Customer service is one of the primary use cases of social media. After all, the social web is a great communications channel for announcements, updates and for providing help and support. It also gives businesses a human face and allows for interesting interactions in ways that weren’t possible before. That is why many famous brands are actively adopting Facebook, Twitter and other social channels for the purpose of customer service. Here are a few things you need to keep in mind before getting started with customer service via social channels.

Lesson #1: You can’t ignore customer comments.

In stark contrast with traditional customer service channels (phone, e-mail support), most social media conversations take place in public. Think an @mention on the Twitter public timeline or a post on your brand’s Facebook fan page.

A negative comment or complaint which is left unanswered can be viewed by anyone including your current and future customers, competitors and other influencers. Make sure you respond when a response is warranted.

Lesson #2: Don’t delay your response.

Things move fast on the social web. You don’t have the luxury of waiting a long time to respond so respond early and often to win customer loyalty. Delaying your response may make your customers feel like they are being ignore and can drive them straight to your competition. Make sure you have your internal processes aligned so there are no bottlenecks which can cause delays within your organization.

Lesson #3: Social customer service is the new marketing.

Customer service is the new marketing, says Josh Bernoff of Forrester. Focus on service as well as marketing through social channels. Be organized otherwise social media will overwhelm you. Make sure your service and operations teams can handle the extra volume of social conversations you’ll have to sift through when you launch any new campaigns.

Lesson #4: Reward your best customers.

The reality is that most businesses can’t scale their support staff easily. Not to worry. Your die-hard fans are there to help you out by answering questions about your products/services, providing recommendations and championing your cause in general.

They will even defend you when things go wrong. Help them rave about you by empowering them. Use analytics to identify your brand champions and then reward them in kind. They are invaluable.

Just take a peek at the example below that illustrates how some T-Mobile customers answered questions and provided recommendations on their behalf:

Lesson #5. Every customer is influential.

Put aside all those measures of online influence for a moment and consider this: “Every customer who posts something about you is influential.” You never know who is going to read that negative tweet or Facebook wall post at any time. Unfortunately, there are no short cuts here. You’ll have to listen to the real issues and build loyalty one customer at a time.

What’s next? Now that you have applied this advice, you’ll need some key metrics to tell you how good your customer service really is. Next week we will discuss the key metrics related to social media customer service.

We would love to hear about your own experience doing customer service through social media.

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