Customer Service in the Context of Social Media

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August 2015
by Adam Toporek

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Customer service is one of the many important things social media has changed, and the use of social media for customer service continues to grow in importance, with an increasing number of service interactions moving to platforms such as Facebook and Twitter.

An analysis out of Europe released in 2014 found that 38 percent of companies have integrated social media into their contact center strategies, and that number is expected to reach 63 percent in 2016. Companies go where the customers are. Nothing I’ve seen suggests that the social customer service trend will slow down anytime soon.

It’s vital to pay attention to what customers say and do on social media because social media has changed the way many customers interact with companies and has given each individual customer a more powerful voice. Every online comment has an impact, and as you work with customers through social media you should remember that negative comments have a greater impact than positive comments. One study found that a single negative experience posted in public could negate five positive ones.

Regardless of whether the interaction is positive, neutral, or negative, staying on top of social customer service interactions is important to companies of all sizes. In what follows, I use the term social media broadly to include not only obvious channels such as Twitter, Facebook, and Google+, but also any online channels where people interact socially with companies or each other. Those include sites such as Google reviews, Yelp, and TripAdvisor.

Although each type of channel has its own nuances and its own best practices for customer service responses, some basic principles are generally applicable to all of them.

Monitor your brand on social media. In addition to monitoring your own channels, use third-party services to monitor what’s being said in other online venues. Google Alerts is the standard tool, but communications expert Gini Dietrich recommends Talkwalker alerts as a “more efficient” alternative. Talkwalker seems to catch some things that Google Alerts doesn’t.

Don’t panic. It can be difficult to see an unpleasant comment show up on social media. Take a deep breath and remember that people who read the review or comment are looking to see how you respond. If someone says your company is rude and unprofessional, you want the tone and character of your response to give the opposite impression.

Follow the CATER process:

Concentrate on what the customer is saying. Focusing on the customer and making it clear that you’re paying attention and doing your best to understand the problem is the way to start to working on any customer issue.

Acknowledge the customer’s communications in terms of feelings and details. It is often useful to say things like “I understand how frustrating that must have been. I would have been really upset if that happened to me.”

Thank and apologize. Whenever you think it won’t seem forced, thank the customer for bringing the matter to your attention and then deliver a sincere apology.

Explain reasons. If you aren’t able to accommodate a customer’s request, explain why you can’t, or, when appropriate, explain why something occurred.

Resolve the situation. Do everything you can to resolve a customer’s problem or issue. If you can’t provide what the customer is asking for, offer other options.

Prepare canned lines. As with e-mail, you want preset, reusable material at the ready. The difference on social media is that everyone can see your responses, so even effective language can seem canned if you’re saying the same thing to everybody.

The key is to have a lot of phrases at your disposal so you can mix things up. On Twitter this can be a challenge because of space limitations, which is

one reason it’s important to put some thought into creating phrases ahead of time.

Respond consistently. Whether comments are positive or negative, responses are important. This doesn’t mean you have to respond to every comment. In some situations, you might not, but in general, if someone takes the time to comment, you should respond.

Respond promptly. Social media action is immediate, and customers often resort to social channels because they think that will get them a quicker response. A study by Edison Research done for The Social Habit website showed that 42 percent of consumers expect a response to social media within 60 minutes. The only way to be prepared for expectations like that is to have preset guidelines for responses and make sure your channels are actively monitored.

Never, ever respond with anger or sarcasm. Social media channels are no different in this regard from other customer service channels, except that if you lose your cool or communicate in an unprofessional manner, the world will know.

Take it offline. While social media can be great for quick service issues or pointing a customer in the right direction, it’s a terrible way to handle difficult or complicated customer service problems. It’s short form; it’s completely devoid of human signals; and, yes, it’s public.

Because customers hate being transferred, you should try to resolve a customer’s issue via the channel the customer used to contact you. For more complicated situations, do your best to take it offline as soon as possible. Have preset phrases ready to go that will help move the conversation to a more constructive medium.


About the Author:

Adam ToporekAdam Toporek is a customer service strategist and the founder of CTS Service Solutions, a consultancy that provides customer-centric solutions through workshops and training. This article is derived from his book Be Your Customer’s Hero: Real-World Tips & Techniques for the Service Front Lines, published by AMACOM Books, a Division of the American Management Association; © 2015 Adam Toporek. All rights reserved. To learn more: amacombooks.org; customersthatstick.com.

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