Over the past 18 months I’ve hosted over 30 events on social customer service, featuring brands such as eBay, Citibank and British Gas.

While it’s popular to examine the public failures of brands on social media, best practices are also emerging. 

Here are 15 of the most useful best practice tips I’ve learned from some of the world’s leading brands.

Take responsibility

There’s nothing as infuriating as front-line support passing the buck. Responses that bat the customer off to a standard knowledgebase or refer them back to where they started are likely to elicit yet more anger and frustration.

As a Community Manager or Service Agent you need to be strong about stepping up and personally committing to making sure issues get resolved. Conveying “I’ve got this” to the customer, goes a long way towards reassurance.

Acknowledge the issue head-on

Expressing doubt about the validity of a complaint posted online, especially one that’s clearly been written by lawyers to avoid any admission of responsibility, will only exacerbate the problem.

Phrases that start “I’m sorry you feel…” or “I’m sorry it appears…” when referring to facts stated by the customer are likely to annoy the customer and lead to further negative posts or Tweets.

Address the customer by name

This is a tricky area on social. In most service channels you refer to Mr Bobbins and, if you like, ask him if you can call him Ted (assuming that’s his name).

In social you might just have @TeddyBob. Whatever identifier you have, the best practice is to use it – rather than skirt around. If I’m happy to Tweet as @Gangsta69 then I ought to be comfortable being called that directly.

Give the customer your name

Nobody likes talking to an anonymous brand or Twitter handle. By just adding your name or initials to a response, you can start to humanise your organisation and build trust with the customer.

Lots of companies don’t do this but others, like Sainsbury’s (below), include their forenames in every communication.

Apologise

Around 70% of social customer service enquiries occur because traditional service has failed to resolve the issue. Little wonder, then, that Facebook and Twitter complainants often seem tetchy.

Nobody wants to read a Twitter stream where every Tweet starts with ‘sorry’, but in the right situation a plain spoken, heartfelt apology can disarm even the angriest of customers. Contrition is a powerful shield.

Make a clear offer to help

Beyond an apology most customers are looking for just one thing: resolution. The quicker and easier you can make this, the happier they will be.

Actively telling customers you’re going to help them both reassures and buys you time to deliver on your promise. Combining an offer to help with an apology and an action - as shown in this @askCiti example below (all within 140 characters) is pretty good going.

Fix the issue in-channel (if possible)

If you can, it’s always best to resolve the issue in the channel the customer has chosen to use. This might not be practical and you may need to jump a Twitter enquiry into chat, or a Facebook post into private messaging, but if you can, it reduces Customer Effort which, as a metric, is sometimes used in social customer service measurement).

Avoid canned responses

Service teams have used scripts since call centres first emerged in the 1980’s. Why not on social? Well, there’s a pretty big reason why not: customers hate canned responses. They make us feel part of a tedious process. Unloved.

If you are forced to respond to multiple queries on the same issue, the advice is to spice your replies up with words and phrases that show you’re writing it in person and that you care.

Don’t share your own problems

The last thing a disgruntled customer wants to hear when their order has been delayed, or their food ruined, is that you’re really busy or your IT system is playing up (see an example below).

Any excuse will add to their sense that your organisation is useless and chaotic. Better to say what you can do now and when you’ll be in a position to do more.

ASOS

Thank others for help

As Martin Hill-Wilson, co-author of the excellent book, Delivering Effective Social Customer Service, often says: “Customer service is now a spectator sport”.

If you find other people pitching in to amplify or elaborate on a complaint, make sure you acknowledge them and thank them for their input. You never know, you might just have found a regular advocate.

Embrace feedback

This could actually be the motto for social customer service teams the world over. Taking feedback and criticism and using it to improve your services and make customers happy seems pretty obvious, but it is far from evident on most corporate Twitter feeds and Facebook Pages.

It’s a state of mind - an ethos - that the best social customer service teams live and breathe.

Create a ‘next action’ deadline

Once the customer has confidence you’re going to solve their problem then that promise must be delivered on.

The challenge for most customer service teams is that they can’t personally fix every problem; it requires an issue to be logged, other teams to input, more information etc. Either way, you need to set a clear deadline on the next action, from which the fallback is a personal update to the customer.

Commit to getting back to them

Whether the ‘next action’ is a phone-call from a specialist, a letter in the post, or additional information to be supplied by the customer, you need to commit to a personal follow-up.

This enables you to check if the next action actually happened, whether the customer is satisfied and, all being well, that you can close the issue.

Respect privacy

Consumers tend to be fast-and-loose with their personal data on social media.

In industries with lots of sensitive data, e.g. finance or medical, or where people often like to be anonymous, e.g. dating or charities, you need to be especially careful not to encourage people to divulge their data in public and to warn them if they put themselves at risk, as in this example (again from @AskCiti) below:

Show empathy

A 2013 research study in the Netherlands identified empathy (or 'hostmanship') as one of the primary elements of successful social customer service excellence.

Just a short phrase like “That doesn’t sound good…” or “I can see why you’re upset”, let’s a customer know that you understand how they’re feeling. In many cases this is half of the reason they’ve reached out in the first place.

Luke Brynley-Jones

Published 7 October, 2014 by Luke Brynley-Jones

Luke Brynley-Jones is Founder at Our Social Times and a contributor to Econsultancy. You can follow him on Twitter or connect via LinkedIn

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Comments (3)

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Jodie

Cool article. If you're interested in social customer service you should check out our study: Top 10 Uk Retailers Twitter Response Times http://blog.veeqo.com/top-10-uk-retailers-twitter-response-times/

about 3 years ago

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Alon

When I saw the headline on LinkedIn, I was skeptical and kind of expected to find a half-hearted list of super obvious and tip-of-the-iceberg suggestions without explanation.

To my surprise, this is actually really good info. As someone with extensive experience managing social care for a major company, I agree with almost everything listed here. It's comprehensive and accurate. It's the sort of thing I'd print out and give to any newcomer in the field. Well done, Luke

about 3 years ago

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Shep Hyken

These 15 tips are actually make a nice process for handling customer complaints, not just through social channels, but traditional channels (phone, email and even in person) as well.

about 3 years ago

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