Social media provides an ideal place for the irate consumer to let off steam. But with brands increasingly monitoring social media channels, it can feel impossible to have a moan without someone annoyingly interrupting and appearing to offer help.

When is it right to offer help and what are the best ways to do it?

Pick your battles

Irrespective of what you do or say, some people simply want to be heard to be complaining. In some instances your direct intervention might just fuel the problem, when simply monitoring from a distance would have allowed the individual to get it out of their system and then quieten down.

In other instances there may be cause to treat the comments as a formal customer complaint or an indirect request for support. Determining the right course of action can be complex and requires that appropriately skilled staff are managing your companies social media interface. 

Customer support is not marketing

In some organisations social media is thought of as a single entity and often conveniently parked in marketing or communications. This can be problematic for inbound customer complaints or support requests and can lead to an inappropriate response to the end user.

If social media is to be adopted, it needs to be utilised across organisational functions. Methods need to be established to enable a dialogue to be transferred between departments so that people with the right skills respond to the demand. 

Social media is real time so manage expectations

Few customer complaint systems or customer service processes work in anything like real time. If support or attention is offered to the end user via social media there is likely to be an implicit expectation about the speed at which the dialogue will progress.

Setting customer expectations and providing timely updates are all basic tenants of good customer service and problem management. They become crucial when the inbound demand has originated via a social channel which by its very nature is associated with rapid communications. 

Use the right channel 

Simply because demand has originated via a social channel does not mean this is the best place to help the end user. The brevity of messages and the inconsistent shorthand used can lead to misunderstandings and confusion. Transferring the discussion to a different channel, even if only email, can be very worthwhile. Especially useful in situations where detailed and accurate information is needed in order to resolve the problem.

Managing the seamless transfer of a discussion to a better platform is easy when volume is low, but in high volume situations (larger brands / organisations), how this transfer is achieved can be complex. Social media is a personal form of communication, when being used for support or service it is important to deliver personal accountability. 

Understand the customers nominal value

Assuming the end user was not simply hoping to let off steam, it is important to realise that they are probably not seeking a debate they just want their problem fixed or their grievance resolved quickly and efficiently. Understanding this and being able to deliver against it further re-enforces the need for social media to be implemented organisation wide and not to be limited to a Summer intern in the marketing department who happens to be a whiz with Facebook or loves Twitter. 

For many orgainsations there is an opportunity to deliver effective and differentiated service and support through social channels. However achieving this necessitates the integration of social media with other exiting business processes and the recognition that it is more than a marketing tool.