Managing Customer Service through Social Media

“Social media is not just an activity; it is an investment of valuable time and resources. Surround yourself with people who not just support you and stay with you, but inform your thinking about ways to WOW your online presence” – Sean Gardner

Despite the popularity of social media, it continues to be scary and prohibitive for a number of people / companies. The main reason being its visibility and instant reach – some people and companies do not have the ability to cope with these aspects, fearing the aspect of putting themselves ‘out there’ for all to see. For some companies, even defining what their social media strategy should be is a herculean task. However, despite these obvious ‘scares’ and apprehensions, the fact is that social media has provided companies with new and varied ways to communicate and interact with their customers – beyond the confines of a contact centre. Managing customer service through social media is all about listen attentively, taking swift action, and using to advantage all the feedback that customers and readers provide.

However, simply setting up a social media page does not suffice – it will not work on its own. There has to be a clear and robust strategy such that a company can manage customer service through social media in an efficient and customer-friendly manner. The foremost part of managing customer service through social media is to have a plan – the approach and roadmap to forge ahead in providing customers with the best service even via social media. It would be important to know how best the company can use social media to not only build and maintain relationships with the target customer base, but also ensure that the company’s business objectives are met and surpassed. While the good news is that there are several tools available to companies through which they can respond to customers, the downside is that unless these tools are used well, the communication with customers can be completely messed up. It is important to ensure that customers can provide feedback and that the company is able to regulate its workflow, accelerate the approval process for low tolerance subjects, and ensure that the appropriate people within the organization receive the approval requests on time.

As mentioned, given the highly visible and viral nature of the platforms, managing customer service through social media, especially in crisis becomes extremely critical. Unhappy customers lose no time in posting negative experiences on social media sites, ensuring that a very large audience would be able to view it within seconds. A minor customer service issue, if not managed well could well escalate into a full-fledged problem- that of a damaged reputation and the subsequent effort required to contain the damage by appeasing the customer. In most cases, such comments stay online forever. Having a plan to deal with such crisis in real time is quintessential to the success of customer service through social media. Whatever the plan, a company must ensure that they respond and act swiftly and intelligently not only in order to satisfy the irate customer, but also prevent the problem from damaging the goodwill and market reputation the company may have laboriously built over years.

Amongst the top steps in managing customer service through social media is training your staff members in the subtleties and intricacies of this platform. The staff must have a clear and sound understanding of the guidelines, operating protocols, and social media ‘decorum’, such that they prove effective in serving customers all the time, while conforming to rules. These staff members must know the social media strategy of the company, and any changes must be communicated to them in a timely fashion. At no point must these staff members forget the importance of courtesy, empathy, timeliness, and politeness – since even one brash or curt comment from the company could snowball and ruin the business.

Managing customer service through social media is all about speed and accuracy. The fact is that when a customer posts a comment, asks a question, or makes a complaint – many other people would have seen this ‘activity’ even before the company would have had a chance to view it, let alone respond. The fact that a company has set up a page on a social media site means that they should expect such activity, and would be making an unsaid promise that it would respond to customers. However, responding is not enough – it must be speedy – within minutes is usually the expectation from customers via social media. There is nothing more annoying and irritating to customers than to be left hanging, waiting for the company to respond to their comment / complaint over social media. It makes the customer look unimportant before a large audience and their circle of friends and associates. Why would a company do that to any customer – especially since customers can either make or break a company. It makes sense to have round the clock monitoring of social media sites – but if that is not possible, the company must clearly display the hours of business over the particular site, such that customers do not have any false or unrealistic expectations.

Obviously, social media is all about technology. Therefore, to provide great customer service through social media, a company must use the most appropriate and up to date technology. The tools available enable a company to deal with the heavy inflow of queries received, assign them to the most appropriate agent, ensure that the queries are queued in order of being received, ensure that queries of a critical nature are answered on priority, and other such actions to ensure the smooth flow of service to customers. Technology would only be successful if the people using it are trained, skilled, and knowledgeable enough to manage it. The customer service agents must remember the importance of courteous responses, articulate communication, the ability to build a rapport, and be able to remain calm under pressure that would in turn allow them to solve issues and problems more efficiently. A passion to help coupled with the tenacity to manage customer service through social media is a great combination for the service agents.

As mentioned several times, customers leave comments and feedback all the time. These random points must be paired with structured and solicited feedback to help the company understand how it fares against what customers expect. If your company seeks feedback through social media, the premise of customer service would be that the customer should be able to perceive changes / improvements based on the feedback they provided. In addition, it would be necessary for the company to fix any issues immediately – their re-appearance on social media pages would make the company seem ignorant, incompetent, and uncaring. One of the biggest plus points of social media is its astounding ability to ‘spread news’ to a very large audience in a single click and comment. Companies should use this to their advantage – for example, if the company anticipates a problem within its business that would affect customers, it would be able to let its customers know through a single ‘broadcast’. Not only is a company able to inform its customers, it is able to protect its reputation and be seen as a company that cares enough for its customers. The customers too, would know what to expect, and would be more willing to cooperate since they received advance and first-hand information. Rather than customers hearing it from the ‘market buzz’, such announcements seem more personal and thoughtful on the part of the company.

Managing customer service through social media is challenging, but through careful planned, a robust roadmap, and a sound strategy, it can become one of the most effective and potent ways for a company to communicate regularly with its customers. Is your company ‘socially’ competent yet?

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