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Customer service has evolved. Instead of returning to a store or calling a helpline, people are increasingly turning to social media to resolve their gripes.

So it’s perhaps no surprise, then, that 80% of companies plan to use social media for customer service.

And when you hit that sweet spot and create a well-oiled social customer service machine, the pay-off is huge: 71% of customers recommend a brand that gives them a ‘quick and effective’ response on social media. 

Here’s a list of important things to consider. 

Know your objectives from the start 

Pinpoint what you want to achieve. Faster issue resolution? Lower costs? Better customer experience? Know this and you can measure success and allocate resource more effectively.  

Keep tabs on conversations

This is the essence of good customer service. If you don’t have monitoring tools, you won’t know what’s being said about your brand – which means you can’t fight your corner.   

Triage posts

When you’re handling hundreds or thousands of queries a day, you’ll need to combine various technologies, such as Radian6 or Sysymos, and human analysis to identify which posts you need to respond to. 

There are also tools on the market that do more than reveal ‘positive, negative, neutral’ sentiment. Augify, for example, can help you determine intent (such as intent to buy) and emotion – which is extremely useful when you triage social content. 

Adopt good management tools

Integrating social media with CRM systems is a great way to get a single view of a customer across different channels. 

Moderation and management tools like Adobe Social, Hootsuite and Conversocial help you manage and track your conversations with customers, giving you a record for marketing and legal purposes.  

Don’t ring-fence social media from customer service

You can’t have a social media strategy that doesn’t consider customer service, and vice versa. Users deserve the same good experience whatever channel they use. 

Assemble a top-notch social media team

Make sure you have customer service specialists, marketing and legal representatives at the ready to field urgent questions. 

And remember, social customer care is different to traditional customer support. Handling a query on Facebook or Twitter requires a different approach to fielding a question at a call centre –following a script won’t cut it.

Social customer care staff must sound like a real person. And while obviously they must be professional, having a personality and sense of humour can really help defuse a tense stand-off.   

Train your staff well and authorise them to act

If you run a call centre you wouldn’t let staff take calls before they’ve been trained. The same thinking applies to social media. 

If customers don’t have confidence that social customer service staff know what they’re doing, or have the power to fix the problem, the brand-customer relationship will nosedive.  

Pick your channel(s)

If resource is an issue, concentrate on delivering excellent customer service over a few channels, rather than covering all bases but doing a sub-standard job. 

Invest sufficient resource

Social customer service is a long-term commitment. Make sure you can cover holidays, weekends, and busy periods, and have a team on standby in the event of a crisis. (This is where outsourcing can work so well, to scale up or down as you need it).   

Respond quickly

We recommend to clients that when a serious issue breaks, they’ve got around 15 minutes to acknowledge it on Twitter, and around an hour on Facebook. 

Don’t get embroiled in every conversation

Obviously you want to respond to genuine posts. But when you get aggressive, extreme or bullying posts, it’s best to leave well alone. Your social customer service guidelines should make it clear to your team when it’s OK to walk away. 

Set the community rules and moderate content

Ban abusive and inappropriate content (including swearing) from your customer community. And block spam too – it smacks of ‘we don’t care’.  

Bundle answers to common questions

There’s not always time to answer every post. If the same questions keep cropping up, send a ‘group’ post along the lines of: “To all our customers who are asking about the service outage today, we can confirm that…” 

Consider separating your customer service from your social media feeds

Some brands find their social media feed gets bogged down with customer queries. Splitting the customer service and general social streams is a good way to tackle this problem, just like ASOS Here To Help and BTCare have done.  

Take criticism on the chin, then right the wrong quickly

Excellent customer service can turn an angry customer into a loyal advocate. The trick is to spot the issue, then sort it out fast. 

This doesn’t always have to be with financial sweeteners, either. Often a customer just wants reassurance that you’re dealing with the problem. And even if the problem can’t be resolved straight away, they’ll be a lot less hostile if you give them a timeframe for when it will be sorted.  

Take complex discussions offline

Problems that go beyond a couple of posts are better suited to email, online chat or even a phone call. When you thrash out an issue on Twitter or Facebook, you’re broadcasting the problem to a wider audience. 

And finally, be human

Empathy, the personal touch and humour can go a long way to pacifying frustrated customers. 

Tamara Littleton

Published 3 June, 2013 by Tamara Littleton

 Tamara Littleton is CEO at social media management agency Emoderation and a contributor on Econsultancy.

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