REGARDLESS OF YOUR PERSONAL FEELINGS ON SOCIAL MEDIA, IT IS NO LONGER AN OPTION IN THE BUSINESS WORLD—IF YOU WANT TO SUCCEED, THAT IS.
What does success look like? Well, in many ways not all that dissimilar to what it did in generations past—happy customers. You really can boil it all down to that.
Satisfied customers will buy from you again and refer you to others. The difference today is that those referrals are not just made while out watering the front lawn in a 1:1 conversation. They are made on powerful platforms that can be seen and heard by endless numbers of people.
Now here’s the kicker—those same endless numbers of people can also see and hear negative things about your company. How many is “endless numbers”? According to Erik Qualman in his video on the state of social media, #Socialnomics 2014, six of the top 10 populations in the world are social media sites. Need more?
Consider these statistics:
In addition, a Nielsen Global Survey shows that online reviews are the second most trusted source of information for products, services and companies. Personal recommendations are the first. Social media is both of these in one
Customer-driven Customer Service
Delivering customer service through social channels is just one more way that proves how social media has permeated our society. And, it has largely been driven by customer demand. Even if companies did not promote using their Facebook or Twitter accounts to contact customer service, customers went ahead and did it anyway, forcing businesses to respond.
Research shows that, not only do customers expect to receive service via social platforms, but they expect responses—fast and around the clock. Any business that chooses to ignore service-oriented questions or comments made on social media can be assured of two things—they will further frustrate already frustrated customers and they will frustrate customers who were not previously so but who did have questions.
Where Do You Start?
Many companies have not yet taken the plunge into social customer service because they simply do not know how to set up such a program. Where in the world do you start? Wonder no more, we’re here to help.
There are two primary things you need to create before launching social media customer service. One of these is a program plan that will guide your efforts and provide a framework from within which your team will operate. The other is a training program which ensures that all appropriate staff members know how to make use of social media for servicing customers—in the way that you want them serviced.
Your Program Plan: The Building Blocks
Your social media customer care plan should be your blueprint. There are several items that should be incorporated into this foundational plan. Following is an overview of the most critical elements to be included.
The first place to start is by identifying which social media channels you are going to use for customer service. As tempting as it is to include as many as possible, a word of caution must be noted here. Do not bite off more than you can chew. It is far better to select only two channels and work them thoroughly with quick response times than to advertise social customer care on several channels with poor response times that only lead to increased customer dissatisfaction. For most businesses, starting with Facebook and Twitter will make the most sense.
As you identify which platforms are right for your business, you should also consider creating accounts for your customer service operations separate from your more “marketing” focused accounts. U-Haul does this with Twitter. The company’s main account is @Uhaul while the customer service account is @Uhaul_Cares.
Delivering customer service through social channels is just one more way that proves how social media has permeated our society.
Next up should be the hours that you will staff your social customer channels and the time in which customers should receive responses. Research does show that most customers expect online customer service to be available 24/7, but if that is simply not possible for you, it is important that you post the hours that agents are available.
You should also publish expected response windows. These should be achievable and give you “wiggle room.” For example, if internally it is your goal to reply to all comments within 30 minutes, you can publicly state that all comments will receive a response within 60 minutes. That sets you up to be the hero when the response is received sooner than promised, rather than being the butt of disappointment when a response is received 5 minutes later than promised.
Just as you (hopefully) monitor your current customer service phone calls, emails and live chats, so too should you monitor your social media conversations. There are two reasons that you should be tracking your customer care on social platforms. The first is to ensure that your employees are delivering the level of service that you want and expect of them and that your customers are being properly served.
In addition, mining any customer service conversations can give you insights into several things. You can learn about issues with your products or services that help you proactively offer information on your website or social channels or even in product packaging that prevent service “calls.” You can also glean information about how your customers talk about you, your industry and your offerings. Things like keywords and other important SEO elements can sometimes be found here.
