Businesses know how to deploy phone, email and chat customer service solutions. They've been doing it for years. And, now with significant increases in social media interactions, they need to have plans in place to handle these as well. The stats for complaints alone are staggering - a jaw-dropping 879 million messages are posted on social channels each year by unhappy customers.
Companies need a strategy to cope with these interactions, but delivering the right level of social customer service for your brand can be a challenge, especially when it comes to integrating with traditional channels, and scaling to meet customer demand and expectations. It can be scary. But, get the basics right, with the help of these 15 tips and you will dramatically improve the service you need to provide. Whether you're a novice, or a trailblazer, there's always scope for improvement. We understand that real world challenges need real world solutions and brand examples of how to get it right, or best practice advice from a social customer service expert who works in the segment, day in, day out, have been used throughout.
1. Plan where social fits
Listen to your customers
This may sound obvious but first things first, listen to your customers. How well do you understand your customers' social voice? The list of companies which just dive in, set up a Twitter account, and wait for the service magic to happen is long. Offering a service is not the same as providing effective customer service across social.
Before you get started, you need to do your research to:
- Find out where your customers are talking about you, and telling their friends about their brand experiences. Comparatively analyse volumes for each social channel to help you plan resource-wise when building your customer service support team. Using a social media management tool will be a big help here. See tip #2 'Choosing the right social channels' for more detailed advice.
- Look for peak times when your customers contact you, this will influence when your support team needs to be available.
- Understand what your customers want. Deep dive into comments to find out why they are asking for help or information, what their pain points are, and what they like and what works well.
- Find out if they feel already ignored on a specific social channel.
- Analyse what they think of service on other contact channels.
Best practice example: Nokia
Chris Geddes gave some great insight to Martin Hill-Wilson on how Nokia scoped out its social strategy when he ran its global support business. Chris is now Global Director, Social Media & Community Support at Microsoft.
This is what Nokia did:
Calculated cost per contact
- They worked out the cost per contact of every channel and plotted these on the x axis of a bar chart, the most costly on the left, and the cheapest on the right.
- This gave an overview of channels and a clear picture of savings when customers migrated from left-side channels to right-side ones, which would help with reducing costs to serve.
- The brand then looked at how to migrate the customers to right-side channelswithout affecting experience.
It then listened to its customers to find out:
- Why customers contacted support. Nokia found it was to fix something that has gone wrong or find information about something.
- What is important in the support interaction: It found the most important thing was to get a device fixed, or get a question answered as easily as possible.
It then asked customers about the channels they found the easiest to find support
- Nokia used an identical question to ask its customers how easy they found support on different channels using a 1-7 score. It then subtracted the % of 1 & 2 negative scores from the % of positive 6 & 7 scores to come up with a 'Net Easy Score'.
- These were the plotted against cost per contact to create a gradient for the most expensive channels and hardest to get help to the cheapest channels and the easiest.
- One of the insights Nokia found was customers moved from online (which was cheaper) to telephone (which was more expensive) because they thought it was easier to get support. Nokia had to make online support as easy to reverse the dynamic. So over time, its agents encouraged customers to migrate online, without impacting their experience, by showing them how easy it was to find the answer themselves. This cost more in the short term but fitted with its long term channel shift strategy to make it easier for customers to find the answer themselves and have a better experience, and reduce call volumes.
Best practice advice: Dominic Sparkes
We also asked Dominic Sparkes, Co-founder and CEO at Tempero about planning where social fits. Here's what he said:
"Plan, plan, plan. And plan again. There are two key questions we ask our clients when helping to plan their social media strategies. One is 'why bother?' and this needs to answer 'what's the point of the social activity?', 'what will you give your audience in return for their time?', 'why should they care about what you do?'. If there is no reason for being, no exchange in social capital, embarking on social media activity is potentially pointless.
The second question is 'how do you want to approach it?', real-time or really well? This perhaps sounds flippant but real-time strategies bring with them logistical and cultural challenges many organisations just cannot handle, such as 24/7 cover, multi-lingual content and faster-than-light sign-off. Reactive engagement has its place but long-tail activity can dramatically boost reach and influence too.
