For many customer-facing businesses one of the biggest issues is being able to provide an efficient and timely customer service. Dealing with complaints, queries, questions and sales enquiries is an enormous challenge, particularly for SMEs where there simply may not be the requisite staff numbers to constantly man the phones. This is where social media can come in incredibly useful, as it offers a way to not only make the customer feel like they are connecting directly with the business, but to provide fast, personalised responses that are ultimately much more satisfying for the person on the other end of the smart phone.
According to The Social Customer Engagement Index 2012, 34% of businesses have been using social media for customer services for the past two years and a recent business survey found that some 80% of businesses plan to start using it in 2013. This makes social media one of the new front lines in providing top class customer service. So how do you make it work for you?
Maintain it. Social media in any form is only successful if it is properly maintained. Setting up Twitter and Facebook customer service accounts that then lie dormant, ignoring messages and tweets from customers, is going to do far more damage to a reputation than no social media presence at all. If necessary, start small with just one social media channel and set yourself a target, such as replying to customer service tweets or messages within an hour.
Differentiate between direct and indirect customer service feedback. A piece of indirect feedback will be a comment on a post, update or status, whereas a direct piece of feedback is written from a customer to the business. The latter of these should be treated as priority for responses from your customer service team and is most likely to elicit a negative reaction if you ignore it. The former of these is also important, but is more useful in terms of collating suggestions as to changes to make to your business model, new products etc.
Dedicate resources. This means putting time and effort into finding the right person to manage your social media face. Whilst you may not realise it yet, the impact that tweets or status updates that are posted on behalf of your business will have in terms of defining its profile and reputation is huge. It’s enormously important to employ someone who understands your customer service ethos, who won’t reply in a rude or aggressive manner and who is able to diplomatically manage negative feedback in a very public forum.
Keep an eye on it. Social media forums and feeds can be an extremely useful way to spot issues before they escalate. If you see complaints appearing about one of your products or services, jump in with a solution and customers will know they are dealing with an efficient business with its finger on the pulse that cares about its customers. Social media customer service is extremely public so it really pays to anticipate issues in advance and have pre-prepared solutions and responses to keep your service smooth.
But draw the line. Social media channels are a highly efficient way to deal with genuine customer complaints but such a public forum also opens a business up to being attacked by bored internet trolls or made the subject of defamatory comments. You can protect your business – and its reputation – through the courts, or with the threat of legal action, and many celebrities, companies and public figures are now doing so. In fact, the number of internet defamation cases doubled in 2011 – one recent, very public example was House of Commons speaker's wife Sally Bercow who posted a tweet that allegedly linked a former Conservative politician to false child abuse allegations and was subsequently sued for £50,000.
Social media for customer services may seem like a minefield but it’s actually an enormously effective way of taking your public face up a notch. Once the groundwork is laid then it is far easier to stay on top of issues than relying on email, phone calls, or even old school methods like snail mail.