Social media can be a blessing or a curse, providing instant access to customers and a way to reach them on their own terms but also offering them a platform to complain. Getting social media interaction right is not as easy as it appears at first glance – and many companies have learned that the hard way. So what represents best practice in terms of social media customer interaction?
Johan Guerin, Head of International Development at iAdvize, cautioned that too many companies make it extremely difficult for customers to contact them directly. “This can damage the company’s image and will also drive customers to complain in other ways, namely social media, which is a public forum. Consumers are well aware of the power they have when communicating with a brand in this way,” he said.
Guerin said that while social media is a good way for companies to show their reactivity and how important their customers are to them, they need to respond rapidly and in a friendly way. “It is not sufficient to simply advise customers to call the service hotline,” he warned. “This doesn’t show reactivity and could even damage the company’s image, as customers expect a quick resolution to their problem. Using social media should therefore be part of a global strategy on customer service.”
“If a member of the public has had poor service, they may be less inclined to spend fifteen minutes waiting in a queue to explain the problem than they are to jump on Twitter and start tweeting about it” – Payne
Guerin cited a recent TNS study, which found that when customers encounter a problem with their purchase, seven percent of 16-24 year olds will first complain using social media, while 71 percent will look to contact the company directly via the website.
Jeremy Payne, International Group Marketing Director of Enghouse Interactive, said that it is important to look at how customers use social media. “There is typically a bias towards using it when there is an issue or something has gone wrong. Many people also want to share an experience,” he said.
Payne said that some consumers use this as a way of circumnavigating traditional customer service routes. “If a member of the public has had poor service, they may be less inclined to spend fifteen minutes waiting in a queue to explain the problem than they are to jump on Twitter and start tweeting about it,” he said.
Jeremy Payne, International Group Marketing Director of Enghouse Interactive
Payne added that a social media complaint might be the right way forward for the customer because responsible and responsive companies are likely to see the tweet, react to it and solve the problem. “The satisfied consumer may then comment positively about the company’s rapid response. And so, both parties benefit from the interaction process,” he said.
“Why does a customer contact a company via social media? Because they want a clear, brief and direct answer instantly,” Guerin said. “Companies need to provide a wide range of ways for customers to contact them and to provide answers in a timely manner whatever the channel. Customers feel valued and companies improve their brand image and increase customer satisfaction rates. A win-win for everyone.”
For Payne, best practice means treating the social media channel with the respect it deserves. “Don’t expect an untrained contact center agent to work with social media in the same way as with voice. It is a different channel and it requires a different skill set,” he warned, adding that businesses either need to put the right training or the right people in place or a combination of both.
“They also need to avoid setting expectations with customers that they can’t live up to. If you are trying to sell and promote products through certain channels, it’s not unreasonable to expect customers to want to interact with you through those same channels throughout the relationship,” he said.
Best practice for social media customer interaction
1. Understand your customers: their age, their profile, what device they typically use and what method of communication they leverage when interacting with you. “This allows you to gauge the most efficient and effortless way of engaging with a particular customer,” he said.
2. Recognise that social media is not right for every customer or for every dialogue or scenario. “Often, conversations will be initiated through social media but resolved through a more traditional channel like email,” he said. “As such, the ability to integrate the channels and provide an omni-channel customer experience is crucial in giving the customer what they want – in the fastest and most effort-free way possible.”
3. There is an expectation of immediate response from customers. Businesses therefore need to put in place well-trained or highly skilled staff to deliver the quickest possible response.
4. Organisations who get it right trust and empower their customers to become part of an extended community that acts to support itself. There are numerous examples of companies who have managed to improve customer service and reduce costs by leveraging the power of social. Rewarding super users and customers who share knowledge, information or experiences that help the broader community is a good way of achieving this.