By asking 'how?', we open up the idea of planning and removing the perceived panic of social media management, engagement and content creation. Strategic content planning helps create value-based narratives, helps plot medium and long-term content activity and importantly allows time for the creation of genuinely engaging, helpful and meaningful content. Carried out effectively, social media planning also builds in time for the reactive moments, filling that need for 'the now', amongst well thought out activity that truly drives interaction".
2: Choosing the right social media channels
Providing social customer care on two or three channels really well is better than doing all channels badly. Focus on integrating the social channels which matter most to your customers.
- Think about the types of support you need, and want, to offer. Twitter and Facebook are usually the customer service frontline, but don’t forget Instagram if you are a retailer, Google +, and LinkedIn if you are B2B.
- If you want to encourage self-serve, video can play a key role in providing self-help and support content, while peer-to-peer communities allow for answers to more detailed and specific queries to be crowd-sourced.
- Ideally, you need to push your social channels into one agent platform where agents can work across them effectively and quickly to maintain quick response times. Monitoring channels natively and trawling through all the noise to get to genuine customer queries is time consuming and ineffective.
- Be realistic and have a clear plan. Work with the resources you have and make sure you can manage growth before encouraging other customers to go social.
- Find out where your competitors engage – is there an untapped opportunity?
Think outside the @inbox
You can't rely on customers to get your handle right on Twitter, or even include it in the first place. Just monitoring your own accounts will mean that you missing customer feedback and queries. Make sure you are monitoring comments outside of your own Twitter accounts to have a 360° view of your customers to deliver great frontline social customer service and enable multiple divisions across businesses to analyse customer interactions to improve the customer experience.
- Use a monitoring and engagement tool which enables you to run keyword searches for indirect mentions. Your customers won’t always use your @account, but their comments are equally valid and still need a response.
Best practice advice: Leon Chaddock
Here’s some sage advice on choosing the right social channels from Leon Chaddock, CEO at Sentiment
“While Facebook and Twitter are more often than not the first port of call for social customer service delivery, we always recommend sitting back first and monitoring the whole social sphere 360 degrees. Only then can you know where to start. By using a social customer service platform that includes blog, forum, and review site monitoring you can really see what issues people are facing with your products and services, and where they are engaging most. You may be surprised!
Once you have this mapped out you can deploy channels one by one, set up automations to route to the right team and enable more advanced workflow. Take it step by step, and remember social customer service isn’t a one-time set up, you need to evolve your service offering as social platforms, features and customer utilisation changes”.
3: How do I resource services?
Setting up the right engagement infrastructure is pivotal to the success of your social customer service strategy. If you are heavily invested in legacy software, it may be hard to switch to a socially-enabled platform. But, looking at the exponential growth in the number of social interactions, and thinking two to three years ahead, an early decision should pay dividends. To help inform this decision, there are six fundamental questions to think about to help you assess whether legacy software, or your existing solutions, are fit for purpose, scalable, agile, and the most effective tool for agents to deliver the quality of service your customers expect.
- How will you track and listen to the mentions of your brand across multiple social channels?
- How will you integrate queries from multiple social media channels into your existing processes?
- Are you able to answer your customers in near real-time?
- Are your agents able to simplify workflow, automate, and prioritise mentions in a single interface, to answer customers quickly and effectively?
- How will you measure and benchmark agent performance?
How will you maximise the benefits of social for your organisation beyond frontline customer service (for example, marketing)?
4: Open all hours?
Do you need to provide customer support in the evening and at the weekends? This really does depend on which industry you’re in, whether you are B2C or B2B, and most importantly on your customers’ behaviour and expectations on response times. If your social customers aren’t 9-5 then your opening hours for customer care shouldn’t be 9-5. For example, utility customers need round-the-clock support. Whether they are water, gas or electricity customers, if they have an outage, or want to report a leak, they need real-time help for real-time problems.
- Do your research to understand the peak times / days when your customers are active, this will have the biggest influence on the hours you need to offer support.
- Expect the unexpected. It is almost inevitable that at some point your brand will experience a sudden, unexpected spike in inbound mentions. Use smart engagement software to automate specific types of mentions to the right people across your business when your customer support team is not on shift. You need know about any social media crisis whatever time of day or night it breaks.
- Be aware that social media users are turning up the heat on out-of-hours support, regardless of industry. Research in the latest edition of The Social Habit found that 57% of its respondees expected the same response time at night and on weekends as during normal business hours.
