Social media has shaken up the world of brand communications. It has opened up channels of instant conversation and with them created a new level of customer interaction. For businesses, while social media can present an amazing opportunity, it can also present an ongoing challenge – particularly when it comes to ensuring the same high standard of customer service is being delivered online as offline.
The number of people using social channels to question or complain to brands continues to grow. In a recent survey by Echo Managed Services almost 1 in 5 people (18%) said they use social media as first preference to voice a complaint. In addition, nearly 1 in 5 (18%) people turn to social media before any other channel when a complicated problem arises and 13% said they would go to it first when they want to request information.
The expectations that social media users now have of brands is also increasingly high. From how fast they respond, to what they say and how they say it, users will not be shy to point out their unhappiness at something. Or in parallel, to share, recommend and talk about brands who really excel in their eyes.
And these high expectations are beginning to be reflected in the very make-up of the sites themselves. For example, if you’ve visited a company page on Facebook recently then you may have come across a new feature sitting in pride of place under the profile image. It is a responsiveness badge that companies can only get if they are fast and consistent in replying to messages.
Over the period of a week a company will need to have a response rate of at least 90% and to be consistently answering private messages in around 5 minutes or less, if they are to get the ‘Very responsive’ tag. And there’s no fooling the stats, automatic responses won’t count.
What seeing this badge shouts to potential and existing customers is that the company is listening to and valuing customer interaction. And that says a lot.
A social masterclass
So who’s getting it right? There are a number of brands who have their social media customer service down to a fine art and who are demonstrating models of best practice at every turn. Here are just a few examples of the best of the best:
Sports brand Nike is cited time and again as a company that is really leading the way when it comes to social media, in particularly its customer service activity on Twitter. From the personal and caring feel of messages, to the use of everyday non-corporate language and the superfast response time, it’s running rings around many of its competitors – and it’s all made that little bit more impressive when you consider the volume of online interaction they generate with over 23.5million followers on Facebook alone!
For Supermarket giant Sainsbury’s, 5% of all its customer service contacts are made through social sites. Speaking at Social Media Week in London, the company describes how it monitors conversations and then interacts—first hearing the voices of customers, before responding to them and getting to know them. Their aim being to give customers the kind of service that will make them into enthusiastic fans and loyal advocates for the brand. They treat all social queries with the same level of urgency and are proactive in following up to check matters have been resolved and the person is happy. This personal touch is evident in many ways, with most tweets finishing with the name of the person sending it. On Twitter they also say good night and when they will be back online before signing off for the evening around 10pm.
ASOS is one of the most visited fashion websites in the world. The company sees social media as an integral part of their customer service, describing it in an article in BusinessWest as 24/7 engagement that allows them to foster relationships. The company brilliantly uses different handles for different areas of the business, including customer service, and responses are given very quickly and politely. They manage to expertly handle even the most difficult customers, while safeguarding the privacy of shoppers and expertly moving conversations offline where appropriate.
Top five tips for providing excellent customer service on social media
So what are the key learning we can take from these masters of social media customer service?
1 – Respond quickly and ditch the 9-5 mentality
The time it takes to receive a response, especially for a complaint, is a huge deal. Even 2 or 3 hours can feel like a lifetime for some. While brands won’t be expected to resolve an issue instantly, they will be expected to provide an acknowledgement and indication of what will happen next. The online world is also not restricted to a weekday 9-5 churn. Companies who are really excelling on social media are present at the times that match their customers’ habits. Up to the full 24hours in some cases. If people are messaging them in the evenings and weekends, then someone is there to listen.
2 – Make sure the person responding has the right knowledge
The person responding on social media needs to have the right level of knowledge to be able to answer appropriately. A poor answer is as bad, or even more frustrating, than no answer at all. And they need the training and power to be able to get on and do so. For example, they may need to have strong technical knowledge about products or services. This will mean they understand a question or issue and can offer solutions, potentially helping to instantly resolve some queries. It also goes without saying that they need some skill when it comes to composing responses in the right style and tone for the company.
3 – Consider a separate Twitter handle for customer support
This is a strategy used effectively by many leading companies – having separate handles for different areas of the company, including customer queries or complaints. For example @ASOS_HereToHelpand @NikeSupport. By having a dedicated support handle you can keep your marketing, promotional and company messages separate from your responses and conversations. But the key benefit to this is that you are helping customers to get help more quickly and easily. They will know they are in the right place.
4 – Make sure your customer service channels are all joined up
Providing a public response via social media to a query or concern can have benefits in itself, but there are always going to be queries that will need to be taken offline and dealt with. You also face limitations within the social channels themselves, such as the 140 character limit on Twitter. As well as issues of protecting customer privacy. Knowing when to move queries offline is important and so is deciding how all your customer service channels are going to come together. Have a set strategy and process in place, as customers will expect a seamless experience.
5 – Put yourself in your customer’s shoes
The secret to this one is being genuinely interested. Don’t gush with excuses or simply discount (or worse ignore) comments or complaints you don’t agree with. Also never, ever argue with a customer over social channels, no matter what! You’ll end up losing either way. Empathise with their view point, listen and react as needed. Even better, see if you can turn it around and make the person a brand ambassador. There are loads of examples online of social media ‘wins’, where brands have reacted to a negative and made it into a huge positive. These actions can go viral, sometimes hitting the national press too, meaning a positive message is transported far and wide. You couldn’t buy that kind of coverage.
The main message to take from all of this is that providing high quality customer service takes just as much effort online as offline, but in general the same principles will apply. What gets people hot under the collar offline is likely to have the same effect online.
Customers want to get through to a real person; they don’t want to be waiting for hours to reach them or to get a response; they then don’t want to have to explain their problem again and again to someone who doesn’t understand what they’re asking; and they don’t want to be passed about between people. Overall they want to be listened to.
In business it’s only natural that mistakes will happen from time to time – it is how you deal with them that counts. Get it right and you could see your customer base grow and even become the next viral ‘winner’.
You may also be interested in reading Why the senior team needs to get active on social media.