Why Social SHould Be Part of Your Customer Care

As big businesses increasingly turn to social channels to offer customer service, you may wonder if your business should get in on the social customer care rush. Why do so many businesses offer social support options — and should you be offering them, too?

“We didn’t take customer service to the social Web, our customers did!” says Katie Laird, PR and Social Media Manager for Blinds.com. “And I’m so happy they did – it’s fun to connect to customers on their own turf.” The fact that your customers are already active on social channels is key to social customer service growth.

“You can either be part of the discussion about your company and brand, or have other people and companies tell your story for you — and in a very public setting. Which would you rather have?” says Eric McKirdy, Global Customer Care Manager for Ask.com. “Social media channels are the perfect platform for customer service because it creates this dynamic and equalizing playing field for brands and customers to interact. It’s the place and opportunity for companies to build their brand equity and create a personalized experience that’s unscripted and nearly immediate.”

There are practical reasons to go social, too. “As our business grows, there’s definite scalability concerns in having to make many new hires to keep up with customer service needs,” explains Laird. “Being able to handle fast and easy customer questions or concerns in 140 characters, versus a 20 minute phone call, is profitable for us and simpler for the customer.”

Diving Into Social Customer Service

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Since the goal of social customer service is to connect with your customers where they already are — and which you’re probably already doing for marketing purposes — getting started with social customer service doesn’t necessarily mean a big leap beyond your existing social infrastructure.

Many businesses, including Ask.com and Blinds.com, handle customer service requests through their main social accounts for simplicity, so it’s just a matter of ensuring your customer support staff have some social savvy. “For larger companies that serve thousands of customers, with tens of thousands of requests, dedicated support accounts might be better,” says Suzan French, President of FlackShack. “However, I have found that consumers don’t often realize the difference. They might tweet to a corporate news handle thinking there are customer service personnel on the other side.”

“We use our general company social media accounts to connect with customers on any topic, from service to design help, to discount codes to cookie recipes,” says Laird. But social support doesn’t necessarily mean that all of your support is social. Laird says about 30% of social requests are passed on to customer service for further assistance. “There are some conversations — like detailed repair instructions or product selection — that are impossible to communicate in 140 characters, so in many cases social is just the launching point for conversations on other platforms.”

For Ask.com, McKirdy says the company uses social media just as much as its other support channels. “We’re on all the major platforms daily – such as Facebook, Twitter, Google+ – and we regularly monitor and respond to customers on all of these sites. Our biggest goal is to talk to our users when they talk to us. We try to be fast and almost instantaneous with our responses.”

Setting Customer Expectations for Social Support

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“Make no mistake about it — social media is a 24-hour business,” says French. “My computer and my phone are always on and I respond to customers on behalf of my clients around the clock. Today, people don’t like to wait. They expect instant answers, instant responses, and we do our best to provide them.” If your business is already on social then you already know how fast conversations on social can move — and that goes doubly for social support.

“An angry customer on Twitter clicking refresh for a response takes the need for an uber-fast response time to a whole new level,” says Laird. “But even that small disconnect can be overcome if you make sure to set the right expectation with the customer on social media. You can’t say ‘someone will get back with you right away!’ when you really mean ‘a rep will get back with you within 24-hours.’ Be honest and follow through.”

Having support representatives on social channels can give you a real speed advantage, though. Instead of waiting for a customer to call with a problem or question, keeping an eye on social networks means you can sometimes answer questions before a customer has even asked you about them — now that’s the speed of social!

Dealing with Customer Complaints

Dell Customer Service Think Tank

No matter where you’re managing customer service, you’re going to field more than a few complaints. However, with social customer service, those complaints are made very publicly — and your responses can really alter how people think about your brand. “It’s really not much different than how a customer service call would be handled, except that because responses are public, you had better make sure your customer service reps are very well trained,” says French. “People want to heard, to vent. Better they tell you their issues so management can address it than the world who can only empathize.”

At Ask.com, McKirdy doesn’t worry about the public nature of social support. “We know we are completely empowered to resolve users’ issues immediately and we don’t try or want to hide conversations about user issues,” says McKirdy. “We’re very transparent with our social interactions with our users and we believe that other users appreciate seeing us handle issues in this transparent platform which ultimately leaves a better brand perception as well.”

As we’ve said, social is where your users are — and where they may already be complaining about service problems with your brand. If you’re not there to try to lend a hand — even if only by directing people to existing support resources — you’re only inviting a negative social impression of your brand.

[Image credits: JD HancockSebastien Wiertz, Amplified Group, Dell]