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The social dilemma: Dealing with customers publicly on social media

It’s been recently reported that 81% of small and medium-sized businesses use social media for growth. As well as the obvious marketing opportunities, social media also provides businesses with a way to engage in two-way conversations with their customers. These conversations can provide businesses with interesting insights about their audience, however, not all the conversations may be positive. Social media is increasingly being used as a way for customers to contact businesses with queries or complaints.

A research study shows that 18 million people in the UK have turned to social media for customer service needs, with 65% of consumers who use social media to “talk” to companies, saying it’s an easier way to interact than a call center. The expectations of consumers engaging with businesses on social media are high, with 42% of consumers who complain expecting a response within 60 minutes. On the flip side, many businesses seem to be ignoring social media as a support channel completely with 70% of customer complaints being ignored. If you are a small business owner thinking about establishing a social media presence, be sure to approach it in the right way so what you deliver in terms of customer service are better aligned with your customers’ expectations. We’ve put together the following five points to consider:

Social media newspaper concept
1. Take steps to minimize the amount of queries you receive
It may sound obvious but creating helpful content that customers can view and reference will go a long way to minimizing the number of queries you receive. For example, create FAQs and online tutorials, then link to these from your social pages. Creating videos on Facebook or linking to your YouTube channel are another way of providing help content to users. If customers have ways to find answers to their questions on their own, it will make the number of queries you have to respond to less.

2. Set response time expectations
It’s good to be upfront with customers about how frequently social pages are manned and within what time frame they can expect a response. For example, can customers expect a response on weekends? After hours? During business hours? Also, state how long it takes to typically reply to a query – can you guarantee replies within one hour, or will it be longer?

Social profiles do require a certain time commitment, so if you you are thinking about creating an online presence think, carefully about how much time you can set aside for them. Even if you cannot man your social profile every hour of every day, being consistently available when you say you will be, and keep to the service levels you’ve stated. This will help to keep your customers’ expectations aligned with what you are delivering.

3. Work on your tone
Social media is a two way conversation with your customers. This means it’s important to get the tone of replies just right. Make replies personal and stay away from canned responses that could be sent to or said by anyone. It’s also good to use language that empathizes with customers’ concerns. For example “I do understand…”, “I know how confusing it is…” can go a long way. Be aware that your replies can be seen by other customers and leads. If you respond professionally with a positive and empathetic tone, they are likely to be impressed, instilling confidence in them about your business.

4. Be transparent
Being transparent with customers on social media will improve your credibility and raise customer confidence in your business. Address and reply to complaints that are visible for others to see, either by responding to them directly or by asking customers to contact support in a more personal and direct channel, such as email. Never delete or hide negative comments. Instead, use these to showcase your customer service skills. Being honest in your replies, empathetic in your tone, and explaining why business decisions have been made to earn trust and respect.

5. Use helpful tools
If you are planning to manage several social media profiles, its worth considering a Social Media management product such as Hootsuite or Sprout Social. Tools such as these will make monitoring multiple networks easier, and will help to identify issues quicker. This in turn will speed up response times and help you to resolve customer queries faster.

Tell us about your experiences of dealing with customers publicly on social media. What tools do you use to manage your profiles, and what advice would you give to a business who is thinking about establishing a social media presence?