social customer serviceCustomer service is a core part of any business – B2C (business to customer) or B2B (business to business). As social media has grown as a business tool, so too has the need for good customer service through social media.

As the BBC releases its story featuring a consumer utilising social media to air his grievances against BA, I’d like to explore what social customer service means for businesses and how you can do it well.

Social Customer Service

Customer service as a business function has remained fairly unchanged for many years. Full departments are dedicated to customer service and responding to customer queries and issues in the most efficient manner possible and, according to business software company Salesforce, “the overall focus of customer service has been centred on responding to customer issues with greater efficiency, greater scale, and greater speed at lower and lower cost.”

It should come as no surprise then that the growth of new communication channels is having a marked impact on the way we do customer service as businesses – and the way consumers expect customer service to be done.

Social customer service is the practice of managing customer services through social media; most commonly, through Twitter and Facebook. The benefits of social customer service for businesses and for consumers are:

  • The ability to share issues, grievances, questions and updates quickly and easily (no waiting for a mailed response or navigating through ‘press 1 for…’ phone services)
  • The ability to respond quickly
  • The ability to improve the profile of the brand; when social customer service is done well, it has the potentially to have a hugely positive impact on the brand’s reputation as social customer service is public and open for everyone to see

Of course, there are also downfalls to social customer service if it’s not managed well – most notably, the fact that social customer service is conducted in the public domain, so poor service can be seen and shared across your networks.

Social Customer Service: Success Stories

Good social customer service is being done every day. Your Twitter feeds are no doubt full of brands sharing their news, giving you updates and engaging with their followers – and that’s good social customer service. Simply being available to your customers through social media will help you to stand apart from your competitors and using social media to craft your brand personality is a great use of the platform. Here are some great examples of social customer service producing fantastic results:

Respond Quickly, Fix the Problem

I recently spoke to Ian Golding, a customer experience professional who had taken his grievances with his local supermarket to Twitter. He was disappointed during his shop that the staff at the bakery appeared to see him, but continued to ignore him, leaving him waiting for far longer than he was comfortable with before he received service.

After posting his grievance on the social network, Mr Golding received a call from the store’s manager who apologised for the inconvenience. The store manager then went a step further – he made a change to ensure the problem didn’t happen again by lowering the bread racks in the store to ensure staff could see customers clearly.

The supermarket not only responded quickly and openly, they addressed the issue at the heart of the grievance. It’s an added bonus for them that Mr Golding has gone on to blog about this, share it with his networks and use it as an example of social customer service done well.

Dedicated Social Customer Service Handle Helps Customers

Nike is a huge brand. It should come as no surprise then that they have a strong social customer service proposition as big brands recognise the value therein.

Nike’s strategy for social customer service has been to create a handle specifically for social customer service queries – @NikeSupport. Through this handle, they have tweeted over 160,000 times. As Social Media Examiner said of the strategy, Nike have made it easy for their customers to get in touch by creating a specific channel and manning it round the clock.

Quick Response Appeases Frustrated Customer

Another example Social Media Examiner have shared is that of airline Jet Blue and, as they point out, ” @JetBlue ensures they’re responsive to their customers because they understand it’s important for continued customer loyalty. Not only do they engage with happy customers, but they also respond to and help frustrated customers as quickly as possible.”

Take a look at the exchange below. Jet Blue’s strength here is in the fact they responded quickly, they had the information the customer needed and the acknowledged the situation with an apology.

Social customer service on Twitter
Image source:

The Power of the Social Consumer

Whilst success stories are easily found, social customer service is always at risk of negative consequences. And though the negatives should not put you off social customer service (after all, the internet has empowered us as businesses to be far more transparent and engaging than ever before), understanding the potential pitfalls is essential in maintaining your own social customer service.

Google ‘social customer service fails’ and you’ll find plenty of examples. But something I find particularly interesting at the moment is the growth of the social consumer, a term I’m using here to describe consumers who make use of social media as a means to reaching their own goals with brands.

The example I gave at the opening of this article is particularly illustrative of social consumerism. As the BBC reported, a businessman aggrieved by British Airways after they lost his father’s luggage on a flight took to Twitter to spread his message. By purchasing a ‘Promoted Tweet’, Hasan Syed was able to share his grievance with the world:

promoted tweet social customer service


Another example can be found with Martin Macdonald, a blogger who recently took to Twitter, Facebook and his own blog in an attempt to get the attention and action of British Gas through a campaign known as The Dyno Rod and British Gas Complaint Story. In a multi-channel campaign, Macdonald branded his issue a ‘scam’ and invited others aggrieved by British Gas to join his Facebook campaign and share his Twitter hashtag.

British Gas did respond to Macdonald – indeed, they had responded prior to the campaign but their response had not appeased their angry customer. In this example, the dissatisfaction of one customer has turned into a potential PR issue for the brand – all because of social media.

The power of the social consumer is strong. In the positive sense, social media has allowed consumers to connect with brands in a way they never have before. In the negative sense, social media empowers consumers to air their grievances out loud – and the audience for that is potentially huge.

What Social Customer Services Means for Your Business – and How to Do It Right

Social customer service is a potential minefield for businesses and no doubt many smaller companies and bigger companies will consider avoiding it completely. But like all social media, it cannot be ignored. People will talk about your brand online whether you participate or not – so better to get involved and steer them toward positive content than ignore it and hope for the best. Here are our top tips for social customer service:

  1. Listen
    Knowing what people are saying about you is the first step in successful social customer service. We like to set up Google Alerts and Twitter saved searches etc. for our clients to monitor their online reputation – set up your own Google Alert here.
  2. Be available
    Consider how you can be available to your customers on social media and make it easy for them to get in touch. Think about Nike’s approach as an example – would it make sense for your brand to have a dedicated customer service handle? Also think about how you can help your customers to find your social media channels; here at Hallam, we’ve made our social profiles really prominent across our website (in the header and the footer) and in our contact page, which means we’re easy to find.
  3. Respond – and respond quickly
    Ignoring negative feedback is never the answer. Nor is deleting it. Those of you who have attended my social media training sessions will have heard me give examples of this, and it never works out well for the brands involved. Always, always respond to feedback, negative feedback included. Be professional, acknowledge the issue and come to a satisfactory conclusion – be it a fix right there and then, or contacting the person complaining offline or via email to discuss it more thoroughly.

When Social Customer Service Isn’t Enough

Social customer service has the potential to be hugely valuable to your brand and it’s so important that you manage your online reputation (which is a core part of what we do for our clients). But you cannot ignore other channels.

When social media becomes the dominant channel for customer service, you encourage your customers to believe social media is the best way to reach you. There are many cases out there where businesses, no doubt conscious of PR related issues, have responded far quicker on social media than other channels and it is in these instances that the customer begins to feel that social media will get them the quickest results – and that’s where we see the negative impact of social consumerism.

This is why it’s so important to maintain other communication channels too. Ensure your customer service is handled quickly and appropriately through all channels, and you stand the best chance of keeping your customers happy.

If you’d like to find out more about how Hallam can help you with your social customer service and overall digital marketing strategy, contact us now via phone, email or even our social media channels – we’ll be sure to get back to you as soon as we can.

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