- Social media can be a great customer service tool.
- By handling customer complaints and concerns on social media, you'll show other customers how dedicated you are to keeping them satisfied.
- There are many ways to use social media for customer service, such as including hashtags strategically and setting up a separate handle for customer service support.
- This article is for business leaders who are looking to use social media to improve their customer service efforts.
Social media is an essential marketing tool for modern businesses, but it can also elevate companies' customer service. To benefit from this strategy, however, you have to do it well; if you don't manage your social media presence carefully, it can damage your brand and drive potential paying customers far away.
Your business should have strategies in place for handling customer service issues through social media, as it serves as another, more convenient way to get in touch with customers and vice versa. It also boosts your brand's reputation and, if you do it strategically, increases your opportunity to go viral. At the very least, a well-developed social media customer service strategy could be an opportunity to foster a unique, notable or even hilarious brand voice. (You'd be in good company, alongside Denny's, MoonPie and so many others.)
"Customer service and social media have melded together," said Lindsay Patton-Carson, social media supervisor at Evoke KYNE. "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."
Why is social media important for customer service?
Patrick Cuttica, director of product marketing at social media management company Sprout Social, said that when customers come to you, you need to prove you can be a helpful resource to them. Don't ignore them or leave their questions unanswered; your response (or lack of one) often determines whether the customer will return to your brand.
Because so many customers already communicate through social media, businesses of all sorts should invest in building out their social customer care efforts. Social media can improve the way you address customer service issues. If you resolve customer concerns over social media quickly enough, this positive exchange can help you create a loyal customer base.
To connect with customers, make sure they can reach you on their preferred platforms.
"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."
Key takeaway: Using social media for customer service allows you to respond to customers' questions and concerns and build a loyal customer base.
How to use social media for customer service
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 who are looking to use social media as a customer service tool:
1. Build authentic customer relationships in a timely fashion.
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.
While not responding at all can clearly have a negative impact on your brand, you also have to respond within a reasonable amount of time. According to research from Convince & Convert, 42% of consumers expect a response to a complaint on social media within 60 minutes, and nearly one-third expect a response within half an hour.
2. Use hashtags strategically.
Rosado said using a specific hashtag helps users search for their concerns under that hashtag. Hashtags help keep everything organized and easy to navigate, especially on platforms such as Twitter. You can add more information and curate content to the hashtag as well.
Wix, a web development site, named three types of hashtags to use: content, trending and brand-specific. While it's important to follow trending and content hashtags, especially during holiday seasons, it could be equally beneficial to create brand-specific hashtags for different campaigns. For instance, Wix uses #WixPhotography to promote its photography contests.
3. Focus on creating a customer advocate base.
If a customer has a bad experience with a company, one of the first things they are likely to do is write a negative review online. Rather than responding to negative comments, your business's strategy should involve providing such excellent customer service that you create a strong, loyal customer base that will advocate for your brand if someone has something bad to say.
Hootsuite describes a customer advocacy base as a group of loyal, trusted customers and employees who can speak out in favor of your brand. This demographic is often untapped, as many organizations overlook the power of loyal brand advocates.
4. Be responsive.
When you respond to a customer complaint, listen closely to that customer, Patton-Carson advised. It's vital to pay attention and let them know you're listening. A lack of attentiveness contributes to a poor response, which reflects negatively on your brand. After all, when your brand replies to an individual user, it's not just your followers who can see it.
No response is also considered a poor response. "Whether it's an angry comment or a positive comment, people love being acknowledged and heard," Patton-Carson said.
One little response with a thank-you, like or emoji can have a huge impact on an individual scale, she said, as it lets the customer know that your brand is listening and receptive. The goal is to maintain activity and assure your followers, including potential customers, that your brand is active on social media and responsive to your audience.
5. Be available.
To respond effectively to customers, they have to be able to reach you in the first place. Brands often fall short on social customer service because they aren't actively listening to and engaging with customers, Cuttica said.
