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The Hashtag Help Desk: Modern Strategies for Social Media Customer Service in APAC

Social media has completely transformed how we communicate, and not in a “sharing a picture of your breakfast to thousands of followers” kind of way. Today’s hyper-connected digital era demands a different way of engaging with current and future customers, one that breaks all the old customer care rules.

In the days before TikTok, X (formerly Twitter) and Facebook—when customer service depended on support hotlines and email—a reactive approach to customer care was perfectly acceptable. That’s no longer the case. Your audience lives almost 24/7 on social media—and it has quickly become the new call center, complaint box and customer service desk for brands.

In response to this shift, companies in the Asia-Pacific (APAC) region have made social media a key part of their customer care strategy. Social is no longer a single touchpoint in the customer experience—it’s an essential element of the customer journey. However, putting this in practice is not as easy as it sounds: The 2023 Sprout Social Index™ found that only 8% of social marketers believe themselves to be a leader in using social media for customer care and the function still lacks a clear owner.

Data visualization from the 2023 Sprout Social Index breaking down which teams will own the social customer care function in 2024.

How can businesses elevate their social media game, effectively delivering customer care that meets their audiences’ soaring expectations? In this guide, we’ll walk through the qualities of strong social customer care and how brands can deliver it.

Section 1

What does “good” customer service look like in a social-first world?

Social media has become the main communication channel for global consumers and brands alike. As of January 2024, there were over 5 billion social media users around the world, making up more than 60% of the total global population.

APAC consumers outdo the rest of the world as social media users in both size and scope. For instance, a GWI study found that the average social media user in Southeast Asia spends three hours a day using social media platforms—35 minutes longer than the global average.

What counts as “good” customer care has transformed completely in this social-first environment. Consumers expect brands to respond to their mentions and callouts within minutes; they also expect personalized attention on social, with interactions that feel more human.

To win at social customer care, you need to prioritize the following:

1. Fast response times—without sacrificing quality

Customers want your attention, and they want it yesterday. According to the Index, 69% of consumers expect a response on social media within 24 hours. Beyond speed, our data shows that consumers also expect more quality, personalized care on social. Upward of 70% of consumers expect a company to provide personalized responses to customer service needs.

Action plan: To stay attuned to customer expectations, businesses should balance speed and sensitivity when engaging on social media. For starters, your team should answer all questions on social channels with empathy and tact. This shows that you exercise responsive and thoughtful customer service, even to those who don’t count as customers yet.

Singapore Airlines goes above and beyond to swiftly address customer messages. They answer queries and complaints on their profile on X, and use the “Kris” chatbot on their site and Meta Messenger to intelligently and automatically manage over 85,000 queries a week.

A screenshot of Singapore Airline's "Kris" chatbot on Meta Messenger.

The flag carrier’s responsiveness helped defuse a recent deluge of complaints about their new dining service, which elicited a negative response in 34% of users versus 19.1% who responded positively. “If Singapore Airlines can keep up its responsiveness and open tone, I think this is just a blip in [its] reputation,” suggested Umah Devi, manager at the School of Business Management at Nanyang Polytechnic (NYP).

2. Digital-first engagement

Your customers live on social media—why not meet them where they are? The last thing a frustrated customer wants to do is raise a concern on social, only to be directed to a web form or phone number where they’ll have to repeat their feedback.

Action plan: A digital-first approach requires your brand to be always-on. This calls for solutions that work 24 hours a day—including self-service options like chatbots that let customers problem-solve on demand, allowing reps to focus on more complex support needs.

Malaysian bank CIMB’s EVA chatbot leverages artificial intelligence (AI) to create a conversational experience that approximates human engagement. The app can help customers book a branch service appointment, or provide “live” exchange rates in the context of a chat conversation.

With EVA on board, cancellation rates for service appointments dropped from 40% to 2% thanks to the chatbot’s easier booking and appointment reminders.

“[EVA] acts as first-hand support in answering [customer] queries without having to wait to speak to a Relationship Manager, thereby reducing turnaround time and providing a smoother experience,” explains Victor Lee Meng Teck, Group Commercial Banking CEO, CIMB Group.

Even without a chatbot, companies can increase their off-hours responsiveness by providing pathways for self-help—you can provide links to relevant online FAQ resources, or direct them to other customer service channels (like email) outside of business hours.

3. Authentic interactions

Digital engagement is not a free pass to reduce the human element of your brand experience. On social, users still want to feel like they’re interacting with a person on the other end.

