As a social media manager at a big brand, in a regulated industry none the less, one of the things that has consistently kept me awake at night is how we provide our community with the customer service they need on social media. What if a member tweets us at 11pm on a Saturday night? What about that unanswered Facebook message that has sat for 6 hours now? Who’s going to respond? What will we say (especially in a regulated industry)? Will we help that person or make the situation worse? Will we uphold our brand reputation or will it turn into a viral reputational crisis? Will heads roll? (social media managers have lost their jobs for less).
Many have lost sleep over this issue and many will continue to lose sleep over it. Not to mention this type of work has a tendency to be thankless, meaning that when you perform this well and allocate resources towards it you won’t see a direct return on that investment. Mostly likely you’ll see your reputation remain flat and you’ve avoided any potential brand or reputational damage. Which often goes overlooked in the c-suite, unless you don’t execute this well.
So, like a nightlight after a scary movie (or better yet for me, not watching that scary movie in the first place) how do you avoid those sleepless nights over your social media customer service strategies? After years of developing (and revising) these strategies and watching other companies deploy these strategies successfully (see Alaska Airlines, Spotify or Warby Parker) here are a few common themes that successful strategies include:
> Create a plan and spend the time preparing. Abraham Lincoln said, “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.” Make the time as a team to plan out the ‘what if’ scenarios. Don’t be paralyzed preparing the “perfect plan,” because it doesn’t exist, you won’t be able to prepare for every scenario. Instead shift and iterate as you go. Get a plan that is ‘good enough’ and everyone can agree on, but then be sure to update it regularly as new scenarios and learnings take place.
> Clearly define roles and responsibilities. In each step of your plan be sure to clearly define each person’s role and what they are responsible for executing. The more clear you can make this in advance, the better your team will operate when a real crisis occurs.
> Identify and acquire the tools you’ll need to support consistent monitoring of your brand mentions on social channels and that enable you to respond to those mentions in real time. Make sure the tool you use is appropriate for the channels and scale relative to your business. There are a lot of social listening tools available. Be sure to develop the appropriate scope and select the right one for your business.
> Prepare responses in advance and outline your brand language, tone and voice. If need be, get legal approval for pre-approved messages around sensitive subjects. However, be sure to leave room for adjustments by team members executing the plan so they use appropriate empathy for the situation and don’t sound like robots. Automatic sounding responses can have the same or worse affect than not responding at all.
> Accept that you can’t solve everything on social channels and that’s OK. Have a plan for moving conversations to secure channels for resolution. Close the conversation on social and make sure customers are followed up with on a secure channel and that their issue is resolved appropriately.
> Set response time goals. Many brands are now targeting a response to every comment, in every channel in less than 5 minutes. Think of it this way, on social media 1 minute = 1 hour and in the situation of a viral crisis 1 minute = 1 day. The sooner you respond and resolve the issue or move the conversation offline, the sooner you stop the reputational bleeding. Even if you don’t have an answer, respond quickly, let them know you heard them and you are working on helping.
> Create an SLA with your customers. Most of us are familiar with service level agreements and if they are good enough for us to use with our vendors, it’s good enough for our customers as well. On your social channels set expectations with your clients, if you can’t sustainably resource monitoring of your social channels 24/7, then let customers know in the “hours of operation” setting on your Facebook or Twitter accounts. It’s important to set these expectations with your customers in advance.
> Communicate the social response process far and wide. Share the plan with all business partners internally, externally and even with clients (maybe in a social media policy posted publically on your website). Promote and share the plan on a regular basis. Be open to suggestions from anyone on how the plan can be improved.
> Continually improve and optimize. Gather feedback and metrics on the program and see how it’s working or not and don’t be afraid to make changes. We had our social customer care program going for the past two years and we were making improvements to the process almost every other month.
The process of providing social customer service can feel difficult and thankless at times, however ultimately it will be a differentiator for your business in the eyes of your customers. Not to mention, once the process is in place you’ll sleep a lot better.
What’s on my bookshelf?
In keeping with our theme of providing stellar customer service over social media, I’d like to recommend Hug Your Haters by Jay Baer. Most social media and marketing professionals are already familiar with Jay from his podcasts, keynotes, books, tequila collection or love of BBQ. In this book he teamed up with Edison Research to find out how brands should act with customers on social media to not only satisfy them, but also satisfy the audience of those customers (their followers). While many of their findings were surprising (did you know 80% of companies say they deliver outstanding customer service and only 8% of actual customers agree?) what’s not surprising is that Jay lays out an actionable strategy in this book for brands big and small to embrace complaints and delight customers. Jay lays out the who, where and why customers are complaining on social media and how you can successfully help people to help your business on these channels.
Author: Jeremy Solly
Technology makes things possible. People make things happen. Jeremy is a dynamic leader with twelve years experience of global social media, content and digital marketing strategy for brands. He is passionate about helping teams use technology to tell engaging stories and drive meaningful results at mission-driven organizations. Adept at driving integrated marketing strategies in a variety of industries, from e-commerce start-up, integrated marketing agency, real estate development, international non-profits and most recently a large, national health solutions company. Jeremy is alway open to chatting about content strategy, digital marketing and social media, please follow him or reach out on social media here: