Using Social Media for effective Customer Service

When using social media in customer service, it is good to remember that the customer is king.

Customer service is a continually evolving front of business operations. Interactions with customers are changing with time. The internet is driving one angle of this change due to an interplay of two major developments.

1. Information. There is a lot of information available on the internet today. Brands are competing online and the customer is able to easily check for information about your products. This information can be provided by you, your competitors, or consumers who have interacted with your product.

2. Social Media. Consumers have the internet in their hands today, a factor that has led to the rapid growth of social media. Social media is also turning out to be a preferred avenue of interaction for many people. Customers are also taking to social media to ask their networks for information about your products and services. This has led to businesses following suit and going to social media to cater for the needs of their customers there and is why social media is finding use in customer service.

We have already seen that the customer led the way into social media and that the business is following the customer there. The customer knows what to do on social media and they know what works for them. The business on the other hand has been pulled to social media, usually against their will.

The business organization often finds that social media in customer service is like murky crocodile infested waters that they are trying to navigate while blindfolded. Yes; murky because you are not sure what works and what does not, Crocodile infested because there are people and competitors who are ready to dent your image and mudsling at the slightest provocation, not exactly blindfolded because you can where you are and what you are doing, but you can hardly predict what is in store for you.

There are a million things a business can do on social media. There are however a few basic rules that should guide the business when taking to social media for customer service.

  1. Be serious. Agree that you are in unfamiliar territory and that you need to be shown the way. Assign someone to handle your social media, not as a by the way but as a serious job position. You may combine other roles such as online community management and website management, but be sure that the person is comfortable with social media.
  2. Be communicative. Do not pour out all business secrets and operational details on social media, but be willing to listen to your customers and give them substantial information that will help them. Additionally, customer queries via social media should not go unattended to for long periods of time. This ties back to having someone dedicated to handling social media, and the passion that the individual has for their job.
  3. Assign resources. Have a budget and resources allocated to social media. This includes equipment and financial resources to run campaigns and cater for other expenses that may be incurred by your social media personnel in the course of their duties.
  4. Anger does more harm than good. If you get angry, do not give an angry answer. It is better to allow some time to pass before answering, that giving an angry answer to a customer. If you encounter a customer who is already angry, and whose language clearly shows they are out for blood, take a few minutes before answering. Social media in customer service requires a cool head. After the initial answer take more time before giving a second response. Use the time between responses to quickly research the customer online and to find out from other departments what possible solutions can be offered. DO NOT be afraid of asking the customer for more information about their issue if you feel that contextual information will help in resolving a problem faster, or more effectively.
  5. Be prepared for the worst. Sometimes, all you do bears no fruit and the crocodiles close in for a bite. While the internet never forgets, social media does forget a little. Keep calm when things take a southern trajectory and ride the wave. Engaging in exchanges and social media wars is not usually a good idea for business organizations. You may briefly state your case in defence and then wait for the tide to ebb away. You might consider some damage control later, it is acceptable.
  6. In addition to rule number 5 above, have a few ‘sinners’ on your payroll. These ones will come in handy when the crocodile bite is too painful. These can be used to influence opinions and make a case for you when things are not going right for you.  You will not be the first to play dirty on social media. You will find these ‘mercenaries’ all over today and they are known for their confidentiality. Have a few of them on speed dial and do not be afraid of using them.

These rules should form the basis of what you do on social media as a business. Apply them and measure what works, and how it works for you. Over a few months or so, you will have found the best combination for you. However, my rules for social media in customer service here are not absolute and irrevocable or un-opposable. Over time, some factors may change and you will be forced to adapt to a changing social media environment. Also, what works for one may not work for all, but you are welcome to try.

Be on the look out for the next installation of Corporate Social Media content from LtCaezar where Analytics, Content development, Social Media campaigns and Information flow will be addressed.

LtCaezar is a social media consultant and analyst in Kenya.

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