Brands that look to set themselves apart from the rest, in the new reality of the open digital marketplace, know that customer experience is the differentiator. The bar has been raised in customer experience expectations and brands who fail to see the writing on the wall are finding themselves obsolete, leaving an open door for the competition.

The Era of the Customer is changing how brands and customers connect; where and how they communicate. Social has become the channel of choice for the online population, with a natural progression towards mobile consumers using social to connect with and seek help from brands.

Stories of brands getting into hot water from a few fury filled tweets from dissatisfied customers haunts customer experience directors, who equally see the risk and opportunity in social as a legitimate service channel. Social customer service has always carried this edge of risk to brands that were savvy enough to take the plunge, but the domain is changing. Just as general communication across social media channels is maturing, so are customer interactions with brands.

Whereas in the past, social media was a sounding horn of dissatisfaction and a bitchy broadcasting tool, now new capabilities are allowing more mature, intentional engagements. Brands overall have proven that they will show up for their customers on these channels and that tweeting or “Facebooking” an issue can effect change and bring resolution. Customers approach these channels with purpose and the end goal in sight.

The Future is Still Unknown

But the full development of these channels is still brewing. Facebook Messenger, which boasts 700 million users and growing, just released a version of their platform specifically for brands to deliver personalized customer care through Facebook Messenger. This is revolutionary. Live chat solutions have been around for a while, but Facebook Messenger is a channel your customers are already using. This platform approach significantly enriches the types of messages that can be sent, while enabling third parties to develop these rather than Facebook trying to build everything themselves. Interestingly for third party developers, the install comes from the user directly downloading your application — so they become your users as well as Facebook’s, with Messenger acting as a viral distribution channel.

Facebook Messenger for Business is an easy sell. It already has positive “vibes” attached to it. When that “ding” and mobile banner notification floats across your smartphone screen it is a familiar experience that is normally accompanied by a message from a trusted friend, loved one or welcomed acquaintance. In the same way, as the social customer service agent types out their personal, 1-to-1 responses to you on Facebook Messenger, those same 3 bouncing bubbles that build the anticipation of a friendly chat usher in your service conversation.

Personal, unified customer experiences, including the entire agent/customer conversation history is readily available with Facebook Messenger Customer Care. Invoices, receipts, queries and order confirmations are accessed simply with an effortless down swipe to review conversation history. This trumps the antiquated, never ending email threads that congest customers’ inbox and inspire constant mail searches to bumble upon relevant customer information history.

Facebook isn’t the only channel reinventing the social customer care experience, Twitter opened up their Direct Message feature for brands to create a similar, personal experience for support resolution.

Instagram is proving to be a legitimate channel for social customer care as well. Instagram just surpassed the 400 million user threshold, and have coincidentally launched a strategic partnership program for a select number of brands. It makes perfect sense. According to Forrester, Instagram’s engagement rate blows other social channels away at 4.21 percent (58x more engagement per follower than Facebook, and 120x more engagement per follower than Twitter).

New Expressive Social Engagements

The fact that Instagram has rolled out this partnership program is just another clue as to the future of customer/brand engagement channels. Your customers are already on this channel, their fingers following what they love, tagging their friends and discovering new brands and products. In the Era of the Customer, brands who seek to stay relevant to their base have to follow their customers’ lead on preferred service channels.

Rich media-based engagements with relevant hashtags leaves breadcrumbs for brands to find their influencers, discover opportunities for proactive customer service and identify trends. Authenticity is the key for attracting and engaging with your audience on Instagram. You have to show value and natively join the conversation that is already happening. Anything else will fall flat and be a glaring fail. Attempting to litter this expressive channel with commercial noise is unwelcomed and not engaging.

People engage with each other in a unique way on Instagram. In fact, devout “IGer’s” may attest to tagging friends in funny/relevant posts as being one of their favorite forms of communication. Similar to a “like” on Facebook, Instagram tagging embeds communication in a visually appealing, entertaining, yet low-effort form of connecting. Instagram is a channel where it’s users are invited to explore their creativity, vamp up their personal brands, and lure other users to follow and like their posts with strategically placed, contextually relevant hashtags.

Technology bridges empathy and convenience

Some argue that the move away from more traditional service channels such as phone is making the service experience “less human.” But social flips this theory on its head. Our convenience-seeking, mobile-happy world wants humanity where it belongs and the efficiency to arrive to these human touch points easily and without the hindrance that—far too often—technology implemented wrongly can bring. Long phone menus, agent re-routing and endless email streams are inefficient and cumbersome. Yes, you will hear a human voice at the end of that phone line, but it may be after a good ten minutes of frustrating filtering that is completely unnecessary.

Technology done right bridges the empathy your consumer seeks in a meaningful, timely fashion. Your agents can be more available to give your customers the empathy required for fast resolution and quick response times when the machine powering them is smart enough.

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