Increasingly, brands are seeing people use social media channels for customer service or technical support. Some proactive brands have established official social media channels for those purposes, but still, many are surprised by the way people are shifting their service needs from phone and email to social media.
Some people hope that the ability to publicly shame brands about an issue they are experiencing will expedite a resolution, but that idea is predicated on the assumption that brands are listening. A recent study shows that a substantial percentage of brands are not listening to those engaging via social media channels, so inquiries go unanswered. This leads to individuals venting their frustration to their networks while brands remain unconnected, and unaware of the damage being done to their reputation.
It does not have to be that way. Brands can turn those situations around, but the public nature of social media means that brands must take a different approach to turning customer f**k you’s into thank you’s.
If brands are not actively listening within social media, they need to be. By doing so, they will be able to identify emerging or persistent problems and unmet needs or pain points, gain competitive insights, and gauge customer sentiment.
While it is good to listen and gather insights, brands will be expected to act on those insights. Customers and stakeholders want to be heard and want to see action as a result of what they’ve expressed. The onus is on brands to do something.
Simply acknowledging them and letting customers know they’ve been heard, that someone is taking ownership of their situation and that a solution is being pursued, can diffuse most customer service situations.
I had the opportunity to hear a former executive of a major hotel chain speak, and he said, “When you have an irate guest in the lobby of your hotel, the first thing you do is get them out of the lobby.” So it is with social media. Get customers off the social channels and into more private channels for several key reasons: it helps to lower the noise and intensity of the situation, it helps to expedite a resolution for them because communication is now happening faster, and, most importantly, this route respects their privacy with regard to the kind of information that may be shared in the process.
Any action brands take must be coordinated. There must be a process mapped out from beginning to end for identifying a service issue, handing it off to the right people within the organization, and moving it through the necessary steps towards resolution.
I once had an issue with WiFi service on a train and I raised the issue via Twitter. While I commend the rail company for listening and responding, when I received two different requests for information from different areas trying to help me, it was apparent that they were getting things right on the frontlines but they had not worked out all of the kinks behind the scenes.
Where possible, customers should also be made aware of what the process is: it’s not meant to be a situation where service is a black box where nobody knows what happens inside of it. Transparency is critical in social media; keeping customers — and a brand’s community — informed goes a long way to fostering satisfaction and positive sentiment.
Closing the Loop
A customer’s problem may have originated in social media, but someone else within the organization typically resolves it. It is important that the social team tracks the progress of the issue, even if they have handed it off to someone else. They can give periodic updates through social media and avoid the black-box syndrome. Customers will appreciate the thoroughness and transparency.
While customers can use social media to publicly express their customer service issues, they can also use it to express gratitude when their issues have been resolved, with the entire story arc, from frustration to satisfaction, being played out in social media.
In the past, when a brand solved a problem by phone or email only the two parties involved knew anything about it. Now, customers often praise brands for their help via the same social media channels where they had originally expressed their complaints, but the brand gets the added benefit of being publicly praised for solving problems, and their community learns about their efforts.
Customer service is challenging, even more so now because of social media. Many brands have become case studies about what not to do with respect to customer service and social media.
By proactively listening, developing and maintaining a process, and seeing things through to the end, brands can help avoid being the wrong kind of case study, and hopefully instead be showcased for doing social customer service the right way.