Best Practices for Social Media Customer Service

In today’s age of social media, brands have more visibility than ever as companies may engage customers on numerous social networking sites. Social media provides excellent opportunities for marketing, building brand recognition, and boosting sales as consumers increasingly refer to these sites, and not just company websites, when seeking information or making purchases.

However, what companies shouldn’t ignore is the fact that customers rely more and more on social media for customer service-and the way companies respond can have serious impact on business. Research by J.D. Power and Associates revealed that only 34% of social media users refer to networking sites for marketing reasons-the rest are there for customer service.

So what should companies do to address this ever-growing trend?

The first step is obviously to make sure a company has strong presence on the most popular sites-including but not limited to Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus, Linkedin, and Pinterest, to name a few. Here are some specific tips to follow when addressing social customer service:

  1. Customer concerns via social media need to be handled by skilled customer service staff. Just because a problem is reported on Facebook doesn’t mean a technical support employee should handle the concern. Customer service representatives should handle a concern as if the issue were being reported by phone, email, or any other private mode of communication. When responding to concerns, politely ask to shift the conversation to a private mode-this enables the company to handle the concerns with professionalism while allowing the customer to speak freely, and it’s likely the customer will be motivated to post positive comments online if their concern is handled this way.
  2. Respond in a timely fashion. This cannot be emphasized enough. Ignoring customer concerns or waiting too long to respond just adds to the problem, and can hurt the company’s reputation if customers continue to complain on social media.
  3. Always answer on the channel on which you were contacted. Again, if the message appears on Facebook, be sure to respond on Facebook until you are able to communicate privately.
  4. Be consistent in your tone and approach. Not only is it important to be polite and never defensive, but companies need to be consistent in their protocol for handling concerns. For example, a toll-free phone number or customer service e-mail address should be provided in every initial response to a customer as the customer service represent attempts to establish private contact with the customer. Use consistent language (“I’m sorry to hear you are experiencing this issue”), and empathize with the customer.
  5. Prevent problems in the first place by making it easier for your customers. Providing a thorough FAQ page on your website, well-written content all over the site, and plenty of modes for communication with the company will keep your customers better informed and likely prevent issues in the first place. If a customer reaches the point of needing assistance, make sure toll-free phone numbers, customer service e-mail addresses, and social media buttons are clearly indicated on the company website with best times for communication (don’t forget to mention time zones!). This way, no customer will feel left out.

For excellent social media customer service, it’s vital to keep these sites active and coherent-content should always be updated regularly, and most importantly, staff must be properly trained and ready to answer questions as quickly as they come in. Communication moves fast on social media, and companies which don’t keep up with the pace are bound to lose customers who feel they aren’t being heard.

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