The concept of using social media as a communication channel for your brand has been around for a while. But communication is not a function of listening only, and treating it that will will lead you to fail to leverage the “responding” piece of the puzzle. Yes, your customers want to be heard. That’s why increasing numbers of them are taking to real-time social networking platforms like Twitter to post customer service inquires, kudos, and complaints.

But customers also expect you to respond — and quickly. In a research report by Social Habit, data showed that over 30 percent of people who post customer service issues on Twitter expect to get a reply within 30 minutes. In order to keep up with this level of support, companies have no choice but to be plugged in to social media channels — to “be present” — at all times.

To get his take on the challenges and opportunities of being present for customers on Twitter, we spoke with Brad Barrish from Topspin Media — an end-to-end marketing and e-commerce engine that serves bands and musicians. Brad’s customers are not only the bands and artists who use the Topspin platform on their websites, they’re also the end users of those platforms — the fans!

Customer Management Is a Team Sport

Customer Support is a Team Sport

In keeping with the target audience it serves on Twitter, Topspin Media actually refers to its customer support team as the “fan support team.” “We have six dedicated support people who monitor our social media presence and who respond in real-time to incoming customer service issues on Twitter,” says Barrish. Once you get to a certain scale in the number of clients you serve through Twitter and the number of staff you have supporting them, he says that you really have to look at implementing third-party social media tools to effectively manage that workflow.

Topspin media has realized great success using Zendesk and Sprout Social. “Our support staff have a lot of autonomy. Everyone has the authority to respond to customer service tweets as they see fit, but with Sprout Social’s team management tools, a manager like me can look in every now and again to see if anything out of the ordinary needs to be dealt with or delegated to a specific team member.” Continuing with the concept of being present as an organization, Topspin media also encourages team members from other departments to take an active role in the management and assignment of Twitter-based customer service inquires.

Barrish says that it wouldn’t be out-of-place for someone in marketing to keep an eye on how a support issue is being handled on Twitter, for example. This gives the entire organization the insight it needs to spot potential problems before they happen. It also allows opportunities to reiterate success stories to the entire organization where those conversations might once have been siloed exclusively within the customer support department.

Speak in a Unified Voice

Speak in a Unified Voice Increased access to companies through channels like Twitter can be a double-edged sword. “You don’t necessarily want to reward the customers who yell the loudest but you also don’t want to ignore anyone with a legitimate complaint. It’s a fine balance you have to make.” When asked for his best advice for companies using social media to handle the customer service function, Barrish said it should “definitively not be outsourced” to a third-party or an exclusive team within an organization.

“A company’s voice should be its employees. You have to engage with your customers in a unified voice.” The features that Sprout Social offers (like team management and the new #BePresent reporting tool) “make that much easier to achieve.”

Do you have a social media management team monitoring Twitter for customer service inquires or complaints? How do you make sure your organization responds in a timely fashion and in a voice that’s consistent with your entire organization? Share your experiences in the comments below

This article discusses Sprout Social, our social media management tool for businesses. To learn about our editorial ethics and our commitment to objective coverage of the social media space, visit our About page.

[Image credits: Topspin Media]