Goodbye Hold Music: Social Media is the Future of Customer Service

The days of waiting on the phone seemingly lifetimes while listening to terrible hold music just to speak to a brand’s customer service are coming to an end. And, honestly, we couldn’t be more ready for that. However, customer service is more important than ever, so where are people going when they need to contact companies if not to the traditional channels? The answer shouldn’t surprise you: social media is the new go-to platform for customer service.

By 2020, it’s estimated that 90 percent of businesses will be using social media for customer service needs. But how about a statistic that isn’t 2 years into the future? In a survey by Sprout Social, one third of consumers said they preferred communicating with brands via social networks as opposed to phone or email. This isn’t just younger generations, either. While the majority of millennials–81 percent to be exact–use social media for customer service, over 60 percent of Generation Xers and 44 percent of Baby Boomer are following suit as well.

So, what does this mean for the modern company? Most importantly, it means you can no longer ask yourself if your brand needs to be actively responding to consumers on social media, and instead ask yourself how well you are doing so. Those brands who maintain a well-crafted strategy for social customer service will see the rewards in significantly higher retention rate and brand loyalty as well as increased sales and positive word-of-mouth feedback from consumers. To succeed in this new world of social customer service, follow these brand best practices:

Promptness is key

The social world we live in is increasingly fast-paced and rushed. This impatient temperament carries over into customer service interactions on social media, where the speed of a company’s response is crucial. The most prominent social media platform, Facebook, even includes average response time on brands’ business pages, alerting consumers to the company’s responsiveness before they even reach out. Surveys show that 25 percent of consumers expect a brand to respond to them on social media with one day. 10 percent expect a response within an hour, 12 percent expect a response within half an hour and 20 percent expect a response within the first 15 minutes. Delayed and entirely missed responses to social customer service inquiries come across as the brand not valuing the consumer’s time.

Don’t forget misspelled mentions

While some consumers will go directly to a company’s social media page to communicate, many others will only say your brand or product name in their comment or mention. In fact, on Twitter, research has shown that “only three percent of brand mentions actually use a Twitter handle, instead opting for the company or product name.” Sometimes these names will be misspelled as well, making it even more difficult for you to promptly see the mention and respond. With all the social platforms and possibilities of missed consumer comments, brands wanting to improve their customer service should use tools like HootSuite that automatically update search results with these mentions. Or, better yet, seek out the help of a professional social media management company to monitor these interactions for you.

Don’t avoid the negative

Just as no brand would ignore a person who came directly to their office or store, no brand should ignore a consumer on social media. All comments must be acknowledged on social platforms, even the negative ones. Current and potential customers are watching how you respond to those complaints, and not replying to them is construed as ignoring a customer. Blocking or hiding negative comments and mentions should be considered a last resort–but we do recommend that if the customer is using profanity or being inflammatory even after being helped.

On top of simply acknowledging negative social feedback, brands should also see the exchange as an opportunity to make the situation right and try to win back over the consumer. To do this, companies should seek to respond with positivity and empathy and remember the age-old saying that “the customer is always right.”

Be human

While consumers may not be using phones to directly speak with another human for customer service, they still expect a personal, two-way conversation when they reach out to a brand on social media. Responses should not be copied and pasted from conversation to conversation. It may work at first, but soon consumers will notice the pattern and be left with a sense of insincerity from your brand. Make your social customer service communications authentic by modifying scripted guidelines for each situation. Additionally, greet individuals by name whenever possible and include the name or initials of the employee responding.

Try to avoid switching platforms

When customers come to a social media platform to contact a brand, they don’t want to jump around from channel to channel. In fact, 37 percent of consumers stated that this feeling “getting passed around” is their main source of frustration with companies’ customer service. If the message is private to the brand, try to resolve it there. If it's public, we still recommend trying to get them to a more private channel. But don’t view social customer service as an opportunity to pass a customer off to phone or email representative. In situations where the issue cannot be fully resolved on the social media platform, whether because of security reasons or length limitations of the social medium, it is acceptable to transfer a consumer to another channel. In these situations, it is essential that you maintain a tone of empathy and helpfulness.

Remember your responses are visible to everyone

One of the unavoidable aspects of social media is the lack of privacy for the things posted there. This means many interactions between you and a not-always-happy customer will be visible for the entire world to see. Many companies have fallen prey to public backlash when their response to a customer’s social media complaint missed the mark. Even when responses aren’t blatantly disrespectful or apathetic, brands can still run into the issue of misinterpretation of tone and inflection. Avoid a public relations nightmare by setting guidelines for your brand’s responses while also remember to tailor each one to the specific situation in a way that it cannot be misconstrued.

Sound like a full time job? Many companies make the mistake of putting their brand’s social media on the backburner, and lose current and potential customers in the process. To keep your company’s customer service running smoothly, consider outsourcing social media management to a specialized agency, such as Matchstick Social, that is fully equipped to handle the terrain.

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Matchstick Social is a social marketing + advertising firm headquartered in Charleston, SC with a satellite office in Oklahoma City, OK. Matchstick specializes in social media marketing, optimized social advertising, effective measurement of social initiatives and helping start-ups gain social currency by establishing their digital brands.