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How do you provide effective service on social media without falling victim to its dangers?

In today’s always-on world, there is no such thing as ‘business hours’. Social media has made it easy for your customers to contact you at whatever time they choose.

Whether it’s Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn – consumers are shunning phone calls in favour of engaging with you digitally to fix their problem. In fact, a 2016 survey by Sprout Social showed that 90% of people used social media in some way to communicate directly with a brand.

But if you’re an extremely busy person that has limited time as it is, how do you ensure you meet customer expectations to avoid being the main subject in a PR disaster?

Here are some tips to help you improve the customer service you deliver via social media.

Define your availability

Unless you clearly state on your business page or profile that you only respond to queries during set hours, you’ll be expected to provide immediate replies – irrelevant if it’s 3am in the morning. Customer service on social media doesn’t sleep. So, if you’re unable to be responsive 24/7, make sure you communicate that to manage expectations.

Social media is extremely fast-paced and it’s naive to think that your customers will be happy to wait for a response when you decide. The unwritten rule for social media customer service is that customers expect some form of response within one hour and will wait for a maximum of four hours before publicly shaming you or switching to a competitor. You might want to consider handing the reigns to a colleague during certain periods of the week and agree with them when they will be responsible for monitoring activity.

While it might seem pretty obvious, make sure you have a mobile device that allows you to manage your social media when you’re on the move. And make sure you always have enough data to avoid being in a situation where you’re unable to respond.

Find a consistent voice

The way you present your business online should be same as the way you do in person. This is your brand identity. The tone you take when communicating with customers via social media is important and it needs to align to your culture.

If you’re a small florist, for example, it might be appropriate to include an emoji in a reply. However, if you’re a professional services firm dealing with large sums of money, it’s advisable to stay away from light-hearted replies as it might end up infuriating a customer or give the impression you’re not taking things seriously. Make sure the people responsible for your social media channels are briefed on examples of what to say and what not to say.

Finally, don’t forget to be human when interacting; social media is exactly what it says it is. Personalising your responses with a name or initials is a small measure that can go a long way to reassuring your customers that there is someone at your business who cares and is there to help.

Break down any silos

If you’re a small firm with only a handful of staff, you’re likely to be spinning multiple plates and monitoring social media is arguably not going to be high on your priority list. That’s why you need to build and be able to lean on a network that can get you the right information quickly to pass onto the customer – it’s rare that the person responsible for social media knows all the answers.

Effective customer service on social media cannot be done in a silo, it needs to be included as part of an integrated, multichannel approach. It’s worth considering whether the processes you follow for handling queries over the phone can be applied to your social media response strategy.

Work out your key contacts for each type of query you’re likely to receive and ensure they’re available for when you need them. Skype for Business’ instant messaging functionality might be worth exploring as an efficient way of communicating and seeing who is available at any point.

Think logically, not emotionally

If you’re in the middle of what is turning into a heated exchange with a customer, it can be quite easy to let your emotions influence the way you respond. After all, you don’t turn up to work to be called an “incompetent (insert your favourite expletive)”.

Like all great customer service professionals, you need to remain calm and respond in a rational manner using only facts. Responding when you’re worked up is not a good idea. Not only does the person at the other end react, but on social media, your response – unless it’s done through a private message – is there in a public arena.

Imagine social media customer service as a performance that comes complete with an audience. What you say online could be the difference between a new sale and a lost opportunity.

And finally…

An obvious omission from the tips listed is the need to have all of your respective apps downloaded onto your smartphone or tablet. Utilise free apps such as Facebook Page Manager or, if you want to formally manage your social media presence, consider low-cost, paid-for options such as Hootsuite.

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About Andrew Frost

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