Customer care on social media should be an extension of—not separate from—you overarching content strategy. It shouldn’t feel forced, but rather genuine to your brand, your team and your values.

Action plan: Structure your customer engagements to include as many human touches, like personalizations and greetings, as possible. Authenticity is the #1 thing consumers want to see from brands in 2024 according to the Index. It may sound simple, but real, empathetic responses can be a brand’s most potent tool in times of crisis.

Consider Irvins Salted Egg’s speedy but compassionate response to a dead lizard found in a snack bag. After the horrific discovery went viral on social, CEO Irvin Gunawan made a prompt and heartfelt apology paired with a rapid recall of their products.

A screenshot of a Facebook post from Irvins Salted Egg's account, apologizing for an incident where a customer found a dead lizard in a bag of their product.

For Hume Brophy managing director Carolyn Camoens, Irvins’ crisis response was absolute textbook. “No excuses. No attempt to sidestep responsibility for what happened. They straight up said sorry and consumers forgave them,” she explained. “Audiences today have become desensitized to canned, corporate spin. They can spot spiel a mile away and tend to mistrust overly engineered statements. Irvin’s apology was simple and sincere. And that’s what made it effective.”

Section 2

Lay the groundwork for excellent social media customer care

A strong foundation for outstanding customer care on social media doesn’t come out of nowhere. Follow these steps to elevate your brand’s customer service game:

1. Build a thoughtful strategy

Don’t go in without a game plan. Create a customer service strategy that serves as a blueprint for delivering your business’ service standards across multiple teams, channels and tools.

A text-based graphic that says, “What is a customer service strategy? A customer service strategy is a blueprint for delivering on your business’s service standards across multiple teams, channels and tools.”

The strategy defines different variables to help manage procedures and ensure positive outcomes. For starters, align around and define your customer service metrics—figures like average first reply time and response rate—to help your team understand what successful engagement looks like. Your strategy should also govern the collection and evaluation of customer feedback, using the latter to ensure continuous improvement.

Finally, a strong strategy sets out rules of engagement for your all customer-facing teams. This strategy should include roadmaps for escalation management that categorize customer service concerns and triage them depending on their scope and urgency.

2. Create a consistent social media voice

Start by considering if your brand’s unique personality is at the core of all aspects across social – the tone of your messages, content you post, and way you interact with your community. Use a brand voice strategy to ensure that your social approach stays cohesive across thousands of posts and service responses, regardless of who posts your content and replies.

Craft team resources to support your brand voice efforts. These can include voice guidelines, customer service scripts and image assets that can be made easily available through online tools like Sprout Social’s Asset Library.

3. Stay aware with social monitoring and listening

Proactive social customer care hinges on being able to stay on top of all conversations happening about (or around) your brand. Social monitoring and social listening tools are necessary to uncover feedback and sentiment across the internet.

These are two distinct concepts: Monitoring involves tracking and responding to messages received about your brand over social media while listening involves discerning broader trends from online conversations (whether or not your brand is mentioned explicitly). Insights from monitoring and listening can be used to make informed customer care decisions and promptly take action.

For example, Boingo Wireless, one of the world’s largest connectivity providers, uses Sprout to automatically flag and triage social customer care requests.  The company monitors for specific keywords and profiles to minimize noise, so that customer service agents can focus on responding to messages from customers looking for assistance.

4. Periodically assess your social customer service performance

Taking a 360-degree view of your social customer service can help you recognize issues and discern patterns for improvement. However, this process requires accessible and accurate data, which social media tools like Sprout can collect and analyze.

Social Customer Care by Sprout can help you measure the quality and success of your care efforts through:

  • Social listening and sentiment tracking capabilities that can monitor your brand health based on positive or negative social mentions.
  • The Smart Inbox, where all inbound messages can be organized, tagged and actioned on in a single stream.
  • The Case Performance Report, which lets teams benchmark and track customer care productivity and efficiency, based on Case assignment and completion at the team and individual employee level.
A screenshot of the Smart Inbox in Sprout, with messages classified by their sentiment.

Additionally, Salesforce users can use Sprout’s out-of-the-box integration across Salesforce’s suite of products—including Service Cloud, Tableau, Marketing Cloud, Slack and Sales Cloud—to connect social media interactions with more data and insights.

Section 3

Play by the new rules of social customer care

APAC brands have a massive opportunity to win the customer care game on social media. With the right strategy, tools and empathy, you can turn social customer care into a true competitive advantage.

Learn how Social Customer Care by Sprout Social can strengthen your customer care proficiency, and request a personalized demo.