Social media has, for many customers, become their contact channel of choice, not only because it’s convenient, but also because it gets attention and it gets a reaction. Customers know that when they complain on social media, the chances of their problem being solved increases. This is because social media customer service operates in the public domain and everyone is watching. Companies not only have to react swiftly to retain a good public image, they also have to be careful how they respond.

However, there are two mistakes companies commonly make when starting to use social media as a customer service channel.

A – They think that if agents use Facebook and Twitter for their personal use, they’ll automatically know how to interact with customers on these channels.

B – They think that social media is no different from calling into a contact centre and that the same customer service skills can be applied.

How is social customer service different?

Certainly the basics of customer service are the same – listening attentively and engaging with the customer. But there’s a lot more to social customer service. Customer profiles are different, wording style and language used is different, and, most importantly, customer expectations are different. The power has shifted to the customer and they know it, and it’s up to companies to prove themselves.

Many companies don’t like the idea of this power shift and feel they are being held ransom by customers airing their gripes before the company has an opportunity to resolve them. However, others have embraced social customer service as an opportunity to engage with customers and find out how they can do things differently or better.

The main thing to remember is that social customer service is transparent, and how a company responds to a customer query may not only affect how that one customer views them, but also everyone else who is watching the conversation. As many companies have experienced, when things go wrong, they go wrong quickly, and it’s difficult to recover because of the viral nature of information sharing on social media.  Social customer service requires not only an understanding that the playing field has changed, but so have the rules of engagement.

Winning at social customer service         

The companies that are getting it right are doing so because they have dedicated social customer service teams that are trained in how to engage with customers and empowered to do the right thing. They have the right systems and tools at their disposal to deal with customer queries effectively. Take for example John Lewis or British Gas, who have twitter accounts specifically for customer service interactions. Their investment in social customer service has led to reduced AHT in their contact centre as well as a reputation for delivering a positive customer experience. Other companies such as BT and giffgaff have leveraged social media effectively to create peer-to-peer support communities.

There are several aspects to getting social customer service right, and the starting point is to invest in creating a clear strategy and then training advisors so they are properly equipped to take on these roles in new customer service channels. These are some of the things to take into consideration:

Determine your purpose – are you going to use social media to answer customer queries, build a community or engage with customers? Choose one specific purpose to focus on first. Trying to do all three from the start may be biting off more than you can chew. Rather, focus on getting one aspect right and you can expand from there.

Choose your channels – While there are a myriad of channels, not all may be suitable for your business. Find out where your customers are and where they are interacting with one another – what’s their preferred channel? Then to start, choose two or three channels to focus on first so that it’s more manageable.

Establish your brand voice – Social media gives companies an opportunity to be more fun and interactive with customers, even inject humour into conversations. Establishing a brand voice sets the parameters within which advisors can operate with a degree of flexibility and freedom.

Learn from others – See what competitors are doing on social media and more importantly, learn from their mistakes.

Establish parameters – Because social media is more informal and personalised, advisors will need a degree of flexibility to be able to respond to customers and help solve their queries. Set parameters of what is and is not acceptable in line with the brand voice.

Empower agents – Engage in training so that agents are empowered to deal with queries and complaints in a way that is fun and rewarding for them and beneficial to customers. If you get this right, ultimately it will have a positive effect on both your brand and your business.

If you’d like to find out more about Ember Real Result’s Digital & Social media training courses contact Carolyn Blunt on +44 (0)20 7871 9797 or email info@emberrealresults.com