Users now expect to be able to reach and communicate with brands not just by picking up the phone but also through social media. Some prefer the convenience, others like that they can raise an issue in a public forum instead of through a private phone conversation, and some like to vent without considering who is listening.
Providing customer service via social media is flush with opportunities but also fraught with risks. Handle an inquiry well and you may well be lauded for your efforts; handle it poorly and, at best, you could lose potential customers. Regardless of what tools you’re using to monitor social media, you need to be prepared. As we like to say at Quiip – Be risk prepared, not risk adverse.
With that in mind, here are some things worth considering when conducting customer service in social channels:
#1 Where are your customers?
Just as with marketing, where you’re told to promote your products where your customers are most likely to see it, you want to be running your customer service channels in the places where customers are most likely to talk about you, or wish they could talk to you. Nearly everyone is on Facebook so there’s a good chance you’ll want an outpost there — but what about Twitter? And what about other more niche social channels such as Pinterest or LinkedIn? Being in the right places at the right times can make a huge difference.
Pro-tip: if you think “my customers aren’t online”, there’s a very high chance you’re not looking in the right place.
#2 Who is representing you?
Professionalism and timeliness matter. The people handling your social customer service need to be astute customer service professionals who understand how tone and voice work online (and all the associated nuances) and have a solid understanding of your business, its products and its services.
Additionally, your social customer service team members need to be able to reply promptly. If every comment or reply needs to be vetted by management before it goes up, you’re swiftly setting yourself up for failure as you won’t be able to ‘nip it in the bud’.
Pro-tip: Spelling, grammar, punctuation and tone of voice are incredibly important. Every small mistake can get amplified a thousand times. You want people who are highly proficient in written English (or the language you’re working in!) and can carefully craft clear responses that are not mis-interpreted.
#3 Is your team properly resourced?
You’re in the right places with the best people but do they have everything they need? Or do your online customer/brand exchanges play out like this:
CUSTOMER: “Hi can you quickly explain to me the difference between your product and this similar one from your competitor?”
YOUR BRAND’S PAGE: “Sure! You can find out more about our product on our website at [link] or pop in to ask someone in store. Thanks for asking!”
What was the point of this response? The customer may have been essentially asking you to close the sale but instead you defer them. If they ask the same question of the competitor and the competitor gives them a clear answer then, all things being equal, who do you think they’re more likely to buy from?
But why were they deferred at all? Is it because they don’t have the necessary answers or because they don’t have the authority to answer?
Avoid deferrals and look after your customers by properly resourcing your social customer service team with the ability to find the answers and the authority to provide those answers in a timely manner. This may also mean giving them access to internal systems that let them lookup customer accounts or transactions.
Pro-tip: Your social customer service team should have the same resourcing and authority as, for example, a salesperson in one of your stores. Store manager-level authority would be even better.
#4 Do you have a clear escalation policy?
What if the question is so specific that your social customer service team just couldn’t handle it if they wanted to? Ensure processes are in place that allow for quick escalations. Maybe someone needs to get back to the customer through a different channel, or the issue needs to be handled at a local location-based level. Does your team know who to pass this on to and are there steps in place to ensure issues are properly resolved?
Pro-tip: Make sure everyone who could ever have something escalated to them knows about this escalation policy and how seriously it should be taken. Although something gets escalated, if that person further up the ladder handles it poorly, it still reflects on the entire brand.
#5 Do you have an emergency action plan or crisis plan?
Uh-oh, something has happened that has upset your customers. Maybe it’s a product failure, or maybe your CEO was quoted in an interview saying something very politically incorrect. Now the complaints and vitriol are flooding your social customer service channels. What will you and your social customer service team do about it?
Every major brand is likely to suffer some sort of customer service crisis so having a crisis plan in place is the only smart way to be prepared.
How will you keep your channels open? How quickly will you find a resolution for the issue? How does your plan differ depending on the type of emergency you’re dealing with?
Pro-tip: It’s almost never a good idea to just let your PR department handle this exclusively – work with them. The “say nothing and wait for it to blow over” technique rarely works online – although you need to judge when your customers need “breathing” room. Your social customer service team needs their own emergency action plan.
#6 Will you actually listen?
Opening yourself up to serve means also opening yourself up to receive feedback. Look for issues that people are bringing up over and over and find ways to address them on a more permanent basis. It could be a common misunderstanding of a product or service, or a customer need that seems to be going unaddressed. The feedback received through these networks is one of the most valuable benefits of conducting social customer service and can pay off immensely well if you not only listen to the feedback but also do something about it.
Pro-tip: Use the social customer service channels to ask questions and find out ways to better serve your customers. Try examples such as “What’s one thing we could do to serve you better?” and “If there’s one improvement you could make to [Product X], what would it be?”
At Quiip we provide social customer service for several of our clients. Want to find out if Quiip can help? Get in touch.