How To Use Social Media As A Customer Service Tool

2011 Customer Experience Impact Report

It seems the world has gone social and businesses are struggling to keep up.

The image above comes from the 2011 Customer Experience Impact Report from RightNow Technologies, and paints a disappointing portrait of the current customer service landscape.

Thanks to its instantaneous nature, more consumers are turning to social media sites to quickly resolve their issues. So with little more than a 140 character tweet or short Facebook post, consumers have the power to publicly praise or criticise your brand for everyone to see.

It is clear businesses can no longer afford to ignore social media as a customer service platform.

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Ignore it and you might miss out on building solid relationships with customers, lose a customer, or worse, fuel the wrath of an already angry customer. Respond and receive real consumer feedback, improved brand image and loyal customers.

Okay so you’re on board. Now where should you start?

Today I present to you a guide to using social media as a customer service tool.

Take Advantage Of Direct Messages

More often than not, consumers will contact you through a public @mention tweet or post on your Facebook wall. Logically you respond with a public tweet or Facebook comment.

But in certain cases (almost all cases for Twitter), it is best to continue through private direct messages (DM).

First, they might need to provide you with their personal email address or other sensitive information.

Second, if you have a single Twitter account used to promote the product, tweet interesting content and provide support, you don’t want followers to see a flood of support messages only. At the same time, you want users to publicly @mention issues to you so you can show potential customers you are happy to help anyone needing assistance.

The key is finding a good balance.

Here is the best way to handle a customer service/support tweet:

1. Send 1 or 2 public @mentions apologizing for the inconvenience, acknowledging the situation and/or providing a brief explanation if needed. Then request they send you more information such as their order number through a DM.

2. Continue responding through DM. If the user responds through a public tweet again, reply through @mention and let them know you’ll respond through DM to encourage them to DM you only.

3. Once the issue is resolved, you can turn to public @mentions again if the consumer is only asking general questions that other users might want the answer to. You can also acknowledge publicly the issue was resolved to increase positive perceptions of your brand. Or even better, the customer publicly thanks you for helping them.

Keep in mind some issues require lengthy responses through email. In this case, you simply need to acknowledge the issue. Then prioritize their email if it is an urgent issue or if they are particularly upset.

But when possible, DMs are also extremely useful for customer service, instead of simply directing them to contact you via email (which lets be honest, can take much longer to respond to).

Create a separate support account

If you receive a lot of support messages, moving Twitter conversations to a separate secondary Twitter account is a good option.

This way you can focus your main account solely on creating brand awareness, sharing general information and building relationships with Twitter users.

It is up to you what name you want to use. Most brands have some variation of their brand name and the word support or customer service.

1. If a user directs a support message at your main account, first reply from the main account acknowledging the issue and informing them they’ll receive a response from the Twitter support account shortly.

2. The support account needs to respond within the shortest amount of time possible. It’s is still a good idea to utilise DMs to avoid cluttering up your Twitter page, as well as for sensitive or private information.

If you do set up 2 Twitter profiles, use a social management platform to quickly respond.

For example, with SocialMotus you can quickly switch between different accounts by simply clicking on the ‘+’ sign on the top left hand corner. A list of your social sites will appear so you can view engagements for each social site.

Humanize your brand

Humanize the experience by letting the customer know he or she is speaking with a real person and not an autobot.

Here are some suggestions:

Personalize your Twitter bio

Provide your personal Twitter handles in your company’s Twitter bio to help build trust with your brand. Your customers, if they have very urgent questions, can also turn to their personal accounts instead if appropriate. This will help build the credibility of your employees and/or colleagues as well.

Using Social Media For Customer Service

End tweets with team members names

If someone different from the usual person publishes on your company account tweets, make sure they end it with their first name. This helps your employees or colleagues connect with customers on a more personal level, rather than dealing with a mystery person. Remember, several studies including the 2011 Customer Experience Impact Report found consumers develop loyalty to brands through friendly and helpful front end employees.

