When it comes to your business’ customer service strategy, social media can simultaneously be your brand’s most valuable ally and its most intimidating nemesis.
On one hand, when handled skillfully and tactfully, customer service via social media can produce positive PR and create fervent brand loyalty that’s infectious. Having 24/7 access to customers and the ability to instantly communicate with them — as well as quickly resolve issues — can prove invaluable.
On the other hand, social media provides a very public forum for disgruntled customers to gripe, and if a problem is widespread, online negativity can quickly get out of hand. The fear of going viral for all the wrong reasons keeps many a community manager up at night for very real reasons.
Below are a few tried-and-true tips for mastering your brand’s customer service using social media.
1. Your customers are not your BFFs
Be pleasant, but not overly friendly with online customer interactions. If there’s one thing social-savvy commenters will call a brand out on faster than a poorly placed typo, it’s getting too chummy online in an awkward, insincere manner.
It’s generally inadvisable to speak to customers as if they’re your best friends, which means lay off the emojis (which can easily be misconstrued), too-casual language and excessive use of cheesy puns or banter. Use proper grammar and capitalization, unless it goes against your company’s cohesive brand voice (i.e. if your brand consistently uses lowercase lettering on marketing collateral and website copy).
Limited use of Internet slang and/or acronyms may be acceptable if your brand is going for that “young and hip” vibe, but generally as a rule of thumb, try to keep language concise and professional, particularly if you’re dealing with a less-than-ecstatic customer.
In short, colloquialisms are fine, but using six exclamation points and too many ROFLOLs in every Facebook comment may be misguided. Having a solid grasp on the brand’s overarching identity can make online interactions more seamless and cohesive.
2. Timeliness is crucial
One of the most advantageous aspects of using social media for customer service is that it’s a quick, easy way to respond to feedback. This usefulness goes out the window if it takes your company three days to respond to a timely request, such as, “What time are you open until on Wednesdays?” when it’s already Saturday morning.
Millennials in particular can be averse to speaking on the phone, and reaching out via social may come as second nature. Having a dedicated person paying attention to online inquiries is key. Be sure this employee knows to check not only Twitter mentions or Facebook post comments, but also the comment sections on any company-produced blog posts, as well as direct messages on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram — and yes, even the dreaded YouTube comments.
Not every remark will require a response, but vigilance can help ensure your company isn’t losing business due to oversights. Direct questions, product-related inquiries and complaints should all be addressed ASAP.
Which brings us to the next point…
3. Carefully consider hiring choices for social media positions
If your brand has a huge social following and relies heavily upon online/social outlets for customer feedback, hiring a college student to run social channels as an unpaid internship might not be especially prudent.
It’s true that younger, fresh-out-of-college employees may have a more thorough grasp on how to converse and manage social media accounts, but it’s important to keep in mind that there’s a huge difference between knowing if an Instagram photo needs the Clarendon or the Juno filter, and knowing how to navigate the ins and outs of online customer service.
Don’t hire haphazardly for positions that deal directly with customers, and carefully examine the resumes of potential community managers for prior experience with customer-service-related matters. Conducting a “trial run” or giving potential candidates hypothetical scenarios to see how they’ll react in the event of a PR crisis can help you gauge if they’re capable of keeping cool under pressure.
It’s also important to know and clearly delineate which department in your company is responsible for what. Does social media fall under marketing, or will you be building out a separate team to handle online campaigns? Who will be the point-person in the event of an unhappy customer, and who has final say on how to manage their demands? These are important questions to consider when building out a CRM strategy.
And while there’s no one-size-fits-all answer to the question of hiring internally versus outsourcing social media management to an external agency, it’s crucial to have at least one or two people in the know and who have access to social account log-ins in the event of an emergency.
4. Take heated conversations offline in a tactful manner
Anyone who has ever worked in the service industry knows that customers can be unfair, demanding and sometimes downright cruel. Unfortunately, dealing with occasional jerks is par for the course for any professional in a customer service role.
Every now and then, you’re going to have to deal with a customer on social media voicing complaints, sometimes in an obnoxious manner. It’s key to get these heated conversations offline, as quickly as possible and in a way that not only placates the upset customer, but also communicates to online observers that the issue is being handled.
Once the problem has been resolved offline, either on the phone, via email or in person, find a way to create an addendum to the public online conversation or remove it from public viewability. It’s not always necessary to delete such interactions entirely; sometimes, when an issue has a positive outcome, proving that customers can find resolution online lends your brand valuable street cred.
Keep in mind that not every disgruntled customer will be assuaged. If a customer is using vulgar language or repeatedly trolling your brand’s social pages, it may be time to find out how to remove them from your page or block future comments. Twitter, for example, recently unrolled revamped “block list” features, enabling users to more effectively ban menacing accounts and interactions.
This should typically be a last-resort option, as blocking an angry user may add fuel to the fire.
5. Use CRM software, but don’t rely on it 100%
A CRM platform can help marketers and community managers handle volume and keep detailed records of prior customer service interactions. For example, when you’re conversing with a customer on Twitter, it’s valuable to know if the user has had previous issues and how they were resolved, as well as if the user is a VIP customer or a first-timer.
That said, it’s equally as important to keep human eyes on your social accounts and build relationships with customers that extend beyond software. No platform is 100% glitch-free, so combining the efforts of a social team’s manpower with trusty software is usually a winning formula.
6. Customer service is not the same as crisis management
If one or two customers have complaints, it’s a manageable situation. If 200 customers are chiming in online with a problem, it’s time to switch to crisis mode.
Every brand with a significant online presence should have a game plan for such an emergency, whether it’s a go-to, trusted PR firm upon which you can bestow the reigns of social accounts, or a plan of action for having the company CEO address customers directly. Being adequately prepared can be the difference between containing a fire, versus letting it run rampant to every corner of the Internet.
Issues that should be flagged as first priority include: technical outages/website problems that may have large-scale repercussions, customer complaints that sound particularly egregious, urgent product or service requests and any inquiry that appears to deal with product safety. It’s crucial that these types of problems are dealt with as swiftly as possible to prevent a snowball effect.
7. Show your human side
While you don’t want to act overly buddy-buddy with customers (see point number one), it’s important to remind them that a real, live human being sits on the other end of the computer screen.
In the same way as it’s easy for commenters on YouTube to write spiteful things they would never dare whisper out loud in person, it’s easy for customers to rant at what they perceive to be a faceless online entity. The second you humanize your brand with a personal touch, you add a crucial element that brings your brand back down to Earth.
Try to mix up response language so that customers don’t feel as if they’re conversing with a robot. If it’s possible to find some common ground with a customer (in a non-creepy manner), adding a personal note to conversation is impressive. Remember to sympathize if a customer appears especially flustered, and try to remember that everyone has bad days.
Beyond that, a little common sense comes in handy: A simple “please” or “thank you” can go a long way.