Best practice example: Nationwide
Building society Nationwide offers 24/7 social customer service and its slogan: ‘because your tweet doesn’t work 9 -5’ sums up the reason in a nutshell. It is one of the high street front runners on round-the-clock support and is only one of a handful of UK businesses to do so, so far.
5: Reduce noise
Once you have monitoring in place, the sheer volume of social mentions can be overwhelming for brands, even those with a moderate flow of inbound queries. Not all interactions require a response and you need to be able to cut through the noise to get to those which do.
- Create a dedicated Twitter customer service handle to try to filter out genuine service comments from the rest of the marketing and PR activity on your main account. Lots of traffic on one account means complaints can get lost in the noise, response times are longer, and support teams are stretched.
- Bear in mind that you will still need to monitor your main account. Not everyone will check your Twitter page to work out which is your general channel and whether you have an account for support.
- Invest in smart social media management and engagement software with intelligent routing and automations to direct conversations to relevant teams across your business based on enquiry / topic type, sentiment, influencer, or language.
- Try to reduce the number of inbound comments you receive by analysing why your customers need to contact you on social, and assimilate the insight to make the changes, improvements and fixes needed at source. Also, proactively post content to help customers to find the information they need themselves. See tip #13 ‘Post useful information’ and tip #15 ‘Analyse feedback’ for more guidance on this.
6: Communicate better as a business
You need to put your customers at the centre of your engagement strategy and you will probably need to realign internal operations. For example, marketing and customer service are both integral to improving the customer journey on social but how the two meet is often viewed as a real challenge. Most brands need a strategic rethink and deep-rooted philosophy change to achieve this.
- Decide who owns social customer service. Marketing historically holds the social media purse strings and drives the wider social media strategy, but service should sit in operations with traditional customer channels.
- Communicate better as a business and plan, plan, plan. Customer service managers need to know what their marketing, product and tech teams have planned to prepare for spikes in inbound queries and comments and make sure they have the right shift pattern in place.
- Ensure multiple teams use the same social media management and engagement tool so they can collaborate across the business, and share upsell, and service-to sell opportunities. If marketing teams use the same tool as their customer service colleagues this will help build communication bridges between the two departments and silos begin to get broken down. For example, frontline service teams can see scheduled content, keep informed on campaigns and plan resource-wise for any increases in inbound queries. And to flip the coin, some sage advice from Martin Hill-Wilson, Author and Consultant, Brainfood Consulting: “Social customer service is an open tap for content hungry marketers. The smart ones have already scheduled weekly news story sessions with their service colleagues”.
Tip: Marketing teams love posting highly engaging content such as competitions on Facebook, we have seen posts published with thousands of comments in just an hour. Do you really want your contact centre agents having to read every single one of these and clear them down? By using a shared publishing calendar in your social customer service tool, contact centre supervisors can add advanced automations before competitions and content goes live filtering out the non-customer service comments before they even touch your contact centre agents! A big time saver.
7: Train your support team
Blending new and old methods to create a consistent service for customers is one of the main challenges when building your support team, whether you are brand providing direct engagement, or you are an outsourcer. The question is how do you marry up the two - with the same person in the same place, or the same team? You need to invest in the people who are the gatekeepers of your brand’s reputation in a very public domain and the quality of the support team you build is absolutely key.
Putting together your team
Your best people on the phone may not be good at writing responses. Some contact centre agents just won’t be comfortable engaging with customers on public channels. Others simply won’t have the written communication skills to respond effectively, especially in 140 characters, or have the confidence to deliver, say, video support. Obviously, there are some crossover skills with email, and you may be able to migrate and retrain some agents from other channels. But, it’s also likely you will need to recruit new staff given the specific skillsets needed.
Here’s a quick recruitment checklist:
Source: ‘How should contact centres integrate social customer service?’ Sentiment / Our Social Times
- Ensure your agents have a comprehensive knowledge of your products and services.
- Create a social media playbook and have clear guidelines on what can be shared on an open channel and what needs to be discussed in a private conversation. The playbook should include real-world examples of how reply to specific types of questions and comments, handle complaints and deal with offensive language.
- Have a clear escalation policy to senior managers for when a crisis breaks, or a comment goes viral.
- Give your agents the right social media management and engagement tool to engage with customers. See tip #2 ‘Choosing the right social media channels’ for more information on effectively delivering multi-channel engagement.
