Social Media Customer Service

@Nina | Social, Strategy

Not that long ago, if a consumer was disappointed in a brand, they’d have to sit down and write a sternly-worded letter, address an envelope, stamp it, and then take it to the post office. Considering all of that, one would have to feel pretty put off to go through the trouble.

Boy, how times have changed.

Websites, email, Facebook, and Twitter are all necessary tools in connecting with your audience/customers. And that outreach works both ways. It takes someone only moments to contact a brand with the slightest displeasure. This is a good thing – the sooner you are made aware of an issue, the sooner you can begin to fix it.

The customer is always right.

Intellectually, we know this isn’t true. No matter how much I try to convince my husband otherwise, no one is always right. Of course, the adage isn’t meant to be taken literally, but rather as a state of mind you need to be in when dealing with customers. Your overall goal should be to provide great service and satisfaction. You want them happy, and you want them telling everyone they know about how happy you made them.

When someone tags a brand in a tweet that portrays the brand negatively, it’s so the company can see it, but everyone who follows the customer (potential customers) is also watching. When a customer posts a complaint on a business’ Facebook page, everyone who follows the brand (existing customers) is watching to see how the grievance is handled.

I’ve monitored Twitter feeds and Facebook pages for clients and when interacting with customers via social media, there are a few things you should consider:

  • Take that somewhere else – After a customer has voiced a complaint on Twitter or Facebook, most times I will request we move the resolution process to email. On Twitter, you’re limited to 140 characters, and it could result in way too many tweets. You may also need to obtain personal information from the customer (full name, order numbers, address, etc.) that shouldn’t be floating around in a public space. No matter what, once I’ve diffused the situation and satisfied the customer, I always post a follow-up tweet or FB comment to show other users there was a resolution. A simple, “It was great speaking with you today, Mary. Glad I could help clear everything up,” or similar, should suffice.
  • Tone and emoticons – Determine what kind of tone you want to have online. Some clients like everything to remain highly professional. Others, depending on the business, like a more laid back approach. They encourage friendly banter with the customers online. We are talking social networks, after all. Remember that in text, it’s sometimes harder to read someone’s tone and intent. Short responses may come off as just that: short and rude. Sometimes, tacking on a smiley face emoticon does wonders, if your brand doesn’t mind the more casual approach.
    • Whether you have one person in charge of your social media content and interaction or several, everyone with access to your social media channels should be aware of the tone you’d like to set. I have one client who does not like the use of the word ‘unfortunately.’ I see his point. If a customer reads your response and it starts off with, “Unfortunately, we’re unable to…,” they’re immediately prepared to be disappointed or annoyed.
    • One thing that remains true with customer service whether it’s in person or online: People like to be referred to by name. It’s simply polite and it helps clear up ambiguity on threads where you may be engaging with several customers.
  • Never argue, but don’t be afraid to correct – When people are upset, they can exaggerate or sometimes people are simply mistaken. While it’s never a good idea to be rude or argumentative with a customer online, you have to remember (as stated above) people are watching.Never let wrong information about your brand sit online unchecked. Find polite ways to clear up misunderstandings and false statements.
    • “I emailed you guys a month ago and no response! Unacceptable!” “Hi John, I pulled up your account and I see you did reach out two weeks ago. I apologize for the delay, and here’s what I’m going to do for you now….” Remember, other customers may read that and think, “A month? That’s a really long time.” You don’t want false information giving an inaccurate impression of how you do business.
  • Instant Gratification – Because the customer can reach you faster, most times they’re also expecting a speedy response. Try to get into the habit of responding to tweets and Facebook posting as soon as possible. If you can provide support through the weekend and evening hours, great, but most consumers may not even expect it. Being able to answer requests online during those times is a welcome surprise that costumers appreciate, though.
  • It’s Not All Bad – Customers post and tweet when you’re doing something right, not just when there’s an issue. Be sure to acknowledge those posts just as quickly.

Social media has changed the way we do business and how we interact with our customers, but the overall, basic, courteous rules still apply. The main difference now, though, is that how we handle these interactions is seen by many.

What’s your social media customer service strategy? How do you monitor your Twitter and Facebook pages? What are some of the challenges you’ve faced in providing customer service online?