Earlier this month I attended Social Media Marketing World, the largest conference on social media marketing in the world. Over the last few years, customer service has shifted from traditional phone support toward social media channels like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and others. Dan Gingiss started the Social Customer Care Track and interest has grown exponentially. The room I spoke in this year was three times larger than last year’s room, and we packed the house.
Social Media Changes Customer Service
Customers have a louder voice than ever before. The 1979 study by the Technical Assistance Research Program, commissioned by the White House Office of Consumer Affairs, found that a complaining customer might tell 8-12 people about a negative experience they had with a business. Happy customers tell an average of 6. However, because of social media, those numbers have dramatically changed. A positive or negative experience shared on social media can garner thousands of views. Even millions!
A great example of a positive customer service experience reaching a broad audience is the story of Joshie, a beloved stuffed animal that a young guest left at the Ritz-Carlton Amelia Island. The father of the child who left Joshie behind shared their experience in a blog post. Since then, the story has been retold and shared by many others and has gone “viral.”
One of the best examples of a complaint that went viral was Dave Carroll’s YouTube video about when United Airlines broke his guitar. When United refused to fix or replace the broken guitar, Carroll wrote a song about the experience (as any good musician might do), turned it into a video, and posted it on YouTube for all the world to see. At the time of this article, he’s had almost 18 million views.
Good and bad experiences handled the right way, make social customer care far more important than basic customer service. It blurs the lines between customer service, marketing, and even sales.
Scientific data validate the importance and power of social media customer service.
According to Bain and Company, research from 2011 indicates that when brands engage or respond to customer requests over social media, those customers spend 20-40% more on average. A more recent study from by Twitter that appeared this year in the Harvard Business Review found that a response to a complaining customer – even if it’s not the response the customer may want to hear – significantly improves the odds that they will not only come back but also spend more on your products or services.
SocialSprout’s research claims that 89% of social media messages from brands go ignored. Other studies found similar results. Some claim this number seems high, but even if it was half that – or even a quarter– the number is still too high.
According to Groove, “failure to respond to customer complaints or questions on social media can lead to a 15% increase in churn.” Can any business afford to lose customers at this rate?!
Two Choices in Social Customer Care: Reactive and Proactive
Many companies I work with have the social care concept wrong. Their version of social customer care is to monitor popular review sites like Yelp and TripAdvisor, as well as channels like Twitter and Facebook, and react to complaints and questions. That’s a good start, but there are so many more opportunities. The best companies not only respond to complaints and answer questions, they thank customers and comment on positive reviews. And the companies who do it best go beyond just reacting to what customers post – they proactively interact with their community of customers.
Reactive Social Customer Service
The traditional way customers reached out to a company for help was via telephone. They still do, but a growing number are turning to social media channels as their first choice. Many customers post a question or problem not as a rant, but as a basic cry for help. But that isn’t always the case. When customers leave a scathing review on Facebook or send a nasty tweet, it is often because the first effort, whether on the phone, through social media, or even in person, was not handled to the customer’s satisfaction. Regardless of the reason, responding the right way can springboard your customer service reputation. The world can see how you respond in real time. My friend and colleague, Jay Baer says, “Social media turns customer service into a spectator sport.” When your customer makes a “public complaint,” the world is watching to see how you respond. A well-handled problem can be your best PR opportunity; mismanaged, it becomes a PR nightmare.
Reaction time is important. The time that it takes a company to respond is crucial to take advantage of this PR opportunity. A few years back, I wrote about the Eptica study that evaluated 500 US retailers’ ability to respond to customers. The average amount of time it takes for many of these companies to reply was, to say the least, disappointing. For email, the average response time was 7 hours and 51 minutes. For Facebook, the average response time was 1 day, 3 hours, and 7 minutes. For Twitter, the average response time was 1 day, 7 hours and 12 minutes.
Numerous other studies validate these numbers and, in some cases, found even worse statistics. Simply put: nobody wants to wait nearly eight hours for a response to their complaint in the lightning-fast world of social media.
Regardless of social media channel, reaction time is paramount. Social Bakers released a study that found the average wait time on social media is nine hours. American Express Global Customer Service Barometer indicates that 25% of customers who complain on social media expect a response in less than an hour.
I was on a flight back to St. Louis with a short layover in Dallas. As we were approaching the Dallas airport, the Captain announced there was bad weather and we would be circling the airport until it was safe to land. Using the airplane’s internet, I checked to see if I would make my connection. Unfortunately, the delay was going to mean I’d miss my flight. So, I went on Twitter and direct messaged American Airlines that I was going to miss the flight. Within minutes, they responded that I was now protected on the next flight. That’s the way social customer care should be handled. Their response time was excellent. It wasn’t their fault the bad weather caused a delay, but they stepped up and seized the opportunity to make a passenger happy. By the way, I “went social” and tweeted about the great way AA handled my problem.
Stay on the Same Channel
If a customer starts on Twitter, stay on Twitter. The only channel to consider switching to the is the phone. In my American Airline example above, they didn’t ask me to switch to Facebook. It started and ended on Twitter.
Regardless of how upset a customer is, once the problem is resolved, circle back to the original post and leave a comment thanking the customer for bringing the problem to your attention and for giving you the opportunity to make it right. In a perfect world, the customer will come back and acknowledge that you took care of them.
The Opposite of Reactive is Proactive
Being proactive with comments, content, and engagement is giving your customers a great customer experience. Here are ten ways to proactively deliver a better social media customer experience.
- Push Value-Added Content: A good content marketing campaign is one of the strongest ways to deliver a better customer experience. It’s not about asking for business, it’s about delivering value and contributing to the overall customer experience. For example, a company could share relevant research or a white paper; a hardware store can create how-to videos on the most common household repairs and projects; a restaurant can share a popular recipe or even hold a recipe contest and invite customers to participate. When customers enjoy your content, it can become part of your self-service customer care solution, which we’ll cover in just a bit.
