Making Customer Service a Social Experience: top tips for marketers

As a digital marketing manager your role is to ensure that all communications are on message and protective of the ‘holy grail’ that is your brand.  But how far does your remit stretch? Are you responsible for customer services? If not do you think you should be?

Marketing of course has a key role to play in customer services (is there any area more important when it comes to how and what we communicate), and for many organisations marketing departments have been tasked to take the lead when it comes to delivering a customer services function. There is also a growing belief that social media has a key role to play when it comes to dealing with customer service enquiries.

So how should marketers reconcile the various demands being made on its social media platforms in order to fully embrace its developing role as a customer service response? There are undoubted benefits of using social media as a customer service platform, but as always, there are things to bear in mind when going down this path.  So with our own customer service hat on, we thought we would outline our top tips when using social media as a customer services response.

1. Don’t put me on hold:  when customers are dissatisfied they want to be dealt with there and then, and if they make contact via Twitter don’t tell them to try again via email or sit in a telephone queue for an hour. The beauty of using platforms such as Twitter or social media management platforms (SMMS) such as instant email notifications, is of course their immediacy. But therein lies the rub: no matter how speedy your response, have a system in place to ensure all language is measured and appropriate. One of the advantages of Twitter is that the limited use of characters precludes you from going into any detail and tackling issues that may need a more considered approach — but use this to your advantage by building a relationship with your customer based on a speedy (and measured) acknowledgement first, and then go on to explore the matter in greater depth in a more appropriate medium such as email, or even the original form of social media — a letter.

2. I want to talk to a real person: Social media when used appropriately can build a genuine rapport between parties, the key thing is  – make it personal.  The beauty of social media is that has been built around personal connections — use this to your advantage and build a relationship on a personal level with your customer, give a unique and dedicated answer to each customer. Earlier this year the pun filled exchange between Sainsbury’s and a customer who complained about not being able to find a packet of breaded fish, created an internet sensation and showed the power of the human touch in issue resolution (@sainsburys: If I’m herring you right, you’re looking to eel our relationship. I’ll tell the store to find the shelf & fillet. David. Always remember to gauge each situation first however (Sainsbury’s were responding in kind to a pun-fuelled enquiry). There is a balance to be struck between striking up a personal dialogue and remaining professional. Does your system enable you to personalize communications (signatures can be added to Twitter) whilst avoiding words or phrases which may be deemed too informal, unprofessional or off message. It’s a tricky balance and using a dedicated system can help you avoid any of the potential pitfalls.

3. What are you trying to hide: social media is by and large a public medium. Of course your first thoughts as a digital marketing manager may well be that you don’t want criticism of your organisation being aired in public, but let’s face it when it comes to complainants:

  • they tend to be more vocal than satisfied customers and so are looking for a platform to air their grievances
  • if they feel they are being ‘hushed up’ they will invariably find a way to make their views public

Social media can provide a vehicle for dissatisfied customers who may want other people to see their grievances, but if they and others can see that they are being dealt with in a professional and timely manner, then having those conversations in public may be no bad thing. Of course personal details and sensitive customer information can never be divulged, but being transparent is a good thing particularly where other customers can see how you have expertly steered things to a satisfactory conclusion. So, have a monitoring system to ensure you always respond promptly to the latest communication — and if it flags up key words for you first, even better because forewarned is definitely forearmed when it comes to dealing with customer complaints. And of course where things don’t go to plan refer to your pre-agreed crisis plan — social media is a great platform for addressing issues, but as with any other of business, have the basics in place.

4. What is it you’re trying to tell me: as a marketer you know that clarity of message is everything, so make sure that you have separate, dedicated social media channels for each function you have been tasked with. Accounts that are used to push out promotional messages may not be the appropriate vehicle to accept and respond to customer service enquiries after all no-one wants to be palmed off with a thinly veiled sales pitch. Nike uses @Nike to push out messages on the hundred of items that make up their brand but the busier account is @NikeSupport  which is used solely for responding to customers who need help. Dedicating channels in this way will offer customers direct and a distinct route to support services, and utilising a system that can monitor activity across your entire multi-channel platform will ensure everything you do is compliant and ‘on message’.

5. Be pro-active: pre-warning customers of issues in advance — a train being delayed, an item being out of stock etc. can be an excellent way of developing great CRM and enhancing the reputation of your brand. Use the immediacy of Twitter to get ahead of the game and tackle potential problems before they even occur. Virgin Trains’ use of social media to keep passengers informed (it has the biggest Twitter following of any UK train operator) is one of the factors in seeing them consistently outperform the long-distance rail sector average in customer satisfaction scores (based on Passenger Focus research). The company clearly identified the use of technology as a way to drive new ways of communicating with passengers — a great lesson for us all to take on board.

Related: The role of social media in the customer service driven age

SoCrowd is the UK’s leading social media risk management and compliance platform.  Its bespoke system is built for enterprise and has been developed to help large multi-disciplined teams to manage large scale social media campaigns and  customer service functions.