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Effective use of social media as a custmer service channel
Many businesses are now clued onto the fact that, if they want to reach their target audience and get results, they need to be present on social media. 43% of consumers have reportedly increased their use of social to discover new brands. By being visible on the right social channels, you can drive awareness, promote products and services to a vast audience, target customers more effectively, and make sure you are part of, and adding value to the relevant conversations taking place online.
However, social media is more than just a place for promotion. It’s also a place to interact with your customers, answer their questions or find out more about their lives. As such, many companies choose to use their social media channels for customer service.
By taking care of customer service on social media, you can enable customers to get in touch easily and quickly in order to reach a satisfactory resolution to any issues they have. If you want to achieve the nirvana of a happy and loyal customer base, you need to make sure your social media customer service is set up and managed to work just as well as it does over the phone, in person or by email.
This guide explores why social media can be great for your customer service and how to ensure that you are meeting your customers’ needs.
Why does social media work as a customer service channel?
An estimated 67% of consumers now use social media to seek resolutions for issues. With the expectation that problems can be answered through social networks, it is a necessity that your brand is there and willing to handle the queries that come your way.
For consumers, the benefit of interacting with brands through social media is that it enables them to get in touch with someone at any time, anywhere, rather than having to wait in a telephone queue. More than 30% of people state that it is one of the most convenient contact methods.
Another characteristic of social media is that it’s a public platform, comments and posts are exposed to all users. Many people choose to air their grievances in the hope of getting solidarity from other users or prompting a response from businesses who have previously ignored them on other channels or using other methods. Brand reviews are increasingly frequent on social media, influencing how other people feel about your brand and it is widely known that negative feedback can be harmful to your business and reputation.
By providing timely and structured customer service on your social media channels, you can take ownership of potentially harmful conversations about your brand and intervene before it reaches the point of a public complaint. This will enable you to rectify your customers’ issues while meeting their expectations of getting a swift response online. It will also highlight that you are proactive in handling customer feedback.
A further advantage of using social media for your customer service needs is that it can be up to 12 times cheaper than handling the same request over the phone. This can allow you to address customer queries more efficiently, even providing a faster response. Social media is also easy to monitor, helping you to stay on top of your customer interactions.
Our top tips for using social media effectively for customer service
With the rewards associated with using social media as a customer service channel, it’s essential to make sure you do it well. We’ve put together our top tips for using it effectively to meet your customers’ expectations.
Actively monitor your accounts
Going back to our point about being timely and structured, if you want to serve your customers, it’s not good enough to simply reply when you happen to come across a message or post, you need to be actively monitoring all of your social channels so that you can respond as quickly as possible.
Appoint a person or team who is responsible for handling social media queries regularly. This will encourage consistent monitoring of your channels and prevent a question from getting ignored, which may alienate that customer from your business. If you are unable to man your customer services 24/7, you can still set up automated responses to let your customer know that their query has been noted and that a member of the team will get in touch as soon as business hours resume. See our section below on setting response times for more details.
When monitoring your social media accounts, remember to utilise social listening by searching your brand or product names in the relevant platform’s search bar. This will enable you to find queries or discussions about your brand, even if it does not directly mention you, so you can seek to solve problems and turn negative conversations into positives.
Set response times
One of the reasons that consumers like to use social media to interact with brands is to get a fast response. The average social media response time is five hours, though consumers will expect it much sooner than this – within an hour. Due to this, it is vital to respond as quickly as you can.
Of course, the speed at which you can handle customer service queries on social media will depend on your resources. If you have a team dealing with queries, it might be quicker than if it’s just one person occasionally monitoring your inboxes.
In any scenario, it is crucial to ensure users are aware of your typical response rate. This means highlighting your working hours (so customers know when to expect a reply) along with your estimated SLA for replying to queries. You may choose to lay these out in the bio of your social media profile or utilise auto-responses that alert users when they first message you. It’s often useful to detail this information in as many places as possible so that it doesn’t get overlooked.
Setting these expectations will lower the risk of aggravated customers who feel you are not responding to them quickly enough. In an ideal world, you want your response time to be as swift as possible to avoid testing patience. If you’re struggling to meet your dedicated SLA, it might be worth investing additional resources into your social media customer service efforts.
Respond to (almost) everything
When interacting with customers on social media, you should look to respond to everything. This includes direct messages, mentions, comments on posts, reviews and so on.
By responding to everything, you can help to build a rapport with your audience that makes them feel warmer towards your brand. Data shows that brands that do not respond to social media comments could experience up to a 15% increase in churn rate, therefore it’s wise to build loyalty by putting in the effort to focus on these interactions.
