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Effective Use of Social Media as a Customer Service Channel

Laura Phillips

by Laura Phillips on 11th March 2013

Customer Service OnlineMost companies, especially SMEs, recognise the importance of customer service. We can’t afford to lose business, especially with the economic climate the way it is at the moment. Every user is important, and companies need to be pro-active in not only their customer acquisition but also in their retention.

Social media is quite simply one of the best arenas for extending your reach and brand awareness as well as helping to build fantastic levels of customer retention and a second-to-none reputation. In my opinion it is the best channel there is at the moment.

Customers rarely have the time or the inclination to hang on the phone waiting to speak to a representative any more. Email and customer service forms on a site are ok, but their automated responses and response waiting times can lead to further frustration and a drawn out scenario over a number of emails before issues are resolved.

But what if there was a way for your customers to get real time responses from real people at your company? A way whereby your customers could contact you in seconds and had a greatly reduced waiting time? You see where this is going…

Online Customer Service – The Facts

ZenDesk report that 62% of customers want more support than they are getting from social media, however only 23% of US companies offer support through Facebook and a meagre 12% via Twitter. So we’re all out of sync.

ZenDesk’s clever infographic shows us a number of other key social customer service elements such as the fact that almost half of their surveyed consumers had contacted a retail business for support using social media. I’d love to see some data on how many of these accounts are monitored and maintained effectively. In my experience it’s a small minority which means it’s all the easier for you to steam ahead and overtake the competition in this area.

Social Media Customer Service Checklist:

All of your customers have a voice. So use social media to promote positive word of mouth and neutralise poor experiences by dealing with them publicly where appropriate, and through private messages and other forms of communication when not.

Employ or Use Professionals

Personal Bugbear = Just because someone has a Facebook and Twitter account does not make them a Social Media Expert/ Consultant/ Executive.

Tread carefully when you choose your social media staff; they are the voice of your company, an ambassador if you like, and it only takes one mistake to create a crisis which will be accessible on the Internet potentially forever. If things go awry you may find yourself publishing something like this:

ObamaGate

Equally, do not tag social media onto the job description of someone who already has an unrelated full time job in your business. Social media requires attention throughout the working day and sometimes out of hours too. Sometimes employees tasked with social media do not seem to stay on top of current affairs, with disastrous consequences:

Twitter Customer Service

Time and up to date information are of the essence, and social customer service should be a dedicated task.

eConsultancy have a great post from 2011 with some epic social media fails to avoid.

Respond Quickly

According to a report from Live Person consumers identified the top three factors you need to excel in customer service:

  • Getting an issue resolved quickly was by far the most critical factor (82%).
  • Having the issue resolved in a single interaction is key (56%)

The report also looks at the changing stance of customers in the digital age, citing these findings:

  • 71% of visitors expect to be able to access help within five minutes when making a purchase online (81% in the US),
  • 31% expect this help to be immediate

…and most importantly for your business:

  • If they couldn’t get help within their expected time frame, 48% state they would go elsewhere or abandon the purchase altogether.

Be there when your customers need you. You stand to gain not only conversions and good reviews from those users, but also invaluable feedback into conversion stumbling blocks and other usability issues which can be implemented to make the site more user friendly, and help increase conversions in the longer term.

Be Helpful

This should go without saying but you’d be surprised how often it doesn’t seem to happen in social customer service.

When I sent @UKTesco this photo I got a quick, upbeat and helpful message back:

Tesco

However, when I found out via my bank that my car lease firm at the time had taken 36 x the amount of money they should have out of my bank account, and thus emptying it, I called the dealer immediately. With no straight answer from them, I tried calling financial, and customer services. After a long time on hold and being bounced from department to department I had no answer of when I might have any of my money back.

Within a few days and still no news I was borrowing money from friends to put fuel in the car, and resorted to Twitter to try to kick them into action.

Car Lease 1

2 days later this popped up:

Car Lease

Yes it had, and no it wasn’t. This Tweet felt like a massive brush off, and a tad patronising, as well as being exceptionally late. An apology would have been nice. To be fair to them the following Tweets vaguely attempted to be helpful, but had no bearing on me getting the money back. In the end I gave up, went against their advice, and claimed the money back through my bank. By this time I was fuming and it’s safe to say I won’t deal with this particular marque again.

Please don’t do this to your customers, it’s bad news for everyone involved.

Zappos, on the other hand, have had phenomenal success by embracing customer service via social media early, and fully. Check out this example from Jameson Brown to see just how far they will go to help out.

Be Personal

@VodafoneUK have this down to a T in my opinion:

Vodafone

There’s a certain psychology to this kind of communication, and a level of trust can be instilled in the customer by having the name (usually a pseudonym) of the advisor they are dealing with. Friendly inflection and a degree of empathy can help diffuse potentially flammable situations, if backed up with a string proactive approach.

According to a report from Live Person “interacting with a friendly customer service agent (45% agree) is the third most important requirement for great customer service.”

Interact, Be Polite, Show You Care

By being proactive and friendly in your social media approach perception of the business and a positive and friendly environment will evolve naturally. This may make you more approachable and extend your reach way beyond your initial audience. In turn your Social Media customer service can draw on more new and existing conversions without having to do an awful lot.

Take the guys over at Dragstrip Tattoo. Their Facebook page is regularly updated with the work they have done, conversation openers, answering customer queries and promoting the work of their designers, plus announcing cancellations so others have the opportunity to fill them. By showcasing their work and staying interactive, positive conversation naturally develops around the business, making them more approachable and increasing real and perceived value.

Dragstrip Tattoo FacebookDragstrip ApptDragstrip2

 

Don’t Ignore or Delete!