- Introduce a supervisor approval loop to help with training and agent feedback, and to prevent any howlers going public, and potentially viral
- Use a supervisor dashboard to oversee workflow and track agent performance.
8: Take responsibility
If your brand commits to offer social customer service you need to take responsibility to deliver on your promise. Social customer care teams can be the first, and last, line of defence for brands. If your organisation sets itself up across social networks, such as Facebook and Twitter, be prepared for customers to contact you through these channels.
- Clearly show on your Twitter bio when support is available.
- Post or tweet each morning and at the end of a shift to let people know when your support team is active. For example, this is how first direct welcomes its customers for the day.
- Make a clear offer of help.
- Let your customers know you want to find resolution and won’t pass the buck. See tip #9 ‘Stay in channel’ for more guidance.
- Have a solid solution for handling difficult situations and clear policy for escalating complaints.
- Follow up with the customer on social to make sure they are happy with the outcome.
Best practice example: Hilton
@HiltonHelp makes a clear offer of help in the tweet below, the agent escalates the customer issue with the hotel at fault, and negative perception of customer service is turned into a positive.
Best practice advice: Luke Brynley-Jones
We asked Luke Brynley-Jones, Founder of Our Social Times about how you can show you will deliver on customer promises, this is what he said:
“Once the customer has confidence you’re going to solve their problem then that promise must be delivered on. The challenge for most customer service teams is that they can’t personally fix every problem; it requires an issue to be logged, other teams to input, more information etc. Either way, you need to set a clear deadline on the next action, from which the fallback is a personal update to the customer”
9: Improve response rates and times
Customer expectations on response times are high across social media channels. Research from The Social Habit shows that most consumers now expect a response on Twitter within an hour. But, only a few brands are geared up to deliver on this expectation. Some companies still don’t respond at all, or miss comments. West Interactive’s recent Social Customer Service 101 Infographic showed that 59% of questions and complaints on Twitter go unanswered. There is a price to pay for this. According to Gartner, not answering customers on social channels can lead to a 15% increase in the churn rate for existing customers. Increasing your response rates and decreasing your response times should be a real priority.
Here are a few tips on how to do this.
- Use a dedicated customer service handle to focus on genuine customer queries and comments. See tip #5 ‘Reduce noise’ for more information on this.
- Make sure you monitoring outside of @handles. If you don’t know about a comment it will sit in the unanswered pile. Forever.
- Invest in a social media management and engagement tool that has intelligent routing and automations to prioritise the comments by keyword or phrase to get to the most important mentions first.
- Including live response times on social media channels will help manage customer expectations. For example, KLM’s response times are updated every five minutes on its Twitter page.
Best practice example: Ascensos
Outsourcer Ascensos has been judged to deliver the fastest, and best quality, responses on Twitter for its client B&Q. In two separate tests, veeqo and Econsultancy sent tweets to test the social customer service mettle of the UK’s leading retailers. B&Q was ranked #1 by both. Christopher Ratcliff, who ran the Econsultancy experiment, explained why B&Q and its agents provided the Twitter service in the retail sector:
“A personalised reply, containing the information I required and a personal sign-off delivered in three minutes, coupled with a devoted customer service channel, which is linked to on the main B&Q channel, with its lengthy operating hours (7am - 11pm) clearly stated in the profile means B&Q goes straight to the top of the chart.”
10: Get your tone right
Social has its own rules and tone of voice. This can be daunting, your responses are in the public gaze and how you engage with your customers can change perceptions of how they, and anyone else who happens to see the conversation, see your brand – for better or worse.
Most customers are tired of automated phone lines, scripted responses, being kept on hold, being pushed from pillar to post to get an answer. Social customer service can help you rewrite the service rule book, do something new, humanize your company and build trust. And remember, a quick response doesn’t always mean a quality response. Here are a few pointers to help you get your responses right:
- Address your customers by name and be personable.
- Sign off your messages with a name, or initials to be friendly.
- Empower your support team to respond without a script and have conversations which your customers can relate to.
- Avoid canned responses. People are savvy and will see when you are sending the same response to everyone.
- Show empathy, not sympathy. Try to use words such as ‘feel’ and felt. Show you understand, not feel sorry for them.