Reply in a helpful manner and follow up

From the first response you send, regardless of whether it is in response to a happy or irate customer, you need to show that you genuinely care about solving the problem at hand.

Users will often send public messages so ignoring a message or replying in a rude or dismissive manner, not only negatively affects the person you’re directly dealing with but damages your reputation in the eyes of everyone else who sees the message.

While you can create a template for responses, don’t always respond with the same message, and try to reference the message you’re responding to.

For example, Cara Pring, author of the popular blog The Social Skinny, details her experience with Commonwealth Bank and turned it into a great social media customer service case study. She received a call from a bank employee trying to upsell her life insurance. The woman was quite rude so she took to Twitter to notify Commonwealth Bank of the experience. What she received was 3 quite different responses that present good case studies of how to respond to complaints.

The first (generic and dismissive) response you should not use:

Using Social Media For Customer Service

The second (good) response a few hours later that is acceptable:

How To Use Social Media For Customer Service

The third (great) response the next day that will help you turn an angry customer into a happy one:

Customer Service Social MediaCase Studies

All 3 responses were sent within 24 hours. The first one left her feeling frustrated and was completely unnecessary if they were going to follow up with the next 2 tweets. In this situation, it would have been best to simply send the last tweet which Cara describes as being,

‘the sort of tweet I would expect – personal, proactive and efficient. So, after receiving this tweet I did respond. I sent them a DM with my phone number and a note that it wasn’t a big deal but they could call me to get more details.’

This leads me onto my next point.

Don’t over promise what you can’t deliver

After stating they would call in the tweet, Cara never received a phone call.

Big no no.

This left her more disappointed than when she sent her original tweet. Worse still, she wrote a blog post about her experience for all her readers to see.

While it would be wonderful to have the resources to satisfy every customer and turn every customer complaint into a great customer service story, reality isn’t that simple. Sometimes, the best you can do is let the customer know how sorry you are to reduce their frustration and show others that you at least acknowledge the situation, rather than avoid negative messages (Just make sure you response as quickly as possible).

This is always better than giving them false hopes or not delivering on your promises.

Quick responses for priority messages

Some brands respond within minutes, others respond within a day. There is no one rule, but remember Twitter and Facebook are instantaneous communication channels so the faster the better.

As we have just launched our social tool, we do not receive a large amount of support queries through Twitter or Facebook, most are still sent via email. Currently, we check for support messages when we get into the office, mid day and the end of the day.

Side note: Sorry for the delay in responses to non-Australian users. Due to the time difference we can’t get answer your messages as quickly as we’re tucked in bed during your work hours!

We do, however, receive several @mentions for shares of our blog posts and tweets, so getting to the support issues can be a bit of a pain.

Try SocialMotus’s priority messaging system which filters through large volumes of conversations to bring the most urgent messages to your attention.

You simply need to go to ‘Settings’>‘Rules’> ‘Priority message’. Then click on ‘Add Rules’.

How To Use Social Media For Support Messages

Enter a name to categorize this list of keywords. Sample names include ‘Support messages’, ‘Junk Messages’, ‘Positive messages’, ‘Profanities’. SocialMotus lets you create different sets of priority lists.

Enter the important keywords under this category. For example, if you use Twitter or Facebook as a support channel, you could add the words below:

  • Help
  • Support
  • Issue

Then click on the ‘Manage’> ‘pencil’ icon next to the social account you want to enable the priority keywords for. It will expand.

How To Use Twitter For Customer Service

You can actually set different priority keywords for different accounts depending on your needs, or the same set of keywords for different accounts.

Now, when Twitter and Facebook messages directed at your account contain these keywords (help, support, issue etc), the message will be flagged with a red ‘!’ to indicate they are priority messages and the keyword highlighted in yellow.

How To Effectively Use Social Media For Customer Service

You can respond, share the post, assign to a team member, archive or simply leave a note about the message. If you need more information on the user or want to follow them, hover over their username.

Social Media Customer Service Best Practices

Do you have any customer service tips or experiences you want to share? Let us know in the comments below.

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