Social Media Customer Service: Are You Making These 3 Common Mistakes?

Let’s face it. Social media customer service is part of your channel mix, whether you like it or not.

Granted, social media customer service represents a small percentage of your customer interactions. And the resolution rate is relatively low. But among all your channels, social is the most visible. Your customer interactions there produce a much greater ripple effect than any phone call or email to your contact center.

Done right, social media customer service is a big win for brands. Social helps brands understand how people are talking about them. It gives them an opportunity to engage with their customer base. It amplifies the brand image, as social users tend to share great service experiences. And it benefits all customers (and reduces customer contacts) by allowing brands to address common questions.

Done wrong, it’s a brand killer. Bad service experiences on social are just as public, and just as eagerly and easily shared. They not only damage current customer relationships, but also give prospective customers a reason to think twice about doing business with you.

Doing social well requires dedicated resources and a committed effort. You also need to understand what your social-savvy customers want and expect—and what they won’t stand for.

3 Social Media Customer Service Moves That Kill Customer Relationships

We recently audited the social media practices of the 30 brands in our StellaService Ecommerce Index, and the results were decidedly mixed. (In a recent webinar, we presented these results in detail.) Some brands are stellar performers; most are making a strong effort. But we also encountered a number of problems you should avoid at all costs.

1. Being slow to respond (or not responding at all)

In our Index study, Zappos and Nordstrom both responded 100% of the time and within five minutes on both Twitter and Facebook—an absolute best-in-class experience. Most of the other brands we audited, however, had a response rate of less than 100%, and nearly a third of them took more than six hours to respond to customer posts and tweets.

Social media customer service is like email in one important respect: customers contact you on this channel because they want and expect a quick response. If they don’t hear from you, or you don’t respond in a timely way, they’ll either contact you through another channel (costing you time and money) or sour on your brand.

Your goal: Avoid upsetting your customers and driving them to your other service channels. You can accomplish this by responding quickly to every tweet and post. You should aim to reply to every customer post or tweet within one hour.

2. Creating more work for your customers

Companies responded to our tweets and Facebook posts publicly 60% of the time. The other 40% of the time, brands asked us to contact them on a different channel (direct message, phone, online form, email, or—least appreciated of all—in store).

If the service interaction contains sensitive information, redirecting makes sense. But if the question is simple, and customers are providing the information you need in their original messages, redirecting them to other channels is both unnecessary and burdensome. By putting the onus of resolution on the customer, it also lacks accountability.

Your goal: Aim to resolve issues on first contact. Answer directly and publicly whenever possible. Customers will appreciate your responding to them on their preferred channel, and you’ll be helping customers with similar questions find the answers they need—thus reducing customer contacts overall.

If you do need to redirect the service engagement, make your private channels easy to access. For example, instead of forcing Twitter users to go to your main account page to send a message, include a clickable “Send a private message” link in the body of your response Tweet. On Facebook, be sure to enable direct messaging on your brand page.

3. Giving less than 110%

All too often during our Index brand audit, we saw responses that demonstrated a lack of attention and care.

  • Questions weren’t answered helpfully or precisely the first time around.
  • Details customers provided in their original posts and tweets were ignored.
  • Brands didn’t acknowledge their customers’ feelings and gave tone-deaf responses.
  • We saw quite a few grammar, spelling, and other mistakes—including a customer being addressed by the wrong name.

To be a service leader, you need the same high standards for your social media accounts as you have for your contact center.

Your goal: Read each customer post or tweet carefully. When customers are confused or frustrated, show empathy. Make sure your responses are error free.

In terms of resolution, go above and beyond to answer the customer’s question or address the complaint. For example, give links to product pages in the body of your response. Provide helpful product information (“one reviewer suggested this shoe runs small”), and head off additional questions by including unsolicited information (for example, a link to the company’s return/exchange policy).

Our Advice: Study Brands That Do Social Best

Our audit of the 30 StellaService Ecommerce Index brands yielded some terrific examples of social media customer service. Not just quick, friendly, helpful answers delivered in perfect English, but also tailored service platforms (for example, Lowe’s “Rant or Rave” Facebook feature and Nike’s interactive support forum for Nike+ products).

We also love Target’s Twitter approach. The brand has a separate Twitter account for service (@AskTarget) that replies to service-oriented tweets sent to the brand’s main Twitter account (@Target). This keeps service-oriented queries organized and in one place, benefiting the brand and its customers alike.

Leading brands like these know what their customers want: quick responses, single-channel resolution when possible (and ease of access when not), personal attention, product and policy knowledge, and helpful answers. Like every other service channel, social should be a place where brands make customers feel valued.

For more industry statistics, best-in-class examples, valuable social media features, and costly pitfalls, check out our recent webinar, “Social Media as a Service Tool.”

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