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," Cuttica said. "Striking the right balance [between] automation and accessible customer service agents, working hand in hand, will help brands respond more efficiently and effectively to every meaningful conversation."
Inactivity means missed opportunities not only for positive interactions but also for easy profits. According to findings published in 2016 in the journal Business Research, brands that interact with customers on social media overall tend to be more profitable. (Twitter published similar conclusions about its users the same year.) Furthermore, social media interactions with customers have the potential to create a high return on investment, especially if you outsource social media management to a third-party company or have one employee dedicated to content creation and account moderation.
6. Take public conversations private.
Many angry or frustrated customers leave public comments on your Instagram and Facebook page, or tweet them at your business. This can be a bad look for your company, especially if people repost or share these comments.
While you absolutely shouldn't ignore these messages, you should not handle the entire encounter publicly. Show other customers that you value their input by sending an initial response publicly, requesting to continue the conversation privately. For example, if someone tweets about how their product arrived damaged, send a tweet back to apologize and tell them that a member of your customer service team reached out to them in their direct messages.
Even positive matters should be discussed in private, as it will show your customers you value their concerns or reviews and aren't just looking for public praise. Take the time to foster a more personal customer service experience by speaking with customers one on one.
7. Set up a separate handle for customer service support.
Many businesses have a separate social media account for customer service purposes. For example, your normal account might be @yourbusiness, while your customer service account might be @yourbusiness_help. That way, customer demands or concerns can be organized and flagged more easily. Additionally, your customer service team can get to work on issues quickly by focusing on one account.
To increase this dedicated account's reach, make sure you include a link to the profile in your main account's bio to direct customers there for support. While you still might get some requests on your main account, you can pass them along to the right team to ensure every customer receives the proper help.
Also, you should respond to every customer service complaint or message with your customer service account, even if the customer contacted the wrong one, as it will show others how you address requests as well.
Key takeaway: To use social media as a customer service tool, be authentic, responsive and attentive, and set up a separate customer service support account to direct customers to a more detailed private conversation.
Social tools to support customer service
There are various social tools you can use to support your customer service needs:
- Messaging apps: Messaging apps, like Facebook Messenger and ClickDesk, are great ways to communicate directly with your customers. Have them contact you personally (or reach out to them if they left a comment on your page) so you can handle matters privately.
- Live chat: Live chat is a great option for customer service because it provides quick responses from real live-chat representatives.
- Chatbots: Like live chat, chatbots are perfect for efficiently addressing customer concerns. Chatbot responses are immediate, so customers don't have to wait around for a response, even in the middle of the night. Using chatbots is also more affordable than hiring human customer service representatives. However, because there's no real representative on the other side of the conversation, responses lack a human touch.
- Tracking systems: Certain software and services measure the impact of your customer service efforts on social media, telling you how long it takes for your business to respond to messages or resolve issues. That way, you can approve wherever necessary.
Key takeaway: Social tools – such as messaging apps, live chat, chatbots and tracking systems – can aid your social customer service efforts.
Develop a social media customer service policy
Customer service policies ensure all employees are on the same page when addressing dissatisfied customers or any questions and concerns customers might have. This is especially important if you're using social media for customer support purposes. You'll want to create a separate social media customer service policy for your team so that your efforts are reliable and consistent.
Follow these steps to develop your social media customer service policy:
- Learn more about your customers' needs. You can do this by conducting surveys or asking your customer service team about their experiences with common complaints or asking your customer service team about their experiences with common complaints or questions.
- Develop a vision statement. Based on that research, develop a clear vision statement that outlines how to address these concerns.
- Align research about customer needs with customer service goals. Make sure your customer service goals and company values align with your customers' needs.
- Train employees (especially new ones) on the policy. To ensure everyone is on the same page, train all customer service employees on how to implement and follow this policy.
- Reevaluate often. Revisit the policy at least annually and any time you think you need to improve your customer service efforts.
Key takeaway: Creating a social media customer service policy will ensure that all of your employees are on the same page.
Additional reporting by Adryan Corcione and Jennifer Post. Source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.