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Building guidelines for customer service on social media

6 minute read

Oliver Kennett
social icons on neon sign

The kettle is boiling, the teabag lounges in the bottom of the cup, and the milk bottle is poised beside it like a decanted ghost. I drum my fingers on the kitchen counter and then reach for my phone.

I first check Twitter. Earlier I sent a tweet to my phone provider asking about an upgrade. Excellent, they’ve replied and, as always, in a prompt and friendly fashion. Next, I open Facebook to send a message to a local music venue to ask what time the band are on. Finally, I open Instagram to see what the Kardashians are up to.

The point is, anyone who is anyone has a social network presence. These days, interacting with businesses is as easy as sending a short message to a friend.

The inclusion of customer to business connections within the very same environment in which the customer chats with their friends and uploads pictures, has opened a swifter, easier and more accessible way for businesses to provide excellent customer support and experiences.

Why not stick with what we’ve got?

The speed with which means of communication is developing is enough to make anyone’s head spin. With the old giants like Youtube, Facebook and Instagram being joined by newer platforms such as the content sharing based Vero or the artistic collaboration platform Daisie, it is often hard to keep track of just where you should be connecting with customers.

And though email is still preferred in business to business communications, it is on social media where the majority of customers want to contact their product and service providers.

Social media customer care, is the process of an online guided experience for customers. The more traditional concept of customer service relations, CSR, is similar but relies on more conventional approaches such as follow up emails or phone calls.

Providing customer service on social media is not only convenient for your customers, but it is less resource intensive for you, with solutions to problems being fixed for a fraction of the cost compared with other solutions such as customer call centres or email.

So, it is obvious that a social media presence isn’t only beneficial but essential in giving customers the easiest ways of accessing your products or customer support.

It’s possible that, in this rare exception, an SME consisting of just you could be an advantage. By default your tone will remain consistent across the board from social media enquiries, to B2B emails to your marketing material. Saying that, it is still important to have your own guidelines for customer engagement even if it is just a short list such as:

  • Always be friendly and helpful
  • Don’t make jokes
  • Be prompt in responding

But when you have a social media team, all of whom run your single accounts, how can you be certain that the same tone and level of support is consistent across all communication channels?

Consider Twitter

Though many of the ideas and techniques that I am covering here today are transferable to other social media platforms, I’ll focus on Twitter as our social portal to our customers. Twitter provides a self-curated feed of realtime information and, for this reason, works well for direct customer to business communication.

The buyer journey

The buyer journey is a framework around which businesses can sculpt their marketing efforts. There are a few variations that include more detail but, for the purposes of this article I will stick to the main three:

  • Awareness: How a customer becomes aware of your offerings.
  • Consideration: The point at which the customer has decided to buy but is examining alternatives.
  • Decision: This is your endgame and the point at which money exchanges hands.

It should be noted that this isn’t just a onetime thing as you are looking for repeat custom or, in the case of a service-based business, continued subscriptions. You must always keep in mind the customers journey, making sure that they are aware of things such as new and existing offerings, making certain that they consider your business as a strong contender for the solution to their need, and, once they have made the decision to buy, that the closing of any deal is as easy and painless as possible.

By understanding what stage your customers are at when they make contact on Twitter, you are more able to satisfy their needs and move them along to converting into a sale.

You may think that this doesn’t cover customer support enquiries, but the help is within this process, making customers aware that they can be helped in a positive and prompt way, removing the distraction of the customer considering other brands or businesses, and retaining them afterwards.

Examine existing brand image

Before you start doling out support to current and potential customers on Twitter you must first look at your business identity. By considering the products you offer and how you sell them you can begin to build a picture of how you wish to be seen when engaging with customers.

As with any aspect of your business that is in the public domain and susceptible to scrutiny, your brand voice needs to be faultlessly consistent, non-confrontational and polite at all times. Without this your image can quickly become detrimental to sales and, let’s face it, that’s bad.

