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Cynthia Clark | October 25, 2012

6 Tips for Social Media Customer Service

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tweetc.jpgSocial media has revolutionized the way we communicate and is providing organizations a new way to interact with their customers and foster relationships.

And customers themselves are leveraging social media to get the answers they need from the brands they do business with quicker and also magnify their voice. According to Jasdev Dhaliwal, head of communities for global social media and online engagement at AVG, 17 percent of Americans have used social media for their customer service needs at least once in the past year. "Customers have a voice and they're using it," Dhaliwal said during the Social Media for Customer Service Summit organized this week by Useful Social Media.

Many business leaders want to invest in social customer service because they recognize that it's more cost-effective than replying to contact centre calls. However, unless it's used well, social media can do more harm than good. Here are some tips from practitioners in the field:

1. Be agile: Many organizations are striving to reply to customers over social media in as real time as possible. Zappos, for example, has set an internal goal to reply to tweets within four hours but tries to answer before, noted Sheena Gabbert, customer loyalty team supervisor at Zappos. However, customers don't expect their issues to be resolved immediately, but they want to be kept informed of the steps that the organization is taking to find a solution, Dhaliwal said. Therefore, even if the company doesn't have a reply there and then, social media agents should keep the customer informed of the steps it's taking to resolve the issue.

2. Be proactive: Social media interactions shouldn't be solely reactive. "Customers are very happy when you reach out to them proactively," said Joshua March, co-founder and CEO of Conversocial. When Hurricane Irene hit the East Coast last year, Comcast made it a point to keep customers informed of the storm's approach and how this could impact services, explained Kip Wetzel, the company's executive director for escalations and social strategy.

3. Listen: Social media is providing companies with mountains of customer feedback which organizations should listen to and act upon. "Your product has to reflect what your customers think," said Morgan Johnston, corporate communications manager at JetBlue.

4. Do the right thing: Like any other customer service representatives, agents taking care of social media should be empowered to do what's right for their customers. Jim Carrillo, customer loyalty team manager at Zappos, says the organization empowers agents to do just that without having to ask permission. "We want them to feel comfortable building relationships," he said.

5. Prepare for disasters: Crises will happen and organizations need to be prepared to address them. "The hard part of social media is putting out fires before they get bigger or reacting to the ones that got big," said Brandy King, senior manager of communications at Southwest Airlines. King stressed the importance of building relationships with customers to establish trust before crises hit. Kip Wetzel, executive director of escalations and social strategy at Comcast, said it's imperative to know how to handle a crisis from a broader company strategy. Pauline Amerson, consumer marketing manager at Sony, said as long as you're upfront with customers, crises can become opportunities to turn disgruntled customers into brand advocates. "Engaging with customers at the time of need is imperative. As you engage, people will start becoming advocates," said John Hernandez, vice president of Cisco's customer contact business unit.

6. Think before you act: Before you click send, ask yourself whether this might backfire, said Gregg Tilston, global social media leader at Flight Centre. Alon Waisman, social media operations manager at GoDaddy.com, agreed. "Never, ever, ever hit send when you're emotional," he said.

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