Australia, that will be Facebook and Twitter, but some customers also frequent Google+, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Instagram, or other social sites.


2. Repeat this mantra: Time is of the essence


In the fast-paced world of social media, speed of response is critical. Social media sits in a grey area between “live help” (phone or chat) and email support, but in a customer’s mind it’s much closer to the former. An instantaneous response is not realistic for a small business, but research shows that the majority of customers expect a response over social media within the same day. As a best practice, always respond with immediacy—or with the promise of. If you can’t easily answer a question in the space of a comment or tweet then let the customer know you've seen their comment and that you're working on a resolution.


3. Track and manage volume


Your ability to respond and keep track of social enquiries may be made easier and faster by using one system that can integrate social media with your other customer support channels (phone, email, chat) and turn posts, tweets, and direct or private messages into tickets. In this way, you can ensure that responses are consistent, easier to track and shareable, yet still respond to the customer in the space where they have contacted you.


4. Social care is care


The success of your social care efforts will depend, as ever, on the quality of care you provide, but you might want to pull out the kid gloves because providing great customer service over social media can require extra special handling. Responses must be timely, accurate, sensitive, brief, and friendly—a tall order. In general, all tenets of excellent customer service apply to social media. A great response will correctly identify the customer’s issue, provide links to additional information, close the loop, and include a personal touch such as signing off with your first name.


5. Determine when to take an issue offline


The reality is that not every contact over social media can be easily resolved in a single exchange (or in less than 140 characters), particularly if the issue is very technical or when the customer has many grievances to air. You need to know when to take a conversation from a public page to a private message, or perhaps off social media altogether—as well as when to bring the exchange back into the public sphere. After an issue is resolved offline, it's important to return to the social channel and thank the customer for reaching out.


6. Look for opportunities to make lemonade


We're all familiar with that old adage, "When life gives you lemons..." Social media demands more than just responding to questions and problems, it’s also a great way to show your customers who you are and what you believe in. A positive interaction will often be shared by the customer quickly and can help in influencing potential new customers. Don’t be afraid to have dirty laundry aired in public – own it, enjoy it. Look at other ways to proactively engage with your customers that will show you care, like responding to users who haven’t directly tweeted at you or give your customer service team a public face by introducing who’s on duty. It’s nice to connect the face of the brand with the names behind it.


7. Mind your P’s and Q’s


Whatever the social channel, there are a few ways to publicly stick your foot in your mouth. It’s important to remember that the customer, even when angry, has reached out to you so never be defensive or rude. Thank them for bringing their issue to your attention and acknowledge their concern. Social media is public and you need to evaluate what you write before you post something. As a general rule, don’t delete or hide negative comments or posts and don’t engage with customers whose intent is to simply argue and defame your brand. Sometimes your best defence is silence and, after a certain point, they'll damage their own credibility more than your brand's reputation.


Daniel Scheltinga is director of support and services, Asia Pacific, Zendesk.