It’s impossible to avoid it these days: social media can be a boon to brands that know how to harness its potential for good or a bane to companies that use it poorly or ignore it altogether. Depending on your specific industry, if your company does business in the U.S., it’s likely that between 70 and 90 percent of your customers are on social media. That’s huge in more ways than you might expect. Here’s a look at why social customer service matters and some ideas how to approach it the right way.
THE NEW SOCIAL LANDSCAPE
The upside of this new rise in social consumers is that creating brand ambassadors and loyal fans can have a powerful positive effect on your company’s image, particularly if something clever, beneficial, or feel-good relating to your brand picks up viral momentum.
For instance, The Ritz-Carlton received a lot of positive social publicity thanks to their response when a guest’s son left his stuffed giraffe, Joshie, behind after a stay. Reportedly, the father told his young son the wayward stuffed animal was on an extended vacation. When the hotel staff found the missing stuffed animal, they took photos of it “enjoying its stay” in different areas of the hotel. The family was so tickled that they shared the story with the Huffington Post, and it went viral on Facebook and Reddit, getting thousands of shares – and positive buzz for the company.
On the flip side, social media can also cause damage to your brand when problems arise or customer service breaks down publically. United Airlines’ failure to go the extra mile for a customer is one example of how not responding to a major complaint in today’s socially charged age can spiral out of control in a public way.
In 2008, musician Dave Carroll’s expensive Taylor guitar was damaged beyond repair from improper handling by airline staff between flights. He brought the damaged guitar to the attention of airline employees who passed the buck. After he filed an official claim to have it replaced, United still did not take action. In frustration, Dave and his band wrote a song about it called “United Breaks Guitars.” Shortly after the music video went live and he posted about his experience on social media, traffic to the YouTube video took off (it now has close to 15 million views). Dave has also since published a book and gone on speaking tours about the experience, resulting in a tremendous volume of publicity.
This PR snafu could have been avoided with a bit more delicate care and a quicker response on United’s part, but it underscores just how important it is for companies to take social media, and the power these platforms give customers, very seriously.
DOING SOCIAL CUSTOMER SERVICE THE RIGHT WAY
Understanding how critical social customer service can be is only one piece of the bigger puzzle, however, since you need to be thoughtful about how you set your own brand’s efforts into motion. There are lots of different ways to structure the social side of your customer service team, but the most effective approaches hinge on a handful of important core elements.
1. Response speed
Time is absolutely of the essence when it comes to responding to customer complaints and other issues on social media. One recent survey shows that, on average, 40 percent of customers complaining on social media expect a response within an hour, and 32 percent expect a response within 30 minutes. If it takes you hours or days to respond, as it does for many companies, you probably need to rethink your strategy.
The longer that negative complaints and unhappy customers are left to simmer on social media, the more time and greater chance for the situation to get worse and go viral, causing a much bigger issue for your team to handle. That’s why being quick on the draw, being proactive in scanning social media for signs of trouble, and then responding immediately is the best way to deflate a potential social media nightmare for your brand.
2. The element of surprise
Not everyone who takes to social media with a complaint does so with the expectation that they’ll get an actual response from your company. In fact, a lot of customers are just using social media as a public forum to vent about their specific issue. You can often use this to your advantage, by reaching out in a friendly way and helping solve their problem. Imagine their surprise at receiving a warm and effective response to their complaint when they didn’t think anyone with the power to help was listening. That’s a great way to turn them around and spin a negative situation into a positive outcome.
3. The power of empathy
Demonstrating empathy and responding in a kind and thoughtful way while actively working to solve a customer’s problem on social media is a great way to show others that your brand cares about them and their happiness. When customers feel that you’re listening to their problem and are actively invested in helping them work it out, it’ll substantially boost your chances of resolving the issue.
4. Taking control of a messy situation
If left unchecked, social media complaints can quickly spiral out of control and gain even more momentum, making them harder to handle. Responding in a timely manner is key, but it’s equally important to do everything you can to get customers talking with you off social media, so you can work with them directly and resolve the problem in a less public fashion. Direct contact also can speed things along, which is valuable to all parties involved.
5. Turning critics into champions
Once you’ve taken the conversation off social media and had a chance to solve a customer’s problem, it’s always a smart plan to encourage them to share their positive experience and resolution. Maybe they’ll be inclined to delete the original negative messages and replace them with a few posts about how they’re satisfied with the positive outcome.
A big part of the reason many customers take to social media to complain or reach out is because they’re simply looking for a fast and effective resolution to their problem. If you can give that to them, while using these core strategies to maximize the benefit from the experience for everyone involved, you can easily turn problems on their head, translating into big wins for your brand in the public eye.