Cultivating Social Customer Service Success

While many companies have already built a strong social media presence, other brands have only recently come to the conclusion that social media is here to stay. But, as these businesses look to enter the fray, leaders must proceed with caution if they wish to guarantee that these burgeoning efforts garner positive results.
Customer Engagement

While many companies have already built a strong social media presence, other brands have only recently come to the conclusion that social media is here to stay. But, as these businesses look to enter the fray, leaders must proceed with caution if they wish to guarantee that these burgeoning efforts garner positive results."As they operate on social media, it's vitally important that company leaders realize that customers will see their social page as a customer support venue whether the company intends it or not," says Robert C. Johnson, CEO of TeamSupport. "For that reason, businesses that stake out a social media presence must make sure they monitor their sites for customer complaints and inquiries and handle them quickly."

Here, we speak with Johnson to explore how brands can best manage multiple contact channels, including crucial steps for enhance customer service and support via social media:

1to1 Media: Why do consumers often turn to social media for customer support?

Robert C. Johnson: As social media becomes increasingly popular as a general communication tool, social media channels will be used for virtually all types of messages and conversations, including support requests. Businesses shouldn't think of social media as an anomaly. It's simply one of the communication channels people use today, and support leaders who want to build long-term relationships and keep customers happy should definitely consider communicating with customers on their preferred platforms, including social media.

1to1: How do brands typically respond to such queries? Where do they frequently go wrong?

RCJ: The number one mistake brands make is to establish a social media presence and then fail to monitor it, missing customer support inquiries, failing to acknowledge feedback, and not taking advantage of opportunities to turn around a customer's negative experience. Most company leaders who care about customer service wouldn't think of deleting customer emails unread or throwing out snail mail from customers, but ignoring social media channels is basically the same thing.

It's essential to promptly answer questions and handle complaints received via any channel, but it's particularly important on social media, which is a public platform that every existing or potential customer can view. For companies that find a way to do it right, social media interactions can be a great way to build stronger relationships with customers. Companies that monitor and respond to customer feedback can quickly turn a negative into a positive in a public way by demonstrating customer support excellence.

1to1: What are some crucial steps companies must take in order to enhance their social customer support offerings?

RCJ: It's important to recognize that social media is just one of many customer support channels and to find an integrated solution. Companies that try to manage each channel as a separate entity often run into problems because customers don't always use the same channel. Customer type and demographics can be a factor here, so it's crucial to understand which channels customers actually use. If you're a B2B company, customers will be less likely to connect via Facebook or Pinterest, but they will probably expect you to be on LinkedIn and Twitter.

It's absolutely necessary to have visibility into all customer interactions to successfully manage customer support. If you treat each channel as separate, you'll miss interactions and risk alienating customers. Some social media support advocates urge companies to assign a dedicated support rep to social media, but that's not always possible or effective. A single social media rep might get overwhelmed if there's a spike in inquiries, or he or she may be out of the office and unable to respond right away. It's more effective to cross-train staff and give employees access to a platform that centralizes all support channels so that everyone is on the same page and can collaborate to resolve issues in a timely manner.

Training on how to handle inquiries is a key success factor. Social media communication is typically more casual than traditional forms of business communication, but it's still important to strike the right balance between casual and professional. It's also crucial to train reps to recognize what types of issues can be addressed on social media and which need to be turned into a private ticket to be addressed one-on-one with the customer in a more in-depth way. Not every problem can be resolved in a series of 140-character tweets.

1to1: What are successful brands doing right?

RCJ: Brands that understand social media and place such interactions into the larger support context are finding new ways to connect with customers, collaborate internally, and resolve issues quickly. US Airways interacts with customers via Twitter to resolve issues around cancelled flights, responding quickly to provide updated flight status and treating the network as a communications platform customers can use to rebook cancelled flights in less time than it takes to reach the front of an airport line. US Airways also effectively takes inquiries private when that's the best way to achieve resolution.

UPS has a simple strategy for personalizing and managing social media interactions: It includes pictures of the reps customers can reach out to, which adds a personal touch and keeps interactions conversational, while also allowing a number of support reps to monitor single accounts at the same time and work together to handle issues. Many companies use social media to make broad, real-time announcements, which means that most customers receive information faster than they would via email.

1to1: What lies ahead for the future of social customer support?

RCJ: Social customer support will continue to expand and evolve as long as social media platforms remain a popular communication choice, and usage statistics indicate that social media continues its rapid growth trajectory. It's not just Millennials who are using social media as a communication channel. Last year, a Pew Research Center survey on social media showed that 71 percent of Internet users in the U.S. are on Facebook--including more than half of adults over age 65--and that platforms like LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest are also growing rapidly.

Companies that want to effectively integrate social media channels into their support organizations should find out what channels their customers use and periodically reevaluate their approach since social media usage evolves over time. B2C companies, in particular, should expect customers to want to interact with them on popular general social media channels, like Facebook, whereas B2B companies are more likely to be contacted via business-oriented social media channels, like LinkedIn. As the medium continues to evolve, it's likely that new apps and platforms will emerge to specifically address customer support needs.