- Make sure you have access to your customer’s full conversation history to inform your response. Your customers don’t want to keep repeating previous conversations and it can make things worse.
- Use engagement software with last agent routing so customers can chat with the same person again.
- Avoid telling customers you are under pressure. Acknowledge the message and tell your customer you are working on it.
- Protect customer privacy. Brands whose customers mistakenly share sensitive information should advise them to delete the message and take the conversation offline.
Best practice example: first direct
In the example below, first direct uses its customer’s name to reply, asks about their customer’s problems with web access in a friendly way which will not inflame the situation, and the agent signs off with their initials.
11: Stay in channel
Customers who call or email customer services only to be told they need to contact another person, team, department for the answer find this really infuriating. Add a long wait for someone to get back to them, or answer their call and things really start to get annoying. Social is no different.
- Wherever possible, answer your customers on their chosen channel. If they send a tweet, and it can be answered on Twitter, then you can bet your bottom dollar they will want an answer there as well.
- If the nature of the enquiry requires a shift to a more private channel, such as a call back, email or chat, social teams and agents should be empowered to continue the conversation and seamlessly shift between channels. Complete the loop though on the original channel to check all has been resolved.
Best practice example: Nationwide
In the example below, @AskNationwide received a tweet from a customer who wanted take out a mortgage and was frustrated because they were still waiting for a response from email / telephone teams. Its Twitter team apologised, showed it wanted to resolve the query and stayed in channel to find out the background information, and was then empowered to take conversation offline and call its customer once they sent their number via DM.
12: Acknowledge complaints
People complain on social because have had a bad experience elsewhere, they can’t get the help they need from support teams, or they can’t find the self-serve information they want on your website or social pages. They will send a tweet because they want a solution or answer, they are fed up with waiting and how quickly and effectively you deal with the complaint will determine whether the customer just gets angrier, the situation escalates and the negative buzz spreads, or you repair the relationship and it’s case closed.
- Make sure you are monitoring outside of @accounts. You can’t respond to a complaint you don’t know about.
- Assess whether the complaint needs a response. Some complaints are genuine, while some people just rant because they can and they are letting off steam.
- Offer a direct apology, use your name / initials in responses to show the customer that they are talking to a real person to try to diffuse any anger, and show empathy.
- Show you will resolve the problem in channel, or escalate offline to the person who can.
- Don’t argue or get emotional or let tempers flare on either side.
- Never delete a comment or post. Be open about criticism and talk in channel. Your response shows that you take complaints seriously and people will see you want to fix things when things go wrong.
- Have clear guidelines in your social media playbook on escalating, or sharing, complaints with senior managers, legal or PR teams.
Best practice example: DPD
DPD shows in the tweet below that it is serious about resolving its customers issue with a delivery, the language is assertive, and the agent signs off the message with their name to show that a real person is trying to fix a real problem, not some faceless brand.
13: Post useful information
Great customer service is about actively listening, monitoring and engaging with your social audience. The pacesetters don’t just react to complaints and answer routine questions, they engage on positive comments, provide tips and tricks, as well as information on how to use products or services. Why wait for customers to fill your social feeds with questions that you already know the answer to?
- Don’t just reply or wait for questions. Get proactive and create useful visual content for your most common queries on Twitter, for example. The most effective social customer service teams have links at their fingertips to share. Your customers will have a quick solution and you won’t need to send several tweets to fully answer a question. Save time and money.
- Use YouTube to post how-to product tutorials, product demonstrations and visual FAQs. It’s much easier to engage and talk people through than reading text.
- Be quirky and fun. People will share a video if it makes them laugh, and you will increase brand awareness. As we all know, viral hits can come from nowhere.
- Think about using live video chat. It’s the next best thing to face-to-face.
- Post service updates throughout any outage or crisis situation to keep your customers well informed. If an online service crashes, or planned maintenance overruns, one of the biggest complaints, and the reason most people send angry tweets, is a lack of real-time information on what is happening and when the service will be resumed.
Best practice example: NatWest
NatWest uses Vine to answer around 20 of the most frequently asked questions it receives on Twitter, and engage with customers. It fits with the bank’s tone of voice and breaks away from with the buttoned-up reputation most banks have. One its latest Vines shows customers the simplicity of using its Touch ID login for its app. NatWest is the first UK-based bank to offer this and is proactive with sharing the new feature with its customers via a link on service tweets.
