There is a need to step back and think strategically about your social customer service offering before you leap in and do it. 

By now, most brands realise that they can’t ignore it. They will probably have seen the case studies of people getting social customer service right and feel a slight sense of panic about getting it wrong as barely a week goes past without a social customer service failure going viral. 

But as Luke Brynley-Jones outlines in the previous link, though they know it’s important, so many companies are a long way off developing a coherent approach here, and for a multitude of reasons. 

There is of course a need to step back and think strategically about your social customer service offering before you leap in and do it. Easier said than done, of course; and you’ll need to make sure that you have an interim offering of basic monitoring and response (even if that response is a request to call or email) in the interim. 

It’s not a comprehensive list, but we’ve been thinking about some of the things you need to consider before you put a social customer service strategy in place. It would be great to hear any other suggestions below.

1. How you’ll listen

And where you’ll listen, and by what means. Searching for brand terms is a given, but how far you want your related terms to cover? At a certain point, you’ll have more information than you can usefully interpret and act on within a reasonable time period.

Doing some research into these tolerances is necessary to understand how many staff you’ll need, how they’ll need to be trained and how your response times will work. This will also help you work out what software you’ll need to get the information in the first place.

2. The means of engagement

Once you know how you’re going to listen, you need to know how to respond. Of course you’ll want to deal with customers in the channel in which they instigated conversation and establish a tone of voice.

But how much will you take offline? What about the community support model, where users and fans can help each other? (The model that giffgaff has built its entire business on, and one that BT uses – giving community members the chance to respond before replying in an official capacity.)

You also need to consider how to weight and prioritise responses. Twitter uses may shout loudly but does that mean customers calling in deserve lower priority?

3. How you empower your team

It’s about more than simply putting a social team into a call centre or training your call centre staff on social. It’s also about levels of autonomy and approval that staff engaging with customers on social media will be permitted.

Will you develop a Twelpforce, will your team have the power to make offers of compensation, or are you imagining having legal teams sign off all tweets? 

4. How you’ll measure it

There are many methods you can use to measure the effectiveness of your activities – cost per resolution, speed of resolution, positive tweets/discussions about resolution and more, depending on what matters to you.

However, it’s really important to benchmark social customer services against other customer service channels and evaluate it on a level playing field. 

5. Global or local

Global accounts present many challenges: languages, local market take-up of different social channels (Sina Weibo in China, anyone?) and different ways that social is used.

Multiple local accounts will probably need to show some degree of similarity and co-ordination of operation, but a single global account will need to be able to handle these nuances.

6. Single or multiple channels?

Will your main brand presence on Twitter be used to handle customer service queries (like Vodafone here), or will you separate the channels for marketing messages and customer service? What about different business divisions? How many Twitter handles can you handle?

7. 24/7 or working hours? 

Do you have the facility or inclination to open your customer service channels 24/7? There’s not necessarily a right or wrong answer here. KLM’s oft-quoted social customer service channels are open all hours, but not all brands have the resources for this.

ASB Bank in New Zealand has a ‘virtual branch’ on Facebook that clearly states its ‘opening hours’. If you visit the virtual branch outside these hours, you’ll see a friendly explanation video and a ‘closed’ sign, with details of how to resolve your query when the ‘branch’ opens again. 

8. Turnaround times

Realistic turnaround times will depend on resources and on taking all of the above points into consideration.

You’ll need to assess likely levels of demand and resources, and though best practice is to respond within minutes or within an hour, this way you can at least launch your social customer services offering with a realistic, transparent and publicised turnaround time.

Knowing the factors that influence this mean you’ll also be able to amend resolution times when crises occur. Going into this with your eyes open and letting customers do the same is key.  

What else do brands need to consider as they set up their social customer service offerings?