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“Social care is more than customer service. It’s marketing. And, it’s inexpensive compared to other marketing strategies. Therefore, brands must engage with customers and get social with them,” – Shep Hyken

Worldwide, entrepreneurs and enterprises are working to engage with their clients and customers at deeper, more immediate levels. New marketing channels, such as electronic social media handles, are offering them the scope and opportunity to cultivate customer loyalty and to boost customer engagement. This is largely in response to market demand for social customer service capabilities that are emerging as the new normal in terms of providing customer services. Demand is manifested in the recent research findings that indicate an estimated 67% of modern consumers use social media channels to avail customer service in a bid to elicit a fast response. Research also indicates that about 42% of consumers expect a response within 60 minutes of initiating an online conversation. Therefore, we may state that social customer service has emerged as a vaunted ‘external objective for social business functions’.

Brands and businesses are advised to apply their energies and resources to constantly raise the bar on social customer service in a bid to resonate with their customers. This strategy assumes significance because increasingly, wider swathes of human populations are subscribing regularly to social media platforms. Major customer demographics remain active and heavily invested in multiple forms of electronic social media. Therefore, businesses must flesh out a cohesive strategy to appear responsive to customer requests, complaints, suggestions, and appreciation. The manifestations of such strategy must be constantly refined and expanded in tune with the evolving customer. In addition, brands must realise that vigilance remains key to social customer service because this paradigm is gaining currency in modern times.

The speed of response should be a primary criterion that informs every instance of social customer service. For instance, a commercial air services operator should ideally allot certain staff members to monitor its social media handles at all times. This is critical because the wide expanse and scope of modern commercial aviation can create situations that demand the active attention of service providers. Passengers that need assistance may broadcast their situation on social media and this may necessitate a speedy response as a form of social customer service. Service providers and operators should bear in mind that social media represents a public space and therefore, any indecision or lack of a suitable response may reflect badly on the commercial organisation. Further, the said aviation operator should view an emerging situation as an opportunity to reinforce its brand credentials. In light of the above, we may state that brands and businesses should actively participate in social media in an attempt to establish a solid brand reputation and to connect with their many stakeholders.

The cost of each interaction with clients and customers is significantly low for social media channels. This is confirmed by research studies that point to the fact that social customer service offers a highly cost efficient platform when compared to customer service via telephones. It has been noted that a brand or a business can service eight customers on social media platforms in the time frame that is typically required to service two customers on the telephone. This points to the fact that social customer service offers a time efficient approach to serving new and existing customers. We note that these points should help more businesses to consider and actively adopt customer servicing systems built around social media channels. That said, we must note that social customer service carries the risk of attracting negative publicity and therefore, businesses must initiate measures designed to minimize risk and to optimise results.

Online vigilance should comprise one of the watchwords that must be relentlessly applied by businesses keen to undertake social customer service. This is important because the online world is a vast domain and the multiple social media platforms expand the scope of online customer interactions. Therefore, brands and businesses must invest in quality software that scours the Internet for mentions of a particular brand, company name, or product. This vigilance should be ceaselessly executed because every business worth its salt should be aware of (and track) every instance of an online mention, comment, review, complaint, or appreciation pertaining to its brand name or its products. This approach should help brands and businesses to maintain hygiene in the online realm and to reinforce brand credentials and maintain a brand reputation.

Business enterprises should create special training and sensitisation modules for staff members that are allotted to social customer service duties. This action should stem from the fact that the very public nature of social media channels removes any scope for confidential or anonymous business interactions. The harsh spotlight of social media attends every online conversation and therefore, businesses must train their staff persons to modulate, moderate, and direct the tone and nature of business interactions on social media. The said staff persons should also be instructed in the fine art of managing customer expectations. We must note that these actions also flow from the realisation that a successful social media-based interaction with customers can bring many benefits to a brand or a business. Conversely, a less-than-careful online encounter with an irate customer can damage a brand image or cause irreparable loss of brand reputation.

The best practices for social customer service must include pro-active support for these channels and broadcasting their existence using marketing materials and sales collateral. This stance signals the fact that a brand or business is heavily invested in social media and therefore open to interactions from all manner of customers. It also indicates that a brand or a business favours active engagement with its customers and is working to exceed customer demands in the market. Brands that actively operate in social media channels can prove that they value their customer relationships and are committed to deeply personal and emotional relationships premised on trust.

In addition to the above, commercial social media handles can encourage their employees to become brand advocates in their interactions with customers. This implies that every employee that is part of the social media management team must interact with customers in his or her capacity as a brand ambassador. Therefore, the level of interactions should be impeccable and must trigger customer delight. Further, brands and businesses may choose to hire social media professionals in a bid to train employees on best practices. The importance of social customer service should be impressed upon every individual employee. Process managers should evaluate every interaction in light of the company’s stated policy. These initiatives can go a long way to ensure that a brand achieves its business objectives through social customer service practices.

In the preceding paragraphs, we have examined the concept of social customer service from a myriad angles. We must note that such a service paradigm is essentially an evolving concept in addition to being a disruptive concept. Therefore, brands and businesses must invest significant time and resources to understand, master, and refine the strategies required to master this powerful customer service channel. Commercial organisations must actively woo and court the social customer because these actions can create long-term benefits for every brand and business that operates on the planet.

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