If customers have watched the video and still need help, NatWest completes the service loop with a message explaining that it can’t answer questions on the video platform and directs people to @NatWest_Help.
Best practice advice: Katy Howell
We asked Katy Howell, CEO at Immediate Future about the benefits of proactive posting, this is what she said:
“Customer service on social is now much more than just customer service. It is no longer enough to resolve issues on Twitter or Facebook. Smart brands are being predictive – thinking ahead. Creating video, gifs, images and polished responses to common issues, or pre-empting trends and developing mini campaigns to respond. Tone of voice is flexing and customer service is being brought to life with wit and personality. And those brands that are proactive, are reaping rewards. Not only do they gain greater positive uplift in sentiment, but they win hearts and minds. The impact on customer behaviours and attitudes can be quite profound.”
14: Measure engagement
You need to measure engagement to be able to manage the social customer service you provide, demonstrate value alongside traditional channels, improve agent performance, and justify investment. KPIs on social are similar to those for voice, email and chat but they should always be driven by a commitment to early resolution.
Here’s a list of some of the key metrics that are important to measure and benchmark:
- Buzz volume: The number of inbound comments about your brand. This will help you gauge when your customers are most active to resource support. The metrics will also provide a baseline for you to benchmark other KPIs. Make sure you have a comprehensive monitoring strategy to listen to comments outside of @accounts. You can only measure what you know about.
- Response rates: The total number of customers you reply to in a specific timeframe. Don’t forget, the quality of response is important as being able to reply and automated replies to everyone will not cut it with your customers.
- Response times: The average time it takes for your agents to respond / action a comment. See tip #9 ‘Improve response rates and times’ and tip #5 ‘Open all hours?’ for more information on speeding up these.
- Completion time: The average time it takes an agent to complete an action.
- First post resolution: The number of comments which are resolved on first contact. Tagging functionality in an engagement tool will help you keep track on these.
- Flush rate: Posts which do not require a response or action.
- Contact type: Group messages by interaction type to analyse the types of inbound comments your customers make. Again, tagging functionality in an engagement tool will help with this.
- Sentiment shifts: The tone of customer messages. Also calculate sentiment conversion. Customers will often start off angry but effective engagement and resolution can turn a negative into a positive.
- Customer satisfaction: Ask your customers to complete post interaction surveys.
- Ensure your engagement app includes a supervisor dashboard to give senior managers a real-time overview of agent engagement, all in a single interface to benchmark KPIs.
15: Analyse feedback
Analysing customer interactions and plugging social data and insight back into your business for customer service, product, tech, marketing, sales and PR teams to assess and assimilate to improve the customer journey, and understand consumer motivations and behaviour is key.
"Social CRM is already propelling customer engagement to new heights and allowing companies to provide personalized customer service, marketing messages and sales offers”
Barton Goldenberg, author, The Definitive Guide to Social CRM
The value of social engagement in building customer loyalty goes beyond the mechanics of frontline social customer service:
- Real insights come from real feedback – good and bad. Use a social analytics tool to take a deep dive into customer conversations to understand what drives customer satisfaction, complaints, motivations and behaviours. For example, if you are a retailer and your customers send multiple tweets complaining about problems with your click and collect service you will have the information to investigate and fix the problem. One thing’s for sure, your customers will tell you about issues they had with your website and which stores they had collection problems with.
- Assimilate insight from customer interactions to improve service quality and train your agents on all channels on how to deliver a consistent experience. People often turn to social to complain about how they have been treated by staff elsewhere in your business. It’s never all bad news. They will also tell you about great service for you to feedback to team members.
- Analyse conversation tags applied by agents while using their engagement tool to give you actionable insight on the types of queries and reasons your customers contact you in the first place.
- Assess customer suggestions to improve products and services. They may well come up with a eureka moment to help you innovate and pip your competitors to the post on new ideas.
- For marketers, you need to understand what your customers’ think before you can understand how to use social media marketing. Alex Boyer, Community Manager for Duct Tape Marketing, has distilled customer interactions with brands into seven distinct behaviours: know, like, trust, try, buy, repeat, and refer. If you launch a marketing campaign and understand that you need to try to guide these behaviours in new and existing customers, social media will become much clearer.