Social media has evolved to become much more than just a platform for people to chat with their friends. According to research from JD Power, 67% of consumers now use social for customer service - in fact, research by Neilsen revealed that 33% of consumers prefer to speak with brands via social than on the phone.
For businesses, this means it's no longer enough to just have a strategy for promoting your products and services, you also need to have a plan for how you will provide excellent service via your social accounts. Currently, only 62% of companies focus on social customer service, while 45% of businesses even ignore comments they receive from customers outright due to lack of resources (according to research by Aberdeen).
The fact is though, not responding to messages can have a huge impact on your customer turnover rate. By comparison, providing excellent service via social platforms can reinforce customer relationships, increasing the chances of people making a subsequent purchase and even becoming advocates and recommending your services within their own networks.
So, if you manage social media in your business, you need to go beyond just having an Instagram account or sending a few tweets. You need to put customer service at the top of your priority list.
To help you get started, here are 7 important rules to stick to, in order to keep your customers happy:
1. Allow customers to talk to you
This may sound like an obvious starting point, but it's important to make it as easy as possible for customers to communicate with you. Asda for example have disabled the messaging features on their Facebook Page, making it difficult for customers to get in touch with them via this method. Although there are pros and cons of taking this approach, you won't know about a problem, or be able to fix it, if your customers can't reach you.
2. Listen to what customers have to say
All too often, businesses send standard responses which don't actually answer the question. Instead, take the time to understand what the root of the issue is. If you're unclear, don't be afraid to go back to the customer and ask some more questions.
3. Don't just pass a customer onto someone else
A customer has come to your social account for help. So help them. Don't tell them that they need to go through other channels for support, such as via web chat, FAQ's or ringing a call center. Instead, do everything you can to help your customer via social media.
If you need to take a conversation offline, try to make things as easy and seamless as possible by offering to call them back on a preferred number, rather than expecting them to ring back and be put in a queue.
4. Inject some personality into your replies
Although a spreadsheet of standard questions and answers can be a great time-saver, make sure you personalize every response you send out. Adding the customers name, or even your own name at the end of a message can make a big difference.
Although it's important to understand boundaries and your brands tone of voice, Tesco and the "bacon incident", as well as Sainsbury's and their spectacular fish puns are excellent examples of businesses having a bit of fun and managing to put a smile on customers' faces.
I tried to buy some battered fish from @sainsburys but it didn't have a bar cod!- Marty Lawrence (@TeaAndCopy) January 10, 2014
5. Own up to any mistakes
Nobody wants to be wrong, but it's important to take responsibility when it's due. Don't just ignore complaints and hope they'll go away - on social media, it's just easy for the opposite to happen.
United Airlines found this out the hard way when an unhappy customer created this video about his experence, which subsequently went viral.
6. Surprise and delight your customers
Customer service isn't always about putting out fires - simply replying to a happy customer, or telling them to have a nice day can have a big positive impact and reinforce your customer relationships.
7. Make your timings clear
Social media is available at customers' fingertips 24/7, so you may want to consider how yours is managed out of hours.
It's a good thing Waterstones monitored their Twitter account around the clock, as they were able to react quickly when they received a tweet from a customer who had accidentally been locked inside one of their stores.
Hi @Waterstones I've been locked inside of your Trafalgar Square bookstore for 2 hours now. Please let me out.- David Willis (@DWill_) October 16, 2014
It's understandable though that some businesses will be unable to monitor social media all the time, so if this is the case, manage customer expectations by making it clear what times your account will be monitored between. On this, you can now list the hours you're able to provide service on your Twitter account. You may even want to look into how chatbots can help.
Main image via Flickr