What is Social Media Customer Service And How It Can Help Your Business

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With nearly 1.8 billion people using social media, it’s not a surprise that a lot of them will try to use it for customer service.

It’s one of the easiest and fastest ways to get help from a customer standpoint. They don’t have to dig for a phone number or an email address. They simply type in a company’s name on Facebook or Twitter and write a quick question.

Customers started using social media to solve product-related problems almost as soon as social media appeared. And they expect quick answers.

However, many companies still don’t treat social media as a customer service channel.

Learn what is social media customer service, why you need it and how to use it to make your customers happy with your company.

What is social media customer service

Customer service done on any kind of social media channels is social media customer service. If a customer asks a question on Facebook and the company responds, that’s social media customer service.

Any social media channel can be used for customer service. Even though there are more popular services to post complaints that something’s not working like Facebook and Twitter, customers will do it on every social media channel given the opportunity.

The general idea here is that if you have a social media channel, you are expected to provide customer service on it.

You can go for the more popular channels first though. It will usually depend on your customers’ preferences. For example, if you have a lot of Twitter followers, it might be a good indicator you should offer customer service there.

What you can do by offering social media customer service? First off, you get a channel where your audience is already present. You don’t need to find ways to bring them to your website. They are already there and will let you know if they have a problem with your product or service.

Secondly, the instant gratification users expect from social media can score you some great wins in terms of customer experience. It doesn’t take much to find out when somebody is having problem with your company and complains about it on social media. You can jump in, save the day and become a hero in your customer’s eyes.

Picking channels for social media customer service

To start offering social media customer service, you first need to know which channels to focus on. You can go for all your channels but it’s much easier to start with one or two channels and work your way up from there.

You can tell which channels you should go for first by identifying a couple of factors:

  • Number of followers – this is one of the most obvious signs that you should offer customer service on a particular social media channel. The more followers you have on one channel, the more cases you can expect from it.
  • Number of mentions – the number of followers is not everything though. You might want to check where customers are talking about your company. Using a service like Mention, you can monitor the conversations where your business is mentioned. If a particular social media channels gets a lot of support-related mentions, it’s a good indicator that you should offer social media customer service there.
  • Past cases – finally, one of the best indicators of the need for social media customer service will be the number of cases on each channel. Keep track of that to check if the follower numbers translate into more cases. You can allocate more resources or manpower to channels from which you get the highest number of cases.

It can turn out that your customers need support on multiple channels. It will be definitely harder to provide that level of support from the get-go, but it’s definitely something you want to work your way to.

Proactive social media customer service

While on the topic of social mentions, they provide great ground for some pro-active customer service.

Social media is one of the better platforms for pro-active customer service. Thousands of conversations happening at the same time, it’s not that hard to imagine that a good portion of them references a particular brand or a product.

What these brands can do is to join in on the conversation and offer help when the customer is not entirely satisfied. To do that, you need to use social media monitoring tools like Mention or Brand24 that will let you know when somebody mentions your company.

Just imagine a situation where somebody complains on their Facebook that your product is not working. Monitoring services can pick that up and you can surprise the customer with a quick help offer.

Dedicated social media customer service agents

One of the things you can do to offer support on multiple channels more easily is hiring/training dedicated social media customer service agents.

Companies are often surprised with the volume of cases they get through social media. Once you open a channel, everyone can use it to learn more about your company but also to ask you questions.

Having one agent (or more if necessary) on standby who would focus on monitoring and handling those enquiries will definitely pay off.

Instead of thinking about social media as an addition to your normal customer service, you should treat it the same as any other primary channel.

A dedicated social media customer service agent can handle emails or chats in their off-time. If there are pending questions on social media, it should be their sole priority.

You could also have your social media manager handle the enquiries. If you go for this option, it’s a good idea to organize a basic customer service training for your social media ninja. Social media marketing and social media customer service may share the same channels, but they are completely different animals.

Bare in mind that a social media manager might have a harder time with keeping up with a large volume of questions. If you get a lot of them, consider using a dedicated social media support agent.

Limitations of social media customer service

Although you should provide help on social media, it’s not always the best choice. Far from it. In some situations, social media will be the worst customer service channel to use.

This is tied to certain constraints social media have. Here are three that will affect your social media customer service:

  1. Reply limit – The replies you can post on social media are sometimes limited. Some channels are affected by this more than other. The biggest offender in this case is Twitter with its 140 characters limit. You will often be forced to use several tweets to answer a question or to switch to a different customer service channel (direct messages, email, chat or phone).
  2. Not for detailed responses – If the case you’re handling is very technical, it can be hard to get and provide all the necessary details from and to the customer. Customers won’t usually be able to give you 100 percent of their attention when using social media for customer service. When compared to phone or chat, there will be a lot of pauses in the communication, which makes asking for any details difficult.
  3. Lack of privacy – Since social media is open to everyone, you need to remember that everyone will be watching when you try to explain something to a customer. This makes all matters involving personal information, order details or payment data a non-topic on social media. Once again, it’s better to move these cases to a more private channel like email or chat.

