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Social customer service

11Apr Posted by Sara Benwell

Almost everybody I know has faced some sort of customer service nightmare recently. Hardly a day goes by without a tale of customer woe coming to my attention, and it’s frankly quite baffling. Why is it so hard for companies to get it right? And shouldn’t customer service be at the top of a company’s priority list if they want to increase their customer base and ensure brand loyalty?

A growing trend amongst consumers, faced by what seems to be either an inability or an unwillingness to help, is to turn to social media. This can mean anything from venting fury on Twitter or writing an incensed blog post to using a company’s Facebook channel to make a more public complaint. But how successful is this as a tactic, and how good are brands at doing social customer service?

From my experience taking to social media can be effective when a company’s usual customer service channels aren’t delivering. After several hours on the phone to one of the big train companies recently, I started to make a bit of a fuss on Twitter and within a few hours my problem was promptly dealt with. Equally, when dealing with our internet provider even the threat of action on social media got the process moving faster.

I think one of the reasons that companies can be so quick to jump to action when you make your complaint through social media is the public nature of these forums. All it takes is for enough people to get angry at a company on social media and they suddenly have a potential reputation crisis on their hands. The world of social media moves fast and those companies that fail to respond quickly can find themselves at the other end of widespread public outrage. Of course I’d rather not have to use Twitter as a threat or a last resort, but you can see why it makes sense for companies to deal with public complaints rapidly from a reputational point of view.

However, taking to Twitter, Facebook or even a blog doesn’t always work out. In fact, a 2011 study by Maritz Research found that 71% of companies ignore consumer complaints on Twitter.

This figure seems bizarre to me. Social media is all about engagement, so if you aren’t responding to consumer complaints, what are you doing? One can only assume it is being used to push out lots of content without checking for feedback. Companies that aren’t using social media to listen and respond are kind of missing the point. If a business has put itself on social media, as a consumer I expect not just to receive a steady stream of information from them but also for them to respond and react if I have a problem. Building up a lots of ‘followers’ or ‘fans’ but failing to interact with them and find out what they think is a massive waste of time and money.

There are, of course, pitfalls when it comes to all of the social media channels, but if your brand already has a social media presence then responding to consumer complaints can only be a good thing. There are also some basic rules that can be followed to help develop a great social media strategy for dealing with complaints:

1) Never get into a fight with a consumer – this one’s pretty straightforward, no one wants to get into a public slanging match with a consumer, it’s not just unprofessional it can also lead to more people jumping on the bandwagon

2) Be timely – Social media platforms are fast-paced. When responding to consumers you need to deal with the issue quickly and calmly before it escalates. Often a day’s delay is far too long.

3) Acknowledge complaints early on – if dealing with the complaint will take some time, make sure you send an acknowledging message to the consumer letting them know you are looking into it. Nobody likes to be ignored!

4) Don’t delete complaints – if somebody posts a complaint, don’t delete it. It tends to make people angry, and it’s far better for your reputation if other fans/followers see you responding and trying to resolve an issue.

5) Move the debate - Sometimes the most sensible thing to do is to move the problem into a more private forum. Switch the Twitter conversation into direct messages or provide a phone number instead of a Facebook comment. This way you can have a conversation that isn’t in the public eye. Make sure phone calls are answered promptly though, and by someone who is familiar with the complaint.

6) Joined up teams – Customer service teams and social media teams need to be joined up so people are receiving the same message on the phone as they do through social media channels.

7) Be social – The clue is in the name. Facebook, Twitter and the like are forums through which you can create open and honest engagement. If you’re friendly and helpful your consumers will be impressed.

8) Spot the trends - Finally don’t forget to aggregate any complaints you receive; if several people have made a similar complaint, social media can help you spot a trend and make the changes necessary to improve your business and brand reputation.

Dealing with social media can be tricky, but if companies get it right their reputation will benefit. And consumers will be mollified if they can just see that you’re making an effort.




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Comments (2)

Samuel Palin posted 11th April 2012
Strong truth. I have found publicly-aired Twitter complaints often leads to swift responses – and I'm far more likely to smile on a responsive company in the future.
Geordie Clarke posted 11th April 2012
Social media sites – Twitter in particular – have helped to change the way companies deal with complaints and much of this has been a positive development for consumers. It's certainly forced the corporate world to sit up and take note of the fact they can't simply go on acting like they can run the show all the time. A groundswell of angry customers can get out of control fairly quickly.

But I can't help but think this isn't going to sustain itself for the long term. Will the Twitter fad eventually wear off? Will companies eventually go back to the old way of dealing with things? Will the flood of people complaining through social media just create gridlock and, therefore, render it ineffective as a mechanism through which problems can be resolved?

I hope this doesn't happen, but you never know.

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