The 101 of social customer service. This is the stuff of media nightmares and can leave a permanent scar on your business. Just ask Nestle or Claire’s Accessories. I’m not sure there is a quicker way to enrage your customers, whip up a media storm, and trash your brand image all in one move.

Track Your Brand

It’s not enough to be reactive and wait for customers to contact you. Being proactive in your social media activity will help increase engagement and raise the profile of your company as one that cares and is on the ball when it comes to customer service. This in turn can help increase customer retention and good reviews, which potential customers may use when deciding which company should get their business.

Social Media Monitoring & Tracking Tools

Managing all that social media at once can be a daunting task. But there are a large number of tools available to make this job easier, many of them free. Here’s a few to get you started:

  • HootSuite – A social media management dashboard allowing you to manage multiple profiles and measure your results.
  • TweetDeck – Similar to HootSuite, I feel with slightly less flexibility, but still a great tool for monitoring your brand in social media.
  • Facebook Insights – Measures various metrics in Facebook to help page owners identify trends and monitor performance.
  • SocialMention – Offers real-time analysis of aggregated user generated content into one stream.
  • FollowerWonk – A popular tool used to optimise Twitter accounts. FollowerWonk tells you more about your followers; who they are, where and when they Tweet, who they influence and more to help you target your audience and Twitter activity to best effect.

I hope this post has helped you get to grips with the do’s and don’ts of social customer service. If you are already using the above or any other tools to help your social media campaign, let us know what you think of them in the comments section below. What tools have we missed?

Image Source:

Online Customer Service by BigStock

Laura Phillips

Laura Phillips

Laura has experience of SEO, PPC and Social Media both in-house and within an agency environment. Having worked across a variety of industries from travel to law, and retail to education she is always looking for new and innovative ways to improve the search and social visibility of her clients across various platforms.

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12 Comments

  • Kate Beattie 11th March 2013

    Great post Laura, thank you! I am dealing with clients down here in Australia and am constantly preaching how crucial social media is to their success and reputation with their customers. This post is going to be part of my arsenal! Thank you :-)

    Reply to this comment

  • Zan Lawther 11th March 2013

    Some great advice there Laura – thank you. I am just about to branch into Twitter for my new job…..it is interesting to learn about how all the social media sites can work together.

    Reply to this comment

    • Laura Phillips

      Laura Phillips 12th March 2013

      Thanks Zan, you can sign up for our free Koozai white papers to learn loads about how to set up and manage your Twitter, Facebook, and Google+ pages for your business.

      Reply to this comment

  • Anthony Trollope 11th March 2013

    More than anything it’s about having empathy with your customers, regardless of the channel they are communicating through, but especially through social media. Patronising tones (just like Laura’s experience with her leasing company) just annoy people and see them get even more frustrated. Listen clearly, respond swiftly and go out of your way to be helpful. These three things apply to almost all circumstances. Innocent Drinks do this really well. So too do Starbucks (as much as it pains me to mention their name!).

    Thanks Laura for the insightful article.

    Reply to this comment

    • Laura Phillips

      Laura Phillips 12th March 2013

      Thanks for your reply Anthony. I think some companies can get complacement when it comes to customer service in any form. The trouble caused by my leasing comapny’s mistake was not small – but good customer service would have made me deal with it entirely differently.

      Social media gives companies an amazing opportunity to show how great they can be – and those who do quickly become known for it….as do those that don’t.

      Reply to this comment

  • George Rosier 11th March 2013

    Good post. I am, of course, biased toward your calling-out of Vodafone ;)

    I blogged about the use of social media for businesses back in 2010 (here: http://bit.ly/aE5Pxe ) … it’s interesting to see how much – or LITTLE – is relevant any more. Quite a long post, mind…I think it was more a brain dump than anything useful.

    Reply to this comment

    • Laura Phillips

      Laura Phillips 12th March 2013

      Thanks for your comment George.

      That’s an epic post you’ve written there, I’d advise anyone who likes this one to pop across and have a look at your post, it’s very comprehensive!

      I like the personalisation of the Vodafone Twitter account, it’s good psychology and seems to be a really effective communication tool in what must be a challenging environment :)

      Reply to this comment

  • Kate Vernalls-Grout 11th March 2013

    A real eye opener into the world of Social Media, a really interesting blog Laura. Social Media is all around us, everyday, it’s something we have just become used to so we don’t even notice that were being influenced by it anymore.

    I can think of a few companies that would benefit hugely from changing the way they interact with their customers and they should start with taking a leaf out of Vodafone UK’s book. Their Twitter account is a great concept reaching out to a much wider audience, an easy to use, relaxed, customer service focused service. When British Gas changed their advertising campaigns in 2009 to the ones you see today featuring Terry Gilliam-esc imagery, music by Blur and is narration from Timothy Spall, the public responded with such enthusiasm. When they then started promoting on-line tariffs and gave customers the ability to manage their accounts on-line their new customer and retention numbers grew rapidly. This is all down to Social Media.

    We all want accessibility, usability, convenience and of course great customer service, and why shouldn’t we. It seems that companies are starting to listen to their customers’ needs and Social Media is the way forward! Great blog Laura.

    Reply to this comment

    • Laura Phillips

      Laura Phillips 12th March 2013

      Thanks Kate, it really is an interesting time for social media at the moment, and it’s good to hear of another example.

      I’ve just found this article giving even more reasons why companies need to get on board with social media.

      Reply to this comment

  • andrew kelly 12th March 2013

    Social factors are becomming a big factor in the way that google ranks sites. People that don’t start paying attention soon will eventually starting falling behind.

    Reply to this comment

    • Laura Phillips

      Laura Phillips 12th March 2013

      Thanks for your comment Andrew, I think this year we will start to see the gap widening between those who do and those who don’t take social media seriously…

      Reply to this comment

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