As more and more users - and businesses - embrace social media, the opportunities for its use as a customer service tool expand dramatically. Organizations who fail to take advantage of these opportunities, who wait too long, or who misuse the technology, could be left in the dust by savvy, forward-thinking competitors.
We spoke with Joshua Dirks, an expert in social media marketing and owner of Project Bionic, about the benefits of social media customer service. When asked about reports that some large companies are moving their entire customer service departments online, he encouraged smaller organizations to adopt similar tactics.
"The whole world is moving online and into social settings. To not go here is ... bad business. If you're a smaller brand who's competing with a larger brand that has a history of customer service issues, how powerful would it be to reach out to your competitors' upset consumers and invite them to be your customers?"
Dirks has had great success shepherding his own clients online. "We've done this for many of our brands and the response has been overwhelmingly positive. Consumers want to buy from people they like. Listening and engaging is a great way to gain a competitive edge."
Social media lets you engage your customers directly. If you have concerns about something, you can ask questions and receive responses quickly. If customers have questions or complaints, they can interact directly with a member of your team who should respond sympathetically to their concerns and try to resolve the issue.
When asked about organizations that do this well, Dirks said, "On the national front, go look at Target's social media. That team does a tremendous job responding to everyone. There's not a comment or post that doesn't elicit a response from their social media team. Because of this, consumers are more likely to post and drive up their engagement with Target. This, in turn, also increases the top of mind awareness that is so pivotal in brands winning customers."
Public Problem Resolution
Airing problems in public may seem counter-intuitive. However, when handled correctly, it can actually be a public relations win for your organization. By responding publicly to a customer's complaint, concern, or problem, you prove to other customers that you take such issues seriously. If they see that you respond quickly to a complainant's concerns and tried to resolve the problem to everyone's satisfaction, your customers will view you as a business that cares about them, not just about profits.
Dirks agreess: "Responding to customer issues publicly is proof your brand and company culture is customer-centric. It's reinforced every time a consumer searches for the brand."
However, he says, some problems are best resolved in private. If a customer is particularly angry or upset, "attempt to get the conversation with the upset user offline. Create a process with either a phone number and/or email address that allows you to publicly respond to the user, but move the nitty gritty details to a private channel so you can resolve it. Going blow-for-blow in public isn't a recipe for success. If you can move them offline and truly solve the issue, we've found that those consumers often go back and amend their reviews or mentions. This is powerful."
Positive Word of Mouth
Moreover, when you treat your customers with respect, it tends to impress people. As Dirks points out, it "gives consumers something to talk about with peers. The users have a sense of pride that they were engaged with and they often tell friends and family. If 83% of consumers believe recommendations from friends over advertising, why would you not engage with users publicly? Harness the power of influence through engagement."
In addition, American Express reports that consumers who use social media to engage with businesses on customer service issues tend to exhibit more loyalty, are willing to pay more, and wield enormous influence: "Consumers who've used social media for service in the last year are willing to pay a 21% premium at companies that provide great service. They also tell three times as many people about positive service experiences compared to the general population. Ultimately, getting service right with these social media savvy consumers can help a business grow.
Social Listening Opportunities
Social listening, Dirks explains, "is just that - listening to consumer conversations via these online websites. Many of the solutions in this space allow a brand to load up a set of keywords and when a user mentions them publicly, they are flagged in the tool. This allows the brand to reach out and engage these people."
In other words, by listening to what people on social media are saying about you, about your business, and even about your competitors, you can learn about problems or opportunities of which you might not otherwise have been aware. You can then begin interacting with the people who were talking about you to solve a problem, develop an opportunity, create a partnership, or any number of other possibilities.
"Proactive listening is one of the most underutilized aspects of social media today, and probably the most powerful."
Social media customer service is the future of business/customer interactions - if you and your organization have not yet embraced this technology, you should. You need not set up accounts on every platform, but it is crucial to be online in some capacity. In the same manner that you should search for a professional firm to create your website, you should also seek the help of social media marketing agencies - this can be the difference in having an effecting social media strategy.
By keeping all of this in mind, you can grow your following, improve your audience engagement, and keep your customers satisfied using this invaluable new technology.