Recalcitrant employees that go rogue, biting back at frustrated or even rude customers, is something to be avoided, and if it happens, it is hard to undo.

The customer experience should be a priority in your business as a study by American Express discovered that 60% of customers are willing to pay more for a better customer experience.

Educating employees on how to communicate

Let’s go for an example… Garry, a huge fan of Pirates Of The Caribbean has decided to go into business protecting the pensions of retired amputee rogues. Garry wants to develop a solid customer experience for his irascible and somewhat touchy customers. He wants to work on his social media customer care strategy that keeps those cutlasses scabbarded, and those gold studded smiles shining.

But how should he speak with his clients? What ‘rules of engagement’ can he make the convention for all his staff to follow?

Firstly, he considers his brand voice. If the brand image is fun and flirty, so too should be the voice on social media. Anything else would only disrupt a projected brand personality.

So, considering Garry is looking after treasure that may or may not have been acquired under the most legal of circumstances, he wants to be well known for his discretion, his sober dealings and his moral ambiguity.

1. Conversations should remain private

Some companies such as EE, for the most part, answer questions in the public domain regarding general enquiries such as the availability of new handsets or services. Naturally, when it comes to account specific enquiries they utilise private messages to keep their client’s information secure. This is as simple as asking the customer to send a message in direct message with their account details. This handy technique is also an excellent way of dealing with conversations that would be detrimental to leave in the public domain.

In this case, Garry will conduct all conversations in private to avoid any awkward revelations. He is fervently hoping that his piratical customers are social media conscious and know their likes from their retweets, and tweets from their private messages… But if they don’t…

2. Be polite

The customer is always right, especially if they’re packing three feet of Spanish steel at their hip.

There is nothing worse than customers feeling insignificant. Businesses should move heaven and earth to keep their customers happy and spending. Short abrasive responses will not improve customer relations, neither will canned responses, inaccurate interpretations or, worst of all, utter ignorance.

3. Be consistent 

This applies to not only the language used but the way you interact with customers. A fragmented conversation between support and customers, for example, during shift change, can lead to all sorts of confusion and frustration.

It is also important to maintain consistency across all platforms. The same images, colouring and design should be used throughout to avoid any ambiguity to the business’s identity. It is also essential that any quotes for costs or product features are accurate.

Finding out that they are paying over the odds for Garry’s financial services because of a clerical error is a sure way of Garry having to take a long walk off a short plank.

4. Start the conversation 

Providing relevant information such as the popular blogs like “How deep should you bury your booty” or “Parrot care for pirates in a rush”, develops a stepping off point for a conversation with customers by showing that Garry understands them. This helps reinforce, in their mind, that he is a useful and trustworthy source of information.

5. Make it personal 

Adding a name to a tweet means that the faceless business suddenly becomes a fellow living, breathing human rather than an anonymous drone. Keeping this level of interpersonal exchange allows a rapport to develop similar to a face to face interaction in a shop.

In Garry’s case, his swashbuckling customers like to know who they are talking to so that they know who to hunt down should X not mark the spot in years to come.

Conclusion

By providing rapid, concise and consistent customer service on Twitter, you are improving your accessibility and options for customers.

Does this mean you can shut down your call centres, delete your email accounts and focus exclusively on your Twitter account? Of course not. As the number of ways of social interaction increases so too does the number of platforms that businesses can utilise to make meaningful connections with their customers.

We need to provide all of the options, from telephone customer care for those less able or willing to get into the world of social media, to old-fashioned email that may take longer but has the benefit of allowing for greater explanation when compared to a 280 character limit.

Oliver Kennett is an author and freelance copywriter living in Bristol. A graduate in both law and engineering, he enjoys exploring science, technology and social impact through his writing. As well as clients in the technology, tourism, legal and lifestyle sectors, he has written extensively for charity. In his spare time he writes short stories and novels for children and adults in the horror, sci-fi, fantasy and humour genres.

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