There are various key considerations for brands who intend to use social media as part of their customer service strategy. There is only one key consideration for brands who don't intend to do so - you should. Gone are the days when brands controlled the flow and means of broadcasts. Consumers now have a voice, and social media amplifies that voice exponentially.
According to a recent report by Fishburn Hedges, 18m (36%) of UK consumers have engaged with brands through social media. This figure has doubled from only 19% back in August 2011, and 68% of those who have engaged with brands believed that it "allowed them to find their voice". If that voice is a derogatory, angry one, it can potentially be very damaging to your brand. Even more so if you allow that voice to go unanswered. It's not just the digital generation getting involved either, more than 25% of the 55+ age group have dealt with a brand on social media.
Social sharing; most notably of viral content, means that an angry mob is only ever a few mouse clicks away. Ask @G4S_UK for the proof, their Twitter handle has been bombarded with negative links and angry comments since it was revealed that they couldn't meet their quota of security staff for the 2012 Olympic Games. In fairness, even the most astute social media engagement campaign couldn't repair the damage done to their brand, but their complete lack of engagement via social media hasn't exactly done anything to help.
So now we have established that consumers expect brands to maintain an active social media presence, let's address some of the key considerations that should be taken into account.
- Define your social media presence; do not let it define your brand. Your social media activity should always be a representation of your brand, and not an attempt to copy others.
- Remember that social media works in real time. You don't get long to carefully consider your response, but choose your words wisely. You don't need to respond to every single comment, but when you do; do it right.
- Pick your channels and stick to them. Just because the company over the road have a catchy Pinterest page, doesn't mean you have to. If you want to improve customer service try Twitter, if you want to engage your audience try Facebook.
- Give your staff strict guidelines. A brand account is not a personal account; your company can be held accountable for anything that is said. Make sure your staff understands that they are representing your brand and everything it stands for.
- Do not fear an #EpicFail. Everybody learns through experience, and nobody is perfect. We are all capable of misjudging a situation, but you can't let that paralyse your staff and slow the whole process down. If you have confidence in your staff's ability to respond and engage, allow them to do so without verifying every letter of every word.
A recent study by American Express discovered that customers who have received good customer service through social media channels are significantly more likely to buy from that brand again, compared with customers who made their complaints via telephone or email. All of this points to the simple fact that brands who are not actively engaging with their customers through social media do so at their peril. The importance of customer service has never been in doubt, but it is becoming increasingly apparent that social media undoubtedly needs to play a significant part in that process.