Closing the loop is an important part of any customer service action. Your program should feature a standard method of surveying customers about their experience and how satisfied they were with the service they received. You can do this through a program you may have already set up, but you should also consider pushing this out via the same channel through which the service was delivered. In other words, if your customer contacted you via Facebook, consider polling them via Facebook rather than email.
As you develop your program, you can determine where you can be assisted by technology. There are several software programs available that are specifically designed for social media customer care. Many of these integrated into your CRM or other systems for even further benefits and productivity improvements.
Your Training Plan: Making it Real
Once you have your plan created, you will need to educate your team. Training can be one of the most important components of any new program, especially one that is so visible to the outside world. You will want your social customer care training to be deployed in a logical manner that addresses even those things you may consider to be “so basic.” Following are the topics that you should cover when educating your staff:
Despite the fact that you *think* all of your employees should know how to use and navigate different social platforms, you should start your training with a review of the different channels you intend to use in your social customer care program. Never assume that someone knows what you want or need them to know—especially when their job is to interface with your customers and in a very public setting.
Tone of Voice
You should clearly communicate to your customer service agents what tone of voice should be used and what “personality” you want projected by them. Be careful here to be very specific and give several examples. Simply telling someone that you expect them to be professional and polite is not enough. Odd as it may sound, that can be interpreted in different ways by different people. Your sessions should give examples of “wrong” responses and the corresponding “right” ones.
Online Language and Humor
Part of what creates your tone of voice is whether or not you want to utilize online “language” such as LOL and other common acronyms or phrases. Humor also should be discussed. It is highly recommended that humor be used with extreme caution in an online setting. There is no literal tone of voice that can clarify intended humor and that makes it very easy for misunderstandings to creep in and this is something you cannot afford to have happen. Make sure you give examples of what one person thought was funny but that could easily be received as something quite different.
When to Go Offline
There will naturally be many situations that warrant taking a conversation offline. This could be because of sensitive data such as credit card numbers or personal identity information. This could also be required if a particular customer becomes too irate or maybe has a need that is easier handled in a live conversation.
You will want to give your staff clear parameters for when—and how—to take social conversations offline. In some cases, email may be able to substitute for social media, but phone calls are likely the most common alternative route to issue resolution.
One important note should be made here. All conversations initiated on a social channel should be completed on that social channel even those that were taken offline. Part of what you are doing with your social media customer care program is showing the world how you resolve problems and take care of customers. Problems with no corresponding responses do not reflect well on your company or your brand.
Focus on Resolution
One of the big advantages that social media has over phone calls as a vehicle for customer service is the ability to delay responses. Yes, I know we highlighted the importance of prompt and efficient responses, but that does not mean immediate as is required on a phone call. Your agents should be instructed to be responsive to customers but to use the time in between receiving a message and responding to a person to actually get the information necessary to solve the problem.
This time is like the time that a person who calls in might spend on hold waiting for a service agent to seek out an answer. The benefit here, however, is that the person is not sitting there impatiently waiting for what seems like an eternity for you to come back on the line. Yes, they’re watching a feed to check for a response but that is not the same as being on hold on the phone. And, when they get a response within a reasonable timeframe that satisfactorily answers their question rather than simply indicating that their query has been received, they will be very happy.
Note also that your training should never be considered a one-time thing. You should plan for initial training when you launch your program (or when you hire a new employee who will fill a social customer service role).
You should also plan to hold periodic follow-up trainings. These should be based largely on the information you gather from your monitoring as well as from the experiences of your agents. You should also create a thorough “Best Practices Guide” that gives all agents an everyday resource. It should give an overview of all items covered in your training.
Put on Your Marketing Hat
Perhaps the most important thing for any company to think about when creating a social media customer care program is marketing. In their purest forms, both customer service and social media are marketing activities. They cultivate customers. They showcase how you treat customers. And, they can embed your name in the minds of customers—for better or worse. The job of your social customer care program is to make sure that this embedding is for the better.
About the author:
Jim Iyoob is EVP of Customer Experience for Etech Global Services. Jim has 20+ years of contact center outsourcing experience in inbound, outbound, chat and social media operations, and is a respected speaker, author and subject-matter expert for call center solutions.