Capturing everything also means responding to the bad as well as the good. While it may be tempting to ignore an angry customer on your profile, this will likely serve to frustrate them further and won’t give a welcome impression to others. By addressing negative comments and messages, you may turn things around by identifying a favourable resolution for the customer.
Answering a customer complaint is proven to increase advocacy by 25%, so responding to these on social media is a great way to drive overall satisfaction and recruit loyal ambassadors for your brand.
The only instance where you may choose not to respond is the event of trolling or an aggressive customer – read on to find out more about how to handle this.
Set a policy for complaints
You should seek to address every complaint that appears on your social media pages. However, you equally want to protect your staff and brand from overly aggressive customers or trolls who are not actually seeking a resolution. By creating a policy for handling complaints on social media, you can strike a balance between the two.
Your policy should document that protocol for dealing with complaints. This might include factors like response times, when you should escalate a complaint, and so on. It may also determine what behaviour you will not condone on your social media channels and what will be done to prevent it.
Typical examples might be how you react if a user uses offensive or threatening language. In most instances, it is recommended to calm the person while telling them you cannot continue a conversation if they carry on in the current manner. Some brands set a process that gives a person limited chances before terminating the discussion, such as if they swear more than three times. If the posts are public, you may choose to hide offensive comments or aim to move the person to a more private space.
If the problem continues to escalate, you may consider blocking someone from your page. This should be a last resort and is not advised if it’s a genuine customer looking for help. However, if you’ve tried everything and they are continuing to abuse your staff, it may be the only option.
Most social media platforms will have their own reporting mechanism to remove abusive or irrelevant comments, so it may also be worth pursuing these.
Once you have agreed on your policy, make sure it is documented and circulated to anyone handling your social media, to help ensure a consistent approach that treats customers equally.
Move complaints to a private space
People often flock to a brand’s social media page when they’re angry, making public statements about a poor experience they had. When trying to resolve the issue, it’s worth moving the conversation to a private space – typically, the private messages section of that platform or arranging a call-back.
Moving the conversation away from the public domain has two purposes: it protects your brand by preventing excessive frustration from being aired on your page, and it allows you to delve into the details of the customer’s experience while protecting their data and privacy.
If you are taking the complaint to a private channel, it’s worth still replying to the public post or comment to show that you have seen and want to handle the issue. Commonly, this will be a message asking the users to message you directly, such as this Argos example:
After this point, it’s up to the customer to talk to you privately. They may refuse, in which case you could reach out via telephone or email where possible to seek a resolution or refer to your complaints policy. The important thing here is to show that you are being proactive.
Just be sure that once the customer messages you privately, you respond quickly, so they aren’t tempted to revert to their public posting.
Maintain a consistent tone
Another important aspect of your social media efforts should be to maintain a consistent tone that is polite and friendly, so your customers are spoken to respectfully. This tone should also match your brand tone of voice, enabling you to continue to portray the right personality to your audience.
Ensure the tone you use reflects the situation. Depending on your brand personality, you might use humour when interacting with a customer who has shared a funny comment on one of your posts. However, when dealing with an angry customer, it’s unlikely to go down well.
Once you have agreed on your tone when dealing with customers through social media, it is again worth translating it into an official document. This can then be shared with anyone who responds to messages on behalf of your business, ensuring a coherent experience for customers regardless of which team member they encounter.
When we talk about ‘customer service’, it doesn’t always mean handling complaints and answering questions. Excellent customer service strives to keep the customer happy at every point of their purchasing journey, not just when they reach out to you.
Part of your social media strategy should be to consider how you continually add value. This could mean engaging with your customers and having conversations when they take the time to comment on your posts or leave feedback, sharing their experiences, giving product tips, and generally going above and beyond to offer outstanding service.
By doing this, you will make your customers feel valued and give them a reason to interact and purchase from your business. This will increase loyalty, helping you to save money by retaining customers rather than acquiring new ones, and spread your brand through word-of-mouth marketing and favourable recommendations.
With consumers utilising social media as a convenient way to contact brands, there is now the expectation for businesses to provide customer service on these channels. If you do not, or do so poorly, you risk reputational damage and dissatisfied customers.
By putting the time into handling customer service online, you can make sure you are interacting with your customers when they need it, providing helpful resolutions that drive satisfaction levels and loyalty. It will also help you take charge of online conversations about your brand rather than letting them run wild.
With an effective customer service strategy for your social channels, you can maintain strong customer relationships, reduce complaints and access great return on investment compared to traditional customer service channels. What’s not to like?