Social media is a critical marketing tool. Aside from posting photos or status updates, using social media for customer service can elevate your business to the next level.
A business should have strategies in place for handling customer service issues through social media, as this will be another, more convenient way to get in touch with customers and vice versa.
"Customer service and social media has melded together," said Lindsay Patton-Carson, vice president of customer engagement at natural deodorant company PiperWai. "If your brand has social media profiles, you are absolutely going to have to perform customer service on social media. There isn't a way to get around it."
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Patrick Cuttica, senior manager of product marketing at social media management company Sprout Social, stressed than when customers come to you, you need to prove you can be a helpful resource to them. Don't leave them unanswered. Your response often determines whether the customer will return to your brand.
Additionally, since so many customers already communicate through social media, businesses of all sorts should be prepared to invest in building out their social customer care efforts. [Read related: Best Social Media Marketing Solutions for Small Businesses]
"Brands need to be thoughtful about which social platforms their customers are using [and] … focus their engagement efforts there," Cuttica said. "A successful customer service strategy requires that a brand be present and available across the channels their customers prefer."
Patton-Carson and Cuttica, along with Una Vaina Bien Spanish founder Mechi Annaís Estévez Cruz and social media expert Gerille Rosado, offered some strategies for small business owners looking to use social media as a customer service tool.
Build real customer relationships. Many businesses approach social media as another channel for self-promotion and don't always respond when customers comment on their posts or tweet at them. Use your Facebook and Twitter accounts to build real relationships by engaging in conversation.
Use a hashtag. Rosado explains that using a specific hashtag helps users search specific concerns under the hashtag. Everything is organized and easy to navigate. You can add more information and curate content to the hashtag as well.
Focus on creating a customer advocate base. If a customer has a bad experience with a company, one of the first things he or she is likely to do is write about it on social media. Rather than respond to negative comments, a business's strategy should involve providing such excellent customer service that they create a strong, loyal customer base that will advocate on the brand's behalf if someone has something bad to say.
Have a voice. When responding to a customer complaint, Patton-Carson advised listening closely to your customers. "Whether it's an angry comment or a positive comment, people love being acknowledged and heard." One little response with a thank you or emoji, she stressed, can make a huge impact on an individual scale. It lets the customer know that your brand is listening.
Be present. Cuttica said that more often than not, brands fall short on social customer service because they simply aren't actively listening to and engaging with customers. Brands that want to deliver effective customer service on social media should use social media monitoring to flag all messages related to their company or products.
"Introducing automation through chatbots can help ease the burden on human customer service agents," he said. "Striking the right balance of automation and accessible customer service agents, working hand in hand, will help brands respond more efficiently and effectively to every meaningful conversation."
Additional reporting by Jennifer Post. Some source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.