I worked in a call center in college. It wasn’t technically customer service. Instead we did surveys about customer service. Brands in a range of different industries would give us a list of the customers who had recently dealt with their CS departments, and we called them and asked questions about how it was.
For the most part, there was very little difference between what people thought of brands’ customer service and what people thought of the brands overall. When asked how they would rate the company in general, the people who had had very negative customer service experiences invariably picked one of the lowest options. When asked how likely they were to switch to a different brand, many of them said “I already have.”
On the other hand, those who had had a great customer care experience tended to have only positive things to say about the company. Even if there were things they would change about a brand–if they thought prices were too high, for example, good customer service made people focus much less on the negative, and more on the positive.
Practice what you preach
The job made it clear how important CS is to people’s impressions of a brand. From listening to their stories, I figured out that people’s customer service experiences were a window onto the values and priorities of a company.
Basically, whatever you might say about your brand—what your stated brand values are, however much you say you care about your clients—the truth comes out in customer service.
If you say that you are a customer-centered company, your employees are empowered to solve problems, and you stand behind your product, that’s fantastic. If a customer calls your service department and has to wait 20 minutes to talk to someone, then that person shuffles the customer off to someone else because he’s not authorized to deal with the problem, and another agent finally tells the customer sorry, they can’t do anything about the broken product, well, you may have a disconnect between what you think your priorities are and what they actually are.
This is just as true on social media. Your voice, the way you converse and interact with your clients, how you handle their issues: all of it is a reflection of your brand’s priorities and values. And on social, all of it is out in the open, visible not just for one customer but for anyone with an internet connection.
If social customer service is a reflection of what your brand’s priorities, are you sure you’ll like what you see? When your customers interact with your brand on social media, every part of that interaction helps form their impression of your brand values.
Brand values, which we’ll consider to be the things your business stands for, can’t be established overnight. The ongoing processes involved in building, refining and communicating them are a topic for another day, but your social customer service should aim to embody them.
Consider how your values can be expressed via your customer service, and specifically customer service on social media. For example, many brands take pride in what they produce, and many, implicitly or explicitly, include creating great products as part of their core brand values.
How would that come across in terms of social media customer service? It could mean making sure that people who do customer service on social media know the products inside and out, and are able to respond to any questions about materials or construction or product care. It would also help if responses to complaints about products were swift, and capable of solving the issue or replacing the product. And in some cases, it wouldn’t hurt to have someone who actually helped design or build the product chime in when appropriate. For many companies, it may be worthwhile to set up a social media ambassador program to structure how people from multiple departments interact with clients on social.
If you are a telecom company, and you differentiate yourself with superior coverage and attentive customer service, you could follow the example of T-Mobile here:
By carefully listening, they were able to see a potential client (another company’s customer), with an issue they might be able to solve. They responded to a complaint about spotty 4G coverage with a genuine statement about looking into increasing service in the area.
Give people resources
Employees will not be able to provide good customer service on social media if they are not properly equipped to do so. There are a few things you can do to help them succeed:
- Employees should know and understand your brand values. This should be the case for all your employees, but particularly those who are in customer facing roles.
- Set up processes and procedures to communicate on social. Having a clear structure in place for who deals with which queries makes it easier to serve customers effectively. Consider not just first responders, but how you deal with queries that need to be escalated.
- Consider tools like Falcon Social that allow you to listen to your customers, pick up on messages about your brand and respond to them on social.
- Also look at tools that will help you to track how well your teams are doing at responding to fans on social channels.
Flexibility is key
As critical as training and preparation is to effective customer care on social media, hoping to put a plan in place for every situation is entirely unrealistic.
In fact, trying to cover in advance for any possibility can end up making responses worse. Bank of America found this out the hard way on Twitter. They had either set up an autoresponder an or laid down a blanket order telling their teams to respond to every single Twitter mention of the bank (many of the tweets were signed, so if it was an autoreply, it would have been particularly disingenuous). When Occupy Wall Street was in full swing, people who were obviously not customers were tweeting at the bank, each time receiving a polite, clueless message asking how Bank of America could help with their account issues. The example below is a tweet about someone who was hassled for a chalk drawing in front of a B of A branch. The sheer volume of responses from the bank to a conversation that had nothing to do with customer accounts made the company seem out of touch, and certainly wasn’t helpful to anyone.
Also, just like on the phone, it’s easy on social to figure out when someone uses wording that came directly out of a manual, and it sounds just as fake and impersonal.
How to get it right
It really shouldn’t be news to brands that customers perceive brand values based in large part on how those brands treat them. Nor should it be a surprise that social media channels can broadcast how a brand treats one customer to the whole world.
But the brands that really get it, the ones whose customer service on social media a true asset for customers, share two things. First, they know what their values are–and what they say and do on social clearly reflects those values, instead of trying to be everything to everyone. Second, they accept social media for what it is–a channel where you can’t always control everything, but where, with resources, training and experience, you can potentially serve clients better then ever before.