August 1, 2014 Kevin Erb

Does your social strategy include customer service?

Let’s start with the obvious: It’s very important for brands to have a strategic plan in place when it comes to their social media presence. It’s important because companies can leverage social media for any number of strategic reasons – to communicate, to engage, to promote, to listen, to sell.

All of which are essential, to be sure, because they all help a brand bring in new customers. What is equally important, however, and what brands often fall short in using social media effectively for, is engaging with their existing customers.

Here, it seems, is where there’s a lot of ground for brands to make up, not to mention a huge disconnect between how brands perceive their handling of customer service via social media and how their customers perceive it. Indeed, a recent study showed that approximately 80 percent of companies believe they provide superior customer experiences via social – only 8 percent (!) of their paying customers agree. A big reason for that Grand Canyon-esque gap may be due to another figure from the same research – that 20 percent of companies rarely, if ever, respond to customer inquiries or complaints made via social.

There are few things more damaging to a brand’s perception via its social presence than a customer complaint sitting there, unanswered, lingering, smoldering, haunting. Most often, a complaint goes unanswered because brands either don’t know it’s there or don’t know how to handle the complaint appropriately in a quasi-public forum. Neither reason is good; however, there are just a few easy steps brands can take to address both and become more effective at handling customer complaints.

  1. Build an alert system. All of the key social platforms have a wealth of built-in notification tools to alert you immediately any time a customer leaves any type of comment via your official presence, including complaints. Getting notified almost immediately whenever a complaint is posted makes it easier to…
  2. Acknowledge the complaint. It doesn’t say “solve the problem,” does it? This is where brands often get caught, because they don’t know how to solve the problem raised by the complaint right then and there via social. Odds are, they wouldn’t ever be able to, and that’s okay. All they need to do is acknowledge the complain – “We’re sorry to hear you’re having a problem, Customer X, and want to make this right. Can you email us at EMAIL ADDRESS so we can learn more?” It’s the last part of this exchange that’s most important, because it enables you to…
  3. Move the conversation offline. Why get into a complaint-specific conversation in the comments of a Facebook post while your other followers watch? No good can come of it! Instead, ask the customer to call or email and provide the proper contact info for both. Not only does it enable you to handle the complaint in a more personalized and intimate way, it also gauges how serious the customer and the complaint are. (You may find this shocking, but sometimes customers just like to blow off a little steam in the comments of your brand page. If they have to pick up the phone to call or send you an email, they may not actually do it.) By acknowledging and moving the conversation offline, you can then remove the complaint from your page. And, if the customer decides to come back to offer compliments for the way his or her complaint was handled, that’s just icing on the cake.

When it comes to handling customer complaints via social, you don’t want your approval rating to be lower than Congress, do you? The good news – avoiding a fate worse than that can be easily accomplished. And it’s accomplished directly when brands ensure their social strategy focuses on not just new customers – but existing ones as well.