social media response time 1 300x287 Responding on Social Media is Crucial for Small BusinessA new study from Sprout Social indicates that while user engagement with business social media accounts is on the increase, businesses aren’t keeping up and aren’t responding to their customers.

According to the report, which tracked the social media accounts of businesses across a variety of categories, the response rate ranged anywhere from 11% to 28%. Take those numbers in reverse, and that means that when customers try to engage with businesses online, they are ignored anywhere from 72% to 89% of the time. Staggering? I think so.

Now think about your business phone. What percentage of the time do you answer it when it rings? And even if you don’t answer, and a customer leaves a message, what percentage of the time do you return that call?

I’m betting it’s pretty near to 100%. Very rarely will you ignore a call from a customer.

Or, as Sprout Social CEO Justyn Howard says:

“A 20% response rate to messages requiring attention means that 4 out of 5 consumer inquiries go unanswered. This would not be tolerated in traditional channels like phone and email and is not a sustainable practice.”

As for response time, the study indicates that when businesses actually do respond, it averages anywhere in the range from 9 to 15 hours, depending on the business sector. Not great, but not horrible. Until you connect that to the poor response rate.

Now, let me ask you this:

How important is customer service to your business?

I’m hoping the answer is something on the spectrum between “Very Important” and “Of Utmost Importance.”

The other day, my friend Adam Toporek of Customers That Stick posted the following quote from business consultant and author, Michael LeBoeuf:

“A satisfied customer is the best business strategy of all.”

Remember: creating a satisfied customer isn’t just about making someone happy when they purchase your product. It’s about how you treat them all along the way, even if they have never purchased anything from you yet. Customer service is quite possibly the most important thing you do. It is the sum total of every interaction you have with your customers and potential customers. And it can make or break that relationship.

And yet, some of the simplest, best, and easiest customer service can take place online, via social networks. But we’re not responding. People come to us with questions and comments, and we’re ignoring the large majority of them.

Take for instance the experience of Kristin Zaslavsky of Eli Rose Social Media, who was preparing for a visit to a resort/ranch in Colorado. Her multiple attempts to engage with the resort on various social channels fell on deaf ears.

This ranch likely wonders why social media isn’t working for them. In a medium where being social is stressed right in its name, it’s surprising that they’re not being social when they encourage customers to do so.

What amazes me about this is that with all the changes in Facebook’s algorithm, marketers and business owners are wringing their hands over the fact that fewer and fewer people are seeing their updates. And yet, they’re not responding when people do engage with them.

You know what the key to getting a larger reach on Facebook is? Engagement.

The more engagement you get, the more people will see you. Every individual who engages with your page is a connection between you and their personal social graph. If you ignore them, you’ll lose them. If you engage with them and respond, not only will you bring them on board, but you’ll get some of their friends as well.

And we’re not even talking about how to address negative comments. We’re talking about ANY kind of engagement and response: positive, negative, or otherwise.

To me, this indicates that we still don’t “get it.” We still have a long way to go. This indicates that for most, social media is still a broadcast platform. It indicates that for many, just having a presence on Facebook is more important than actually using it. A few years ago this might have been forgivable; understandable, even. But now, social media has grown up and become a much more important part of the lives of our customers. As a result, it should be a very important part of you overall marketing and communications strategy.

This has to change. And it’s not just about understanding how to use the tools. It’s about a mindset that permeates your entire business culture. The businesses and nonprofits that will rise to the top are the ones who respond, and respond quickly. Not responding won’t just lose you that one piece of business, because the person you ignore might just tell others, and they’ll think twice about giving you their money.

Go take a look at your online presence. Check your Facebook page and see how well you’re doing with responding to comments, posts, and private messages. Go to Twitter and check your @ mentions and DMs. Do you respond? Search for mentions of your business on everything from Google+ and Twitter to Yelp and Instagram. Figure out what your response rate is, as well as your response time. All of those things are time stamped, so it’s easy to do.

No matter how well or how poorly you fare, resolve to do better. There’s always room for improvement.

How do you measure up against these statistics from the report? And how do feel about businesses based on their response rate and time of response?