- Scale Important Messages: Use multiple channels and devices (e.g., emails, texts, tweets, Facebook posts, robo-calls) to get important messages out. Last year, there were at least two major airlines with computer outages that stranded thousands of passengers. Frequent and regular messaging would have given passengers information they wanted and needed. In addition, employees of the airlines would possess the information and answers to passengers’ questions and would have answered them consistently.
- An App Creates Interactive Engagement with the Brand: Consider developing an app. It doesn’t have to be expensive. It can include information about new products, better ways to use products, relevant articles, and more. For example, Starbucks has an app that drives their loyalty program by rewarding frequent visits and giving incentives for customers to come back more often. It’s very sophisticated and was very expensive to develop. But you don’t have to spend a lot of money. App developers like GoodBarber provide templates for inexpensive apps that are easy to create with no coding or programming. (Check out my app by going to the app store on your Apple or Android device to see an example of an inexpensive, yet effective app.)
- YouTube is an Amazing Social Media Tool: Video content is one of the best ways to deliver amazing value to your customers. Create content that interests your customers and compels them to comment. This allows you to respond and start conversations. You don’t have to spend a lot of money on production. These are YouTube videos, not theatrical releases. Reasonable video quality is important, but sound quality is critical. Make sure they are easy to hear and understand and include captions for the hearing impaired or viewers who can’t listen while they watch.
- Self-Service is a Strong Option: Socializing customer service is a perfect way to bring self-service solutions to your customers. Plus, self-service is available 24/7. You can have an FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) page on your website. Also, YouTube may be one of your most powerful self-service solutions. Companies sometimes have hundreds of videos on their YouTube channel. For example, if you use Salesforce and have a question, just search it on YouTube. You’ll find great videos produced by Salesforce – as well as some by their customers – that will give detailed instructions. My favorite example is when I bought my daughter a ping pong table. The instructions were hard to understand (they were in German), so I just typed the manufacturer name and model number into the search bar and within seconds I was watching a video that showed me how to put the table together step by step.
- Create LinkedIn and Facebook Groups: These groups are the perfect places for customers to hang out and answer other customers’ questions. And if an unhappy or angry customer shows up, your happy customers (who I like to refer to as customer evangelists) will come to your rescue.
- Dealing with Negative Social Media Posts: Everyone is worried about receiving negative reviews. Proactively monitor the internet for any mentions of your company and then respond respectfully. Beyond social media channels, there are other review sites to monitor as well. While TripAdvisor and Yelp are two of the most popular review sites, almost every industry has a forum where customers can talk about the companies they do business with. A negative review is upsetting, but again, it’s an opportunity to turn a rant into a rave by showing how you step up and take care of the customer. A few thoughts to consider when it comes to negative reviews:
- Speed counts! When in reaction mode, be proactive about monitoring the internet so you can respond quickly.
- Acknowledge the complaint and apologize for it.
- Let the customer know you want to help and ask to get into direct contact to work on a solution. Even if the customer doesn’t respond, anyone watching will see that you made an attempt to right what the customer thinks is wrong.
- Once in DM mode, work out the solution. You may have to move the “conversation” to the phone. That’s fine, as it may give you the chance to resolve the issue much faster.
- Once the issue is resolved, go back to the original post and thank the customer for allowing you to resolve the issue.
- As mentioned earlier in the article, the best outcome is to have the customer come back and acknowledge the resolution.
- If the customer gets hostile, emphasize that you’d like to reach out directly to work out the solution, but don’t engage in a public argument.
- Remember: you don’t want to win the argument, you want to win the customer.
- A perfect average review score can sometimes seem too good to be true. Northwestern University did a study that showed a rating between 4.2 and 4.5 (on a scale of one to five, with five being best) was found to be the most credible and authentic.
- Have Fun: Sometimes you can interact with customers using humor. Humor done well can endear your brand to customers and go viral. One of my favorite examples is when Clayton Hove tweeted to SmartCar USA.
— Official smart USA (@smartcarusa) June 19, 2012
- Use Social Complaints, Questions, and Reviews for Research: Comments on social media can be your best research and development. Real-time customer feedback tells you what customers love, hate, and more. The complaint you hear over and over again needs to be fixed. We work with our clients to recognize the top three problems customers complain about. One of my favorite questions to ask is, “Since you know this is the top complaint, why is it still the top complaint?” We drill down to understand what drives the complaint and then how to eliminate it, or at least mitigate it. Social media gives customers the voice a company is looking for to understand what’s working and what’s not with their product and services. It’s a giant focus group or research project. Embrace the complaint and see it as an opportunity to show how well you respond and how you can improve your products.
- Be Real: Your responses should be personal and real. Use the customer’s name; be specific about what’s being addressed; don’t send a canned response that you’ve used a dozen times that week – customers recognize “fake” sincerity. With AI and chatbots becoming popular, it’s easy to come across as impersonal and diminish the relationship.
It takes both reactive and proactive social customer service interactions to move you and your organization toward social care excellence. The magic is in the mix. In most business relationships, be it business-to-business or business-to-customer, people want to do work with people they know, like, and trust. The knowing and liking is easy, but trust must be earned. Traditionally, people received support in person or over the phone. In today’s social media landscape, trust is earned through communication on more than one channel. It’s in the cloud or cyberspace. It’s a faceless representative who engages with the customer through social media channels to support, build trust, and even save a relationship. So respond, react, engage, and interact, and you’ll experience more appreciation and loyalty – plus higher ratings – from your customers.