In the age of social media, customers have all the power. In the good old days, when a customer wanted to complain, they would speak with the manager, or call the 1-800 number on the back of the box. Today, they reach for their smartphone and @the brand while they vent on Social Media. This can be very dangerous for brands, especially as it can trigger a snowball of replies from other customers, causing irreparable damage.
According to SproutSocial, 34.5% of surveyed customers use social media to communicate with brands. This outpaces traditional channels, such as the 1-800 number (16.1%) and person-to-person interaction (just 5.3%). Unfortunately, most brands aren’t as proactive in answering customers’ inquiries in a timely manner – While consumers expect to receive an answer within 4 hours of posting, brands take, on average, 10 hours to reply. This very likely means that most marketing departments are underestimating the power of social media.
How can brands open communication?
It’s possible for brands to create protocols or procedures for tracking conversations around them, and tackle negative feedback as soon as possible. Below, you can see four top tips to confront complaints and bring efficient customer support to your clients.
1. Keep a separate account dedicated to customer service: Another insight from SproutSocial is that brands post an average of 23 promotional messages for every 1 response. A customer may feel discouraged upon seeing the brand’s active posting and lack of response to their complaint.
A way to beat this is to keep a separate handle dedicated solely to customer service, and redirect unhappy users (immediately) to it; not to get rid of them, but to improve response times.
A good example of this is Microsoft: in addition to their regular channel (@microsoft), they have a dedicated account for customer service – @MicrosoftHelps. Besides tending to customers’ issues, they also tweet helpful tips and how-to’s for their products.
2. Gather all the necessary information: Something worse than ignoring complaints is replying with mistaken or unhelpful information. Customer support teams must have access to all the facts, in order to give the best answer possible.
Companies like American Airlines (@AmericanAir) rely on this type of strategy to address travel inconveniences such as: lost baggage, delays, and cancellations. Reaching out to customers ASAP and keeping the conversation via Direct Message (especially when it comes to sensitive data) is crucial to reducing the traveler’s stress levels and overcome the (figurative) bump in the road.
3. Set up “business” hours: The human touch that is necessary in social media also affects community managers and analysts. For some brand categories, it’s not realistic to have a 24/7 situation room for complaints. It’s valid to define business hours for your customer service account, just remember to list them in your bio, in order to set customers’ expectations.
American Express’ customer care channel, @AskAmex, not only displays the account’s working hours, it also directs customers to their website for after hours service, and, very nicely, announces the beginning and the end of their work day with corresponding tweets.
4. You are a human being. Act like one: Just as we despise robotic answers in a customer service hotline, copy-pasting replies may be convenient in a crisis, but it displays lack of empathy and tone-deafness.
Brands such as UPS (@UPSHelp) understand this. Having their representatives “sign” every reply with their initials, reminds customers that there is a human being handling the request on the other side.
No brand is immune to mistakes in the trenches, and suppressing bad comments is refusing to listen and learn, which is fatal in the long run. The sooner your marketing team develops a great strategy for customer service, the better. Listening and learning from our customers will always pay off.