Should Your Business Offer Customer Service via Social Media? 6 Points to Consider.

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3.4.13_Customer Service over Social

More and more people are jumping on the smartphone/tablet bandwagon, and social media networks are growing their memberships almost exponentially. As a result, people often take to social media to post complaints and accolades regarding customer service. What’s a small business to do? Should the focus of its customer service be on social media?

The short answer: it depends. It depends on your bandwidth, on your employees’ skills, on your audience, and even the type of business you own.

If you’re considering this path, the best thing you can do is carefully think about the following six points.

1. Remember, it’s a 24/7 world. Someone could send out a tweet to your customer service department at 2:00 a.m. How would you handle that? When people have a problem or question with your product or service, they’re usually seeking an immediate response, especially if they send out their gripe over social media. In fact, one social software provider found in a study that 72% of consumers expect brands to respond within an hour to complaints posted on Twitter.

Having an around-the-clock customer service department, however, would likely be cost prohibitive to most small businesses (companies like American Airlines have “social teams” of well over a dozen people—and they can afford it).

So what should small businesses do if they decide to go the social media route?

  • Set clear expectations. On the platform, make sure you clearly state the timeframe that customer service reps will be responding to customer inquiries.
  • Respond in the order the requests are received. So that hypothetical tweet from 2:00 a.m. should be the first customer dealt with the next day.
  • Accept the fact that some customers will still be miffed when they don’t receive an immediate response. All you can do in those cases is apologize for the delay and then try to resolve their problem as quickly and patiently as possible.

2. It’s also a transparent world. When a customer reaches out publicly via social media, people will see it. Depending on the issue, and how the person words his or her issue/complaint, the person’s very public inquiry could be shared with lots of other folks and even go viral. Bottom line: you need to be prepared for the good, the bad, and the ugly—especially the ugly, i.e. the irate customer who decides to rant in a series of tweets, Facebook updates, etc.

Questions to consider:

  • What’s the process for dealing with customers who are upset?
  • What’s the process for dealing with questions?
  • What’s the process for dealing with threats (e.g. “If someone doesn’t help me, I’m going to post this on ALL my social media accounts and call the news!”)
  • What’s the process for dealing with customers who sing your praises? (It’s a good thing, for sure, but you need to identify a process for responding to these folks as well.)

For questions, you can usually answer them on the platform itself or direct people to a page on your site with the answer.

For customers who are clearly upset, oftentimes these folks simply want to be heard. The best tactic is to respond to them as quickly as possible with a way for him or her to reach a live person who can help solve the problem. We bolded the last part for a reason: you don’t want to placate the person by passing him or her off to just anyone. Make sure it’s someone who can help.

For customers who sing your praises, you should acknowledge their kindness and thank them—respond to their tweet, their comment, their post, and so forth. When appropriate, share the comment/tweet with your fans. But don’t overdo it.

Note: some companies have separate Twitter handles for customer service (e.g. @NikeSupport). This can be a way to control the conversations a little more (and keep your main Twitter feed clear from endless customer exchanges).

3. It’s a world where mistakes will happen. Think about it: if you have a traditional customer service department, you’ve seen people make mistakes, right? They’re only human, after all. What makes you think that these same humans won’t make a mistake on social media? But here’s the difference: on social media, everyone can see the mistake. While crisis management might sound like something for your PR and marketing people to deal with, it’s now something you need to think about if you’re going to offer customer service via social media.

4. Be ready to move beyond the scripts. In the old days of customer service, reps often had a variety of scripts to use, depending on the issue at hand. While that may have worked ten and even five years ago, those scripts seldom translate well—or authentically—to 140-character tweets or Facebook posts. Not only that, but moving away from scripts and letting your employees act like humans instead of scripted robots can actually work better.

You should certainly provide guidelines, but you should also allow your employees to sound like real people on social media, especially since it is a much more casual forum.

Bonus: You should also gear up for your company’s busy season, whenever that is. If your operate a retail business, here’s a great post called The 12 Days of Social Customer Service that you and your staff can revisit every fall before the big Christmas rush.

5. Give customers a choice as to how they continue the conversation. We read an interesting article from SEO guru Jill Whalen where she talked about how she complained to two brands on Twitter, and the brands asked for a phone number and tried contacting her that way. She pointed out that the reason she complained via Twitter was because she hates phones (see the 4th point in the article). Make sure in your zeal to respond to people that you don’t become pushy in trying to contact them. Have options: phone, email, direct messages, etc.

6. Don’t abandon traditional methods. Use social media to complement them. This article from Social Media Today provides interesting insights as to whether social media makes sense for customer service (the article also cites compelling statistics). The author states, “Until we, as a society, abandon the importance of inter-human relationships (which I am confident we never will), social will never fully replace the importance [of] human-to-human interaction. Done correctly however, it can be the perfect complement to it.”

Well put, and we tend to agree.

What do you think? Does your small business offer customer service via social media? We’d love to hear about your experiences, including any tips, in the comments.

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