What’s the biggest limitation you will face? Social media were not created with customer service in mind. Users are expected to hold a couple dozen of chats, not a couple hundred of them.

Social media platforms also lack the necessary tools to provide efficient customer service. Considering that you will answer a huge load of chats, you will need ways to move the more complex or difficult cases to other channels.

Steering social media customer service cases to other channels

You can make your customer service on social media faster by moving some cases to other channels. As I’ve already mentioned, this will allow you to overcome the limitations of social media like limited post length or the always-public mode.

Switching to another channel will also allow you to take the full benefit of the tools available on that channel.

The most obvious way for such switch is adding a phone number or an email address to your reply on social media. It will work but you are placing the burden of having to contact you again on the customer.

When doing this, you might want to ensure the customer that the matter will be solved and explain that the other channel is necessary to get some additional information.

Another, more customer-friendly way of switching channels in social media customer service is posting a direct link to your live chat. Upon clicking, the customer will be redirected to your website and a chat will be automatically started.

helping-customer-using-social-media

ASUS helping a customer by offering a link to their chat.

 

This method works extra well on social media platforms with very limited reply capabilities like Twitter. Adding a link to your tweet won’t take much space (especially if you use a link shortener like Bitly) and will allow your customers to quickly switch to your live chat.

The direct chat link works great for customers with quick response time expectations. If they have a pressing problem that requires a fast solution, what a better way to handle it than through live chat?

Alternatively you can create a separate account for all support enquiries and direct them to that account. A dedicated team could handle these questions without having to split their attention between normal social media chatter. Mailchimp uses a split like that for their main Twitter channel and their MailChimp Status account.

Self-service in social media customer service

Another way to circumvent the limitations of social media is to use self-service as an ace up your sleeve. Providing self-service materials is one of the ways you can keep up with huge number of cases with a relatively small team.

Setting up a knowledge base and keeping it up to date with a stream of helpful articles will allow you to growth hack your social media customer service.

With a single link to an article, you will be able to provide an answer that would take multiple tweets, screenshots, a chain of emails and a phone call to explain.

If you represent a smaller company that doesn’t have the manpower to have one person assigned solely to social media customer service, a good knowledge base will help you out. And it’s not like you will need to create it just for this purpose. It will also boost the customer service quality on your website.

Social media customer service in multi channel support

All these methods point to one realization: your customer service channels should work closely together.

If you know that a case will be faster to handle on chat instead of social media, and the customer doesn’t mind, you should be able to easily switch channel and resolve the customers’ matter.

To make that possible, you need to make sure that all of your customer service channels play nicely with each other. What’s even more important, your agents should know that they can initiate a switch when necessary too. It’s important that both your agents and your social media managers can communicate well and know who’s responsible for monitoring and who should reply to support questions.

What is there to gain? Amazing customer experience. Customers will be able to get help using the channels they already know and love. And that’s a big win for any company.

How do you handle social media customer service? Any tools you could suggest to tie the communication together? Feel free to share in the comments.

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9 Comments

  1. 1

    Great article! Customer service on social media sites is imperative. Customers want to hear from you within hours. Here’s a stats – 71% of consumers who experience a quick and effective brand response on social media are likely to recommend that brand to others, compared to just 19% of customers who do not receive a response. ~ NM Incite

  2. 2

    Those stats are pretty conclusive Fran. I think the key takeaway is that Social Media Customer Service is not some fad that only big brands can use. It should be part of every business’ strategy these days.

  3. 3

    This is a great article connecting customer service with social media. Overall I think we can connect customer services in this instance with marketing as a whole.

    As an example when someone posts a negative review or comment on social media by taking that through customer service and solving the issue in a reasonable amount of time leads to a positive brand image and future word of mouth from that user.

    • 4

      Hi Anthony,
      Good point. Picking up on bad reviews is crucial. Sometimes it can be a blessing because they may be identifying something or some prevailing issue in our service that other people are remaining quiet about. Feedback is vital, even bad feedback. It is how we respond to it that is important.

  4. 5
  5. 7

    Hi Jacob,

    I definitely like the idea of having a separate social handle for customer support. Hootsuite does that, and so far I have found their customer service to be excellent.

    Great post! Sharing.

    Brent

  6. 8

    This is such a great topic and one that I don’t think gets a lot of air time. It should because so many companies are bad at this or simply negligent. It makes the company or business more personable and accessible that their are real people behind the brand. Smaller businesses probably have a better advantage or opportunity over their big brand competitors by connecting customer service to social media. It shouldn’t only be for SaaS companies.

  7. 9

    Hi Shae,
    That’s an interesting point you raise about smaller businesses using Social Media as a channel. I definitely agree that the opportunities are there for the ones who do, although many aren’t getting the most out of it for one reason or another. It could be time related or because they don’t yet see these benefits.

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