Many customers prefer to use social media for customer service. Almost half (47 percent) of customers prefer to complain to companies on social media while 42 percent send emails, and only 35 percent make phone calls, according to a Sprout Social survey.
That customer service sea change poses both dangers and opportunities for brands. The following recommendations can help organizations win praise and respect when responding to social media complaints.
Respond — and respond promptly. Nonresponse to online queries and complaints is not an option. People expect swift responses, even if it’s only to apologize and explain the company needs time to investigate the issue. Most research indicates that the majority of people who reach out to a brand on Twitter expect an answer within the hour. Social media users will think your company doesn’t care if they don’t see responses to queries and complaints.
Show empathy. Respond with humanity and empathy in the first response. Provide transparency from the outset and apologize if needed. A poor response is almost as bad as no response. About 50 percent of consumers say they’d never buy from a brand again after it responds poorly to their complaint; 41 percent of people would share that bad experience online, according to Sprout Social.
Find all mentions. Although companies view Twitter as the primary sounding board, Convince & Convert research indicates that 71 percent of all complaints on social media are posted on Facebook. Only 3 percent of tweets about customer service issues include the company’s username with the @ symbol. Convince & Convert founder Jay Baer recommends employing social media listening software to find all mentions across all social networks.
Answer publicly. Customer service is a spectator sport on social media. “When you interact with a customer, you’re really addressing a group of current and potential customers,” Baer writes in Marketing Land. “Your initial response should always be public, demonstrating to everyone who’s watching that you listen, respond and care.”
Only reply twice. Baer recommends to never reply to a customer more than twice in a public forum. If more than two interactions are required, transfer the conversation to a private channel. In the initial response, apologize and show empathy. If the customer complains again, apologize again and offer to discuss via a private forum. “Your goal isn’t just to satisfy the unhappy customer; it’s to go on record for your whole audience about your values. It only takes two replies to do that,” he says.
Separate customer support. Create a separate channel for your company’s customer support, including a separate Tweeter handle, such as @AcmeSupport. Your primary feed will be free to focus on promoting your business, while customers will know where to go to have their questions answered and problems resolved, recommends Sendible Insights.
Deliver personalized responses. Some brands mistakenly believe they can set up automated replies to placate customers and save time and money. Customers today can spot automated replies, warns says Firas Kittaneh, CEO and co-founder of One Mall Group, in Entrepreneur. Automated responses send the message that the company doesn’t really care about them or their issue.
Transfer social media conversations into your CRM solution for future reference. Information can include the complaint, summary of actions taken, and the amount of time it took to complete. Customer service, marketing and sales reps can draw on that information to create personalized responses in the future.
Share the data. Many departments, including marketing, PR and product development can also benefit from the wealth of data social media listening provides. The key to obtaining the full benefits of social media monitoring is to feed the monitoring results across department silos.
Bottom Line: Unanswered or poorly handled social media complaints can lose customers and damage brand reputations. Because other customers see how brands respond to complaints, organizations can win respect by handling grievances properly.
William J. Comcowich founded and served as CEO of CyberAlert LLC, the predecessor of Glean.info. He is currently serving as Interim CEO and member of the Board of Directors. Glean.info provides customized media monitoring, media measurement and analytics solutions across all types of traditional and social media.