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The Rise of Social Media Customer Service

June 19, 2012 · 3 comments

in Business, Social Media

Social Media Customer ServiceThe days of listening to greensleeves on hold for hours while waiting for a customer service operator is over, as new research suggests that more and more of us are using the internet to lodge complaints and contact customer services.

It makes sense to utilise free, instant communication like email over using the phone or snail mail, but the most interesting development in customer service is that which takes place on the ever-important social networks.

As brands fight to “friend” their customers on Facebook, how do they respond when the relationship turns ugly?

Businesses Ignore Social Media at their Peril

The thing with email is that it’s easy to ignore. Unlike a phonecall, an email can be buried and forgotten just like a letter. It’s easier to put off replying to an online customer service enquiry than it is to put off answering the telephone. The beauty of complaining via social media is that your complaint, question or query is aired in public. For some companies, Facebook is more of a shop window than their own website, and if it’s a sales channel then they need to be red hot with their customer service to ensure that that window is not full of negative mentions, criticisms and rotten tomatoes.

Consumers Complain Online

A survey by eGain at the end of last year highlighted how British consumers were making complaints. They found that 60% of 18-35 year olds preferred to complain online, with email being the preferred method of choice. 5% said they would complain first through Facebook or Twitter before utilising any other method of communication.

Predictably, 18-35 year olds were twice as likely to use the internet to make a complaint, with letters and phonecalls remaining the most popular with older age groups. It’s a shame that more people aren’t making use of social media as a customer service channel; it’s often one of the best ways of getting a succinct, prompt response from a company or organisation.

Of course some social media users are more equal than others. Stephen Fry is more likely to get a fast response if he tweets a customer service complaint to his 4.1 million followers, compared to less authoritative and well-known individuals. The loud can have a disproportionately large voice on social networks, and these tend to be the users that customer service teams try to satisfy.

Companies Turn a Blind Eye to Social Media

Amazingly, a piece of research conducted by Maritz found that 70% of businesses ignore customer service requests on Twitter. They polled 1, 298 Twitter users and only 29% ever received a reply to their customer service tweet. There are some good reasons why companies should not be ignoring these 140-character pleas for help.

The study also found that 83% of complainants that did receive a reply appreciated it, regardless of how, when or why the response came about. Sometimes just acknowledging problems and apologising can be enough to keep a customer happy and prevent them from posting more messages which are detrimental to a brand or business. Ignoring tweets and status updates is worse than ignoring the telephone.

Companies should develop a social media customer service plan and response map to help them deal with online enquiries and customer service communication. Creating a response map should help customer service representatives to  respond to social media communications promptly without having to negotiate masses of red tape and compliance teams. It’s not always easy to know how to respond to public complaints but staying silent can do more harm than good to a company or brand. Connect with customers online and ensure that they are totally satisfied with your products or services.

Image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Caleb June 20, 2012 at 12:55 am

A great tool you can use to track things being mentioned on Twitter and other social networks that indicate a customer needs some assistance is Social Oomph. With this tool you can track when your brand name is mentioned and things like that, so when it is you can help your customers out with whatever they need.
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Louis Kennedy @ TipsDesk.com June 21, 2012 at 6:44 am

Hi Alan,

I think you made a nice point here. Actually, companies with a poor customer support system could hide under the boulders of email support some few years back leaving customers to complain of their ill support via forums and other online platforms.

But today, the social media has changed everything. Rewarding the better companies having great support systems with instant broadcast from their satisfied customers and giving those with the poor support their due reward.

Take for instance, there is no webmaster on the net today that have not heard of Hostgator’s great customer support. And this has made Hostgator one of the 10 top big players in the hosting industry.

A great lesson for all serious marketers!
Thank you Kostas for this nice selection.

Kennedy
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Clint Butler June 25, 2012 at 6:39 am

When I launched my first product I actually did you my Facebook page to provide all the customer support. This made sense since it was a Facebook product. I recommend starting a Facebook group for your customers. Or better yet a page. That way you can create a FAQ tab based on your customer inquiries.
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