Social Customer Care Requires Compassion

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Berkson says the last-resort/broader visibility category of social media usage happens more often. “The goal here is to get the brand’s attention through exposure and embarrassment—the social media equivalent of raising your voice in the middle of a crowded store or restaurant. It means something is broken with the brand’s customer experience, and their go-to support channels—email, phone, or chat—aren’t working well. People complain on social when they are frustrated or angry with an experience that did not meet their expectations,” he says.

For Brad Christian, chief customer officer at Market Force Information, a customer experience management (CXM) company, social media is simply the next evolution of customer service, following a long tradition that started first with handwritten letters, then phone calls into contact centers, and then web forms and email.

But while social media is the latest channel of communication, it does not mean that all of the other channels are to be dismissed, Christian says. “The smartest and most effective brands understand this and work to ensure that the engagement and resolution tools that are in place for one are in place for all,” he states.


But just being available on social media isn’t enough. To be effective at it takes effort, and for that, experts are finally starting to craft some best practices.

Berkson says that resolving a customer’s issue requires empathy and action. “The key with these situations is to both demonstrate empathy—validate [the customers’] feelings and situation—and take quick action. The action can be addressing the issue right there, in public; however, more often, it’s finding a [private] channel [such as] Twitter Direct Message or Facebook Messenger, where the customer is comfortable continuing the conversation,” he says.

He adds that companies can manage expectations by adding estimated response times and hours of operation to their social media profiles.

O’Flahavan also emphasizes the need for quick responses. “I don’t think customers will tolerate waiting very long at all for a response in a social channel, so you need to be staffed to respond extremely quickly, probably within 15 to 30 minutes at the most,” she says.

O’Flahavan also urges companies to be responsible and practical about moving discussions to private channels, doing so only when it benefits both the company and the customer. “Companies are pretty good at saying, ‘Wow, this customer is furious. Let’s get him over into DM so everyone else doesn’t have to see it.’ That benefits the company, but there are many reasons that moving to a private channel benefits the customer,” she says. For one, in a private channel, customers aren’t limited by a character count, and then they can be more open with sensitive information, she explains.

It’s also a good idea for agents to write using their company’s brand voice, according to O’Flahavan, who points to a blending in social channels between marketing and customer care. “It’s kind of a big mix of different types of communication in one channel, so it’s important that the customer care communications sound branded as the marketing ones because they sit there side-by-side in the feed,” she says.

Airlines are particularly good at handling customer service requests that come through social media, O’Flahavan argues, because they empower their agents to make necessary changes. “The person behind that Twitter handle at the airline is doing the same job as the person at the ticket counter in the airport and at the 1-800 phone number,” she says. “They have the same credentials, so the airlines can field a complaint and help a person generally feel better about an overly salty entrée in first class on a flight, but they can also rebook your flight or generate a refund if you were charged twice for a baggage fee. That’s what excellent customer service on social media looks like. The people who are handling the channel have all the responsibilities and the skills and the training to solve the customer’s problem.”


Experts also recommend that customer service on social media involve a combination of scripted and customized responses. “It’s never a choice between 100 percent scripted and 100 percent human. That’s a false choice,” O’Flahavan says.

As an example, a national retailer that has to close a number of stores in a certain region due to bad weather could send out a small scripted piece of writing that just says, “Stores in the Pittsburgh area will be closed on Monday because of the extreme snowfall.” But the benefits are magnified immensely by a custom piece of writing that also says, “But we’ll be open on Tuesday and hope you’ll come in for a hot chocolate to warm up.”

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