Customer service in the age of social media: Five pitfalls to watch out for

More and more businesses are using social media to respond to customers about all sorts of issues. It’s handy and encourages us to engage and listen to our customers, but there are some pitfalls you have to look out for – not all interactions end well.

Part of the deal with running active social accounts is that people – your customers – are going to use these channels to ask questions, make suggestions, review your products and services, and complain.

It’s not all sweetness and light, either. Some people get very pissed off with bad service and they will let you and the rest of the world know about it.

Things go wrong in 99% of businesses and you have to be there to placate and make things right. Being there now usually means engaging with someone, at least initially, on the very public forums provided by social channels such as Facebook and Twitter.

Here’s five pitfalls to watch out for.

1. Don’t engage in public slanging matches

Depending on the nature of the complaint or query, you might be better served suggesting that the conversation take place either by phone or email. This involves making a judgement call on how complex it may be to resolve the issue being raised.

There’s no harm in resolving something quickly and politely via social media if you think that’s possible, as this shows your organisation’s willingness to engage, listen and act.

But if the issue starts to sound more complex it is certainly a good idea to go offline. This is partly because an endless stream of this type of conversation can quickly engulf your social media channel, and partly because the details of the issue might require more time and depth of response than what can easily be afforded in online responses.

2. Don’t leave complaints to fester

Continuing to post to social media – and we see this too often when posts are automated – when a customer complaint is going unaddressed is simply a bad look. Try to be as prompt as possible in replying to complaints or queries.

The longer a complaint hangs around like a bad smell on your channel, the more likely it is the person who made the complaint will lose patience and take it upon themselves to escalate the issue. A query left unanswered is also a bad look in terms of how other customers will perceive your customer service too.

Even just a polite “Sorry about this, we’re looking into it right now and will get back to you” response may be enough to leave the customer feeling that they have actually been heard, which is the important first step in handling all customer disputes.

3. Be consistent in your responses

You can’t go to the ends of the earth to please one person and then ignore someone else’s complaint. There has to be a consistent approach to how you handle queries and this should be set out for any of your staff who might happen to be handling your social accounts.

Setting up templates for what type of response and action is taken for the basic queries most commonly received by your business is very worthwhile. This means everyone will be on the same page in terms of knowing how to handle and respond to common queries.

This doesn’t mean you should resort to an automated system for responses; it means you put a framework in place about language, tone and scope of response that all your social facing staff adhere to. Customers see how complaints are handled on a Facebook page or in a Twitter timeline and if someone else has had their complaint handled in a friendly and efficient manner while they have been stuffed around, you’ll hear no end of it!

This also raises the issue of making sure all of your social-facing staff have been properly trained for customer service.

4. Make sure your other response channels are also up to scratch

This is tied in to the point above: just because you have social channels, it doesn’t mean people won’t be getting in touch in some more old-fashioned ways like website auto-response forms or email. Your customer service has to extend to all channels because people will become resentful of the fact you haven’t bothered to answer their email but seem to find plenty of time for people on Facebook.

5. Nasty exchanges can quickly go viral

Don’t become the next media story about how badly a business has handled a complaint! We see it on an almost daily basis and it exemplifies why social has put so much more power in the hands of consumers. These kinds of exchanges can get nasty and can go viral very quickly, leaving your business with a big reputation issue to sort out alongside the original complaint.

On the plus side, if you handle customer service in an efficient, pleasant and practical manner, people are often more likely to recommend you online and leave positive reviews and comments. Make sure you create a brand advocate when you handle a customer service enquiry – rather than a brand enemy.

Fi Bendall is CEO of The Bendalls Group, a business that leads STRATEGY : ADVOCACY : MOBILE delivering the business acumen to drive effective positive results in a disruptive economy for the C-suite. Fi has recently won a Westpac/AFR 2015 100 Women of Influence award. 

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4 years ago

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