Good customer service is essential for any business to survive, and especially in an era when our dirty laundry is aired in public
Time was that if you weren’t happy with the response you got from a customer service department, the only place to go was BBC Watchdog. Once a customer service nightmare had been aired on television, companies were very quick to respond and placate the angry customer. In 2012 everybody is an online publisher, giving them their own personal channel and an opportunity to vent their frustrations, criticise a company, product or brand and warn their friends and followers about their poor customer service experience.
Social media is powerful – Twitter broke the Trafigura scandal, and outed Ryan Giggs for his marital indiscretion, despite super injunctions put in place to prevent this information from being out in the public domain. There’s nothing you can do about social sentiments going viral, it’s power to the people and it’s here to stay.
It makes a lot of sense for customers to complain via social media; where emails can be filed, buried, neglected, ignored and forgotten, it’s less easy to ignore public criticisms of a company or brand, especially when the company or brand in question is inevitably trying to use the social network as a sales or brand engagement tool.
According to the CSnotepad Virtual Receptionist survey, 93% of customer service communications to UK businesses are still received via email or telephone. It’s surprising considering the impact that complaints can have on social media, but it gives these companies an opportunity to put out the fire before it spreads online. Failing to deal with direct customer service communications will inevitably lead to social media activity which could really damage a reputation. Managing complaints and enquiries swiftly and reasonably is the best way to ensure that a brand doesn’t get a bad name on social media.
For some companies, a Facebook page is like a shop window, and is sometimes even as important as their actual shop window or website. Once customer service complaints go social, they need to be resolved as quickly as possible to minimise the damage to a reputation or brand. This is why consumers are using social media as a customer service channel – they get quick responses from companies who want to turn that frown upside down as soon as possible!
Of course not all social media users are equal. Stephen Fry has 4.1 million followers for his Twitter account, and frequently crashes websites when he shares links. A customer service complaint from Stephen Fry is going to have a much bigger impact than your average consumer, so companies move fast to appease popular people. Just because somebody is tweeting, it doesn’t mean anyone is reading.
Frequently companies make a hash of things by simply not responding. Sometimes simple communications acknowledging problems, apologising and posing solutions is enough to keep a customer feeling valued. When you ignore communications consumers will look for other ways to get your attention. Ignoring tweets and social mentions is even worse than ignoring emails or the phone; bad sentiment will snowball over time.
Social Media Customer Service Planning
Some companies find it hard to get started in social media – it’s fresh ground for many, and works much differently from any other sort of customer service communications. It’s essential to monitor and respond to mentions, but it can also be worth thinking strategically about the best way to use social media to achieve a variety of business goals.
Too many people think that social media starts and finishes with Facebook and Twitter; not true! Branded Google searches can help establish what people are saying about a brand, company or product online, whether it’s a blog post, forum discussion or other online mention. Having said this, it’s easy to get swamped in so much data that it’s no longer useful. Only monitor the data which is useful to you, and set response time estimates for customer service teams.
Listening is one thing, but next you need to work out how to respond. There’s no reason why social media responses should be dramatically different from responses given through conventional customer service communication channels. The important thing is to respond quickly and minimise any negative mentions. You should try to take these sorts of conversations into a private email or phone call as quickly as possible to mitigate the damage.
Also consider prioritisation for customer communications. Just because Twitter users are loud, does that mean they should have their query dealt with more quickly? Customers often resort to using social media as a customer service communication channel when they have exhausted all other means of communication and have found them to be ineffective. Taking resource away from traditional customer service channels can make matters worse.
Response maps are a great way of decreasing the amount of time it takes to respond to requests; removing the need for customer service teams to consult compliance when responding. Ideally, staff should be empowered with autonomy; helping them to engage and respond rapidly without going through a lengthy approval process. This could mean pre-agreed responses and standardised compensation for customers who have received unacceptable levels of service.
But remember that social media can be used for more than customer service and brand reputation management; it can be used to further a wide range of business objectives, including sales, recruitment and of course, marketing. If you want to achieve results through social media activity then measurement is the only way to ensure its effectiveness. Measurements around cost per resolution, resolution speed or positive mentions could all be used to measure the effectiveness of social media customer service compared to traditional customer service channels.