social media customer service expectations

Photo credit: Chris Makarsky via Flickr

Most large and mid-sized businesses have a social media presence. They constantly tweet and post about their products and other company news. That may be part of the problem. There’s a huge divide between what companies deliver on social media and what consumers expect. Companies deliver marketing communications; consumers expect customer service.

Consumers understand that social media provides a powerful tool for two-way communication, according to Sprout Social. Brands don’t. They consider social media as a broadcast channel for touting their marketing promotions rather than a two-way communication channel. People want responses on social media much faster than most organizations are willing or able to provide.

A Sprout Social survey of 1,000 Facebook, Twitter and Instagram users and an analysis of thousands of brands in 15 industries reveal that:

  • Most people will wait a maximum of four hours for a response from a company but the average brand response time is 10 hours.
  • 89% of social messages are ignored.
  • If ignored on social media, one in three people are willing to go to a competitor.
  • 90% of people surveyed have used social media in some way to communicate directly with a brand.
  • Over a third of those surveyed prefer to communicate with companies via social media rather than email, telephone or other means.
  • The number of social messages needing a response from a brand has increased by 18% over the past year, yet brands reply to just 11% of people.
  • 73% of people have had a negative experience with a brand on social.
  • 36% of people have used social to shame a company for poor customer service.
  • Companies send 23 messages for every one response to a consumer.

Solutions are within reach

The good news is that companies can win customer appreciation with proper and timely responses. People are more likely to use a company’s product or service and recommend it to others if the company responds to them on social media.

Sprout Social and other marketing experts recommend following these steps.

• Monitor your own social media sites continuously and respond immediately. Employ a social media listening service to alert you when customers mention your products on other social media sites. Respond as appropriate the same day.

• Provide people helpful answers to their questions about your product, service or brand.

• Prioritize responses to transform valuable customers into brand ambassadors.

•Examine your company’s response time and response rate and increase staff levels if needed.

“People aren’t asking for the world. They would simply like to hear back when they reach out to your brand,” states the Sprout Social report. “Social is a shared effort that should be tackled by all the parts of your organization that have some skin in the game—from sales to HR.”

Others Find Similar Results

Other surveys have found similar results. Nearly half (42%) of consumers who complain on social media expect brands to respond within one hour, while about one-third (32%) expect a response within 30 minutes, according to the Social Habit research. However, according to another study of 98 top global brands on Twitter, 54% of companies send less than one @-reply per day on Twitter.

“On one hand, when handled skillfully and tactfully, customer service via social media can produce positive PR and create fervent brand loyalty that’s infectious,” writes Stephanie Walden at Mashable. “Having 24/7 access to customers and the ability to instantly communicate with them — as well as quickly resolve issues — can prove invaluable.”

Just this past week, I had to prod a teenage grandchild to respond to an adult who asked him a direct question; ignoring the question isn’t acceptable, I told him, even if he thinks it’s irrelevant or hectoring. It’s also unacceptable for a retail store associate to ignore a customer or not respond to a question. The same rules should apply on social media. Many businesses must ramp up their responsiveness on social media to meet the acceptable minimum standards of good customer service.

Bottom Line: Listening to customers on social media and providing timely, helpful responses is an essential aspect of customer service and public relations. Customers expect social media responses and they expect them much faster than most organizations deliver.  Research shows customers will praise and patronize brands that reply promptly on social media, and castigate and abandon those that ignore their questions.