Social media has raised the stakes for companies that go beyond simply connecting with customers or marketing/sales of a brand. Social media customer service is proving to be a customer favorite for communicating with companies when they have concerns and issues.

Customer Service Now!

Social media customer service is appealing to clients. According to the American Express 2014 Global Customer Service Barometer, 47% of customers surveyed (International and US) use social networking to talk with customer service.

In the US, 23% of consumers turn to social media for a customer service response (a 6% increase since 2012.)

Seeking Answers

People use social media customer service for more than just griping about a product or service. Clients turn to it for answers. Sometimes those answers influence decision-making about attending an event or buying a product/service.

Response Time

Forbes reminds companies that in today’s digital world customer expectation from social media is high. “Customers expect immediate responses when posting on social media, so if your response team isn’t prepared, it could cost you,” writes Jayson DeMers. He explains that companies responding “within minutes of the original post” end up with very satisfied customers.

This immediacy places a new burden on companies. Failure to respond within a reasonable time, can have a negative ripple effect across social media that can damage both reputation and sales.

Companies with Slower Response Time

Hug Your Haters author Jay Baer writes about the importance of timely social media customer service.

  • 42% of social media users stated they expected companies to respond within 60 minutes of posting a complaint.
  • 32% expected companies to respond within 30 minutes.
  • 57% “expect the same response time at night and on weekends as during normal business hours.”

Are such expectations realistic? If undertaking social media customer service, companies should be prepared. If your company isn’t capable of a 24/7 fast and consistent response time a possible solution is to post your customer service hours on your social media page.

Using a Social Media Customer Service Hub

Timely responses and being prepared for public interactions are two important commitments needed when using social media as your customer service hub.

Develop a Formal Process

Set rules of engagement for customer service team members.

  • Transparency is key, so be open and honest in your communications.
  • Forbes warns against funneling with an automatic response referring clients to a phone number or email.
  • Social media is first contact. Brandwatch recommends personal and empathetic response to customer complaints.
  • Response tone should be casual and conversational.
  • Most questions should be answered online, especially when relevant to other clients/customers.
  • Respond quickly and publicly in a positive manner to negative feedback. Never be defensive. Take it offline only when necessary.
  • Complex issues should be publicly acknowledged, then redirected by offering to call poster to discuss further and gather more details for a resolution.
  • Publicly follow-up after resolution. Keep it short without divulging details. Thank the client for the opportunity to assist in resolving to their satisfaction.
  • Always post positive news and feedback.

Monitor Your Company’s Mentions

Unhappy customers don’t necessarily post on a company’s Facebook page and negative mentions can hurt your brand.

Help Scout reports that over one million people read customer service tweets each week. 80% of those tweets are “negative or critical in nature”.

Help Scout advises, “Monitor your brand’s mentions on social media channels.” This way you can respond quickly and prevent complaints from escalating. Use a Google alert and online monitoring software to pick up company mentions.

Benefits of Using Social Media for Customer Interaction

There are incalculable benefits of using social media as a hub for customer service and answering questions. The biggest one is humanizing your brand. This establishes a rapport and trust with the public. Brand recognition greatly benefits through proactive participation on social media.

  • Engage event attendees, before, during and after events.
  • Keep a finger on the pulse of brand recognition and reputation.
  • Complaint escalation prevention.
  • Brand engagement that leads to more social mentions.
  • Opportunities for relationship building with public.
  • Easy follow-up.
  • Collect feedback without expensive surveys.
  • Influence customer purchase choices.
  • Grow customer base through current customer satisfaction.

According to Brandwatch, companies like Ford, Best Buy, IBM and Dell credit social media activity and communication as contributing factors for not just reducing costs, but increasing customer satisfaction. That satisfaction then translates into sales.

Companies Successfully Using Social Media for Customer Service

Two companies with highly successful customer service platforms in social media also have very different approaches.

Twitter for Customer Service

Buzz Feed featured UK’s Tesco Mobile as highly successful in using social media for its customer service stating the company is “very open and honest approach to customer service on Twitter.”

Much of Tesco’s response to negative feedback is humor and banter. BuzzFeed says, “Tesco Mobile’s Twitter Account Is Sassy As Hell.” That approach worked for them and garnered over 80,000 followers.

Using All Forms of Social Media

According to Social Media Today, technology leader Cisco leads the way in social media customer service hub. In an interview, LaSandra Brill, Senior Manager of Global Social discussed Cisco’s four-pillar framework implemented in their social media strategy. Brill said, “Social on CISCO strategy… blogs, communities, social widgets that we put on our site.” That strategy also includes customer partners.

Using Social Media Customer Support

More companies are recognizing the value of using social media for their customer service hub. Consistency and follow-up determine the success of this burgeoning tool for company branding.