For companies looking to build their capacity for social media, customer service may be the best place to start in developing a strategy for social media success.
The answer to the question "what is good customer service?" used to involve very little technology: hiring people with people skills and having the policies to let them make customers happy were the keys to success and could allow a business to outperform the competition.
But now, customers – in particular, Generation Y customers – are pushing companies to figure out how to win business by keeping people happy in the social media realm, especially given the potential for negative reviews to damage a business's reputation. As many as 60% of customers having a negatively perceived interaction with a company say they're likely to share their displeasure via social media, according to research by Millward Brown Digital.
Companies are investing heavily in building their social media departments. But in most cases, the purpose of these departments is primarily to market to prospects, not serve customers. At businesses with 100,000 or more employees, on average, 50 or more of those Full-time Employees work in social media, according to an article in Forbes by Christopher Koch, editorial director of the SAP Center for Business Insight – but most of this manpower is focused on marketing.
Social Media Skills versus Customer Service Skills
By and large social media staff having marketing and communications experience, not customer service skills: "As a result, they often lack the resources and knowledge to handle customer service issues," writes Koch. Customer service departments, on the other hand, largely consists of call centers and staff handling email. Only 33 percent of customer service centers provide any social media contact communication at all, says a 2013 survey by Deloitte.
When it comes to social media, increasingly, customers don't just want a one-way channel by which companies market to them; they want a two-way means of communicating before, during, and after purchasing a product or service. The disconnect between the two forms a gap that can create negative customer service experiences. Generation Y prefers social media, internet, and chat as their primary ways of interacting with a business, according to a survey by IT firm Dimension Data.
Closing the Social Media – Customer Service Gap
To close the gap between social media and customer service, companies should:
- Shorten response time to both leads and customers via social media. More than half of customers who tweet a brand expect to have a response within an hour – and even more, 72 percent, if they're tweeting about a problem. "Yet, the average response time for brands on Twitter is more than four hours – if they respond at all," writes Koch.
- Create a swift, smooth transition path from social media to customer service call center. Staff in the social media department need to have systems and procedures in place to get swift attention from customer service to customers who are dissatisfied or at risk of becoming dissatisfied.
- Cross-train customer service staff on social media. For small businesses that don't do a lot of social media marketing, social media and customer service integration may be simpler. Use third-party social media management software to set up notifications that alert an on-call staff customer service staffer via email whenever the company is mentioned in social media. Have a written procedure to ensure prompt, pleasant, and professional response. And always make sure the company's social media account conveys that response – because that's half of the conversation that prospective customers are following.