5 Steps to Improving Your Social Customer Service

According to a Venture Beat VB Insight study, consumers complain on social media 879 million times per year, yet many companies remain slow to adopt social customer service programs. Customers want to be heard, and it's time for companies to listen.

Social media continues to have an increasing impact on the customer experience. A great customer service interaction can quickly foster brand advocates, while a disjointed process can lead to declining brand trust and, as a result, declining revenue. Twitter, Facebook, and the like can no longer be ignored in the resolution of customer service issues. Rather, these social platforms should be fully integrated with traditional customer service channels to understand key customer issues, consistently demonstrate the brand value proposition, and proactively identify revenue and innovation opportunities.

Working social media into a customer service program isn't easy; managing privacy concerns, resolving concerns at a speed social customers expect, and making sure messaging is consistent across channels can be difficult. Before we dive into the best practices for social customer service, consider the challenges that many companies face.

Managing consistency across channels: Maintaining a consistent experience is more complex in a social channel than in more traditional ones for two primary reasons: In most situations, you do not readily know who it is you are "talking" to, and the outbound activity on this channel is typically independently driven by marketing. It's important for companies to think beyond engagement and also focus on customer support. Companies must develop a strategy that answers each business unit's questions and empowers employees to handle customer issues.

Privacy concerns: Handling complaints and questions on social media while respecting customers' privacy takes a delicate balance. Some issues can be resolved on social channels, but it's important for companies to train their employees on how and when to effectively transition conversations to a more secure channel (e.g., direct message, secure email, call).

Determining when to step in: While it's important to respond quickly to social media complaints, it's just as important to do so correctly. A mismanaged approach can turn a small customer service issue into a brand crisis. Companies must strategize and design a program that delivers a clear and consistent message to resolve the problem at hand.

Monitoring customer feedback: It's easy to respond to a positive tweet, but it can be difficult responding to negative feedback in a compassionate and accurate way that aligns with your company's message. Make it a point to respond to both positive and negative feedback in a timely manner, so you can continue to build relationships and turn negative experiences into positive interactions.

Luckily, these four challenges can be managed through a comprehensive social customer service program. Customer service issues come in all shapes and sizes and via a number of channels—over the phone, through email, and across social networks—so there isn't one standard approach. But a great social customer service program will include five components:

  • Customer insights: Are you listening to what your customers are saying across channels? Often, the best insights come from their feedback. Listening to customer engagements across channels will provide the insights necessary to improve your social customer service strategy as well as your product and service offerings.
  • Omnichannel capabilities: Customers talk across multiple channels and expect a seamless transition when doing so. Streamlining your cross-channel capabilities is necessary to achieving best-in-class customer service. Focus on consistent and flexible services that meet the needs of your customers, no matter where and how they try to reach you.
  • Benchmarked best practices: Comparing your company's social customer service strategy to industry best practices will not only identify areas where your customer service program can be improved, but will also spark innovative ideas and highlight where your company is—and can be—successful. Use these insights to adjust your strategy so you can provide great customer service on social media.
  • Business insights: A holistic social customer service program not only focuses on customer insights, but also relies on a business analysis. Deep business insights and process re-engineering recommendations can help your company adjust customer experience strategies and uncover areas to streamline processes, driving significant cost reduction.
  • Risk assessment and improvement recommendations: Compliance and brand risks are especially prominent in social customer service. As mentioned before, privacy is of paramount concern, and the failure to comply with regulations will put your company at risk. Assessing risk and listening to improvement recommendations will help your company manage tricky situations and avoid any potential crisis.

Social media's transparency and response time expectations challenge companies to be strategic when creating a social customer service plan. Companies that are able to identify the roadblocks and implement the five key components outlined here have a great likelihood of seeing success in their programs.

Pam Plyler is the executive practice lead of Customer Experience and Contact Center Management at The Northridge Group.

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