Once upon a time, customers dialed up trunklines and were put on hold through endless rounds of badly recorded classical music. Their calls were transferred about a dozen times before they reached someone who could really help. They sent emails detailing their complaints but never got responded to. It was a dark era for customer service, more so, a tough time for customers.
Fast forward to this day and we see a new generation of smartphone-clad, online-savvy customers. The rules have changed and customers don’t have to wait anymore. They have the power of social media right within their fingertips and they know how to take advantage of it. They tweet product concerns any given time of day, they post recommendations and complaints on Facebook walls, they blog testimonials when they’re extremely satisfied or extremely annoyed.
“Social care” is what they call it, short for “customer service via social media.” Neilsen reports that 47% of social media users engage in social care, 50% express concerns or complaints about brands/services, and one out of three social media users prefer social care over contacting a company by phone.
With this growing awareness of social care as a medium to directly communicate to companies, more and more businesses are riding the social media bandwagon; this time, not just to market their products, but to build customer relations and watch over their backs for nasty, reputation-damaging complaints.
If you haven’t been using social media as a tool for customer service, here are 5 steps to get you started:
1. Know which social media channel to focus on.
You don’t need to be in all social media channels. Intelligently choose which ones to focus on and set up camp there. In Neilsen’s Social Media Report 2012, Facebook and Twitter are the leading social networks where people engage in social care. It is imperative, therefore, that you setup Facebook and Twitter accounts for your company or business. Blogger, WordPress, and Tumblr, though not really considered social media networks but more of blogging platforms, are the other top channels that consumers use for social care. Bloggers love writing about the current brand or product they’re using, so keep an eye on blogs. Presence in other social networks depends on the industry you’re in. Say, if your company is in the food, hospitality or travel industry, you want to keep an eye on Foursquare, TripIt, or Tripadvisor. If you’re in the interior design or fashion business, you should definitely be on Pinterest
2. Respond as quickly as possible.
The last thing you want to happen is to have an unanswered complaint go viral, which, as we all have witnessed in one way or another, can cause lasting damages to your brand. A blogger recently ranted about Path (a social network / mobile app) sending text invites and calling up his phone contacts at 6am. The post went viral within minutes, and is still being talked about until now. No longer than 5 days later, Facebook restricted Path’s API access, a move that Techcrunch connected to the aforementioned blog that went viral. The point is, stories about brands can be instantly passed on in social media. This is the part where customer service, online reputation, and brand management overlap. As customer service, your job is to respond as quickly as you can, if not to resolve the problem, at least to acknowledge that questions or complaints have been heard and something is being done. Don’t wait a day, respond within the same hour if possible.
3. Be prepared to deal with unhappy customers.
Reality is, satisfied customers hardly say anything, while unhappy customers tell the whole world about their horrible experience. Their posts are so angry you can almost hear the sound of their fingers pounding on the keys. Be ready to respond to this type of customers because you’ll deal with a lot of them, especially in social media. Don’t fight or involve yourself in a public debate. The customer is still always right, acknowledge fault if you must. If the pain is too much to alleviate, escalate the concern and take the discussion out of Twitter or Facebook. If you can track the email address or the phone number of the customer, send him an email or give him a call. Listen to them. Even more important, learn from them. Consider their complaints as unsolicited advice and make the necessary changes to prevent these issues from recurring. If the damage has spread too far and too fast, don’t hesitate to post a tweet, a press release, or a blog post explaining what has been done to solve the matter. Don’t just let issues die down. Make it a habit to put closure and resolutions to customer concerns.
4. Have a dedicated social media person.
By this time you should have gotten the drift. Social care is important and responding quickly is a must. Having said the first three items above, you need a dedicated person to cover your social media accounts. If you’re a big enterprise, you’ll need a team. If you’re a small business, you can start off with one dedicated person and just grow your manpower as the need arises. Social care is not anymore a task your marketing person or secretary can do when she has free time. Allotting budget for a dedicated social media person/team is an investment that will come a long way.
5. Consider 24/7 social media support.
The thing with social media is, users can post whatever they want, whenever they want, in whatever timezone they’re in. I can imagine people ranting on Facebook or Twitter in the middle of the night when no one is manning the customer hotline. Or irate customers impulsively twitting complaints like one would drunk-dial an ex. Social media is a 24/7 channel. This is why big corporations outsource their social media operations like they would their customer support—they need to have every social media channel covered, and in a global scale too.
The first steps are always the hardest, but once set up, social media support eventually becomes a lifestyle. Is your business engaging in social care? If not, I have one question for you: what are you waiting for?