Social Media in Customer Support

twitterMost people have a tendency to view social media as something to use to talk to long distance friends, send pictures of your latest meals, complain about movies, rant about the government or to view pictures of the latest Lolcats.  Social media (in this instance, I am primarily referencing Twitter and Facebook) also has a useful side that should not be ignored by companies today: customer support.

Social Work

While almost every company has a team designated to receive and resolve customer issues, most are only beginning to designate people to oversee their social media sites from a customer support perspective. Typically, most companies use social media to talk about their latest products, tweet links to deals and occasionally forward issues to their technical teams. But what happens when things go supernova and a customer, rightly or wrongly, posts something on the company’s website, Facebook page or on their Twitter account that casts that company in an extremely negative light? And of course what if your own employees post something incredibly stupid?

Some recent examples include:

Before social media there was little outlet for consumers who felt that they had been wronged. You could write letters, emails and even send in support tickets, but all of these could be swept under the rug without very many people finding out and your issue may never be resolved. Even going to your local news station to complain about a restaurant or business may get no results and cost you more in time, money and effort than whatever you were up in arms about did.

Global Megaphone

imagesEnter the internet and the age of social media. With a click of a button you could lambast a company’s poor service, abysmal products and lack of caring that could reach hundreds of thousands if not millions of consumers. When Kevin Smith complained about the cramped seats and poor reaction from Southwest Airlines, 1.6 million people heard about it… instantly. A minor issue to a lot of people and a joke to others, but not only did his tweet leave an impression with his Twitter followers, but news organization picked up the story and broadcasted the coverage.  Suddenly over 200 million people were aware of the situation, and it cast a negative shadow on Southwest Airlines.

And you may have your own melt down, like Amy’s Baking Company did this year.  The owners of this restaurant decided to take on customers in a bizarre fashion, attacking them on various social media platforms and setting themselves up for a perfect storm of attacks and ridicule. They also had Gordon Ramsey walk out on them during one of his Kitchen Nightmares’ episodes.

The Advice

So what can companies do to give stellar support when things like this happen?

First:  Hire media savvy people to monitor and respond to queries and issues that arise. They need to be positive, sensitive to the customer’s needs and offer resolutions (or know who to route it to and get it resolved). [Pssst: we do that – social media moderation.]

Second:  Create policy and train any staff member who will be posting on forums, Facebook, Twitter, etc., on how to post and reply.  Even CEOs can cause headaches for companies by posting something personal and not business related via the company handle. While employees are generally the best advocates for your product you should keep the people that can post on company accounts to a minimum. Create a wiki guideline for posting; IBM has a comprehensive one that makes a great template. [Pssst: we do that – social media customer support.]

Third:  Respond quickly to ALL customer complaints that are posted. Almost every CRM has a tool that converts social media posts into tickets, so use it! Take the complaint or issue offline and handle solving the query internally with the aid of your team, if it all possible. Develop an SLA (service level agreement) to establish team expectations.  Be quick about the response, but remind everyone that providing the best service is the goal, and be thorough and clear to the customer (create system tickets for tracking and review all related FAQ articles). For more serious issues be sure to give respect and empathy to the customer, and avoid the possibility of sounding insensitive, or exasperating the issue. Pssst: we do that – social media management.]

Fourth:  Monitor what is said about you online. Having a system to track your online image will help you correct any blips that may arise (there are a billion people posting inane comments every day, so it is impossible to catch everything). Most issues will be small, but some will be important and you never want them to go viral. Even a fantastic follow-up response to an issue may be lost if the correspondence is late, incorrect, or bad.

At The End of the Day…

customer-service.0822.12-300x213You cannot ignore the social media aspect of customer support. A customer’s negative reaction can go public overnight if not handled quickly and professionally. For companies planning to have a major social media presence you need to be prepared by not only having social media marketers but support professionals ready to catch and resolve issues from day one. A good customer experience with a social media using happy customer cannot be overrated!

Michael Marcantel
Project Manager

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