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6 Rules for Delivering Excellent Customer Service on Social Media

online customer service
Can your company deliver excellent customer service online?

We’ve all done it: while researching local companies delivering x product or service, you click on one of their social media icons on their website to find out what past customers thought of their service. You browse through the complaints, the inquiries, and the glowing reviews to find out if that company was the best at delivering the product or service—and customer service—that you expect. After all, who wants to work with a company that doesn’t respond when you need them—and respond well?

Turns out, we’re not alone; a recent study from BrightLocal found that 92% of consumers read online reviews from local companies (up from 88% in 2014). The advent and evolution of social media gives them the opportunity to check up on you on a neutral platform, and talk back; almost 42% expect a response within an hour of posting on a company’s social media. To be sure, customers have set their expectations high, and there’s a good reason for you to deliver: studies have consistently shown that customers choose a product from a company that delivers good customer service even if the price of the is more than a competitor. The bonus is that they’ll also leave positive ratings about your company because of that service, which other potential customers notice and use to make their purchasing decision.

Is your company ready to meet their high expectations for online customer service? Delivering excellent customer service on social media cannot be delivered flippantly without a plan. How are you going to be notified about your customers’ inquiries? How are you going to respond to positive and negative reviews? Who is going to be in charge of the responses? What kind of training do they need? Every company is going to respond to these questions differently based on company culture and staff expectations; however, you can use these general rules to deliver the service that your customers expect, and deserve.

Respond promptly

You don’t have to be online 24/7; this would be difficult for most companies, especially smaller businesses with less resources. Be very clear about your company hours, and respond promptly within those hours, or as soon as possible the next morning. Make sure you have set your notifications so you know when a customer has posted to your social media sites, and create a smooth system so you can respond quickly—without having to go through an arduous process of management approval before posting. Managers, make sure you choose a staff member to deliver the customer service you trust; just because your intern is online all the time, doesn’t make them an ideal candidate for handling delicate customer inquiries. If you’re not available, or don’t have the staff on hand to deliver prompt customer service, don’t be afraid to outsource your efforts; a company with experience can deliver the customer service your customers expect—without you having to invest in the training.

Don’t ignore the negative

An online brand we follow had a customer who was not happy. His floor was not covered by warranty after it was damaged, and no one at the company was responding to his social media comments. For days afterward, the customer responded to every social media post with a rant. The company did not respond to the long complaints, and the rants grew worse.

The lesson: respond to the negative and positive comments. If you need more information or an in-depth forum to respond to their complaint, don’t be afraid to message the customer or ask them to message you so you can continue the conversation. Don’t assume that every angry comment means that you can’t win; you can still resolve many situations with excellent customer service. Believe it or not, you’ll also win their business again with this strategy.

If the customer inquiry is the fodder for an online crisis (such as a complaint about an employees’ rude or inappropriate comment), make your manager or CEO aware of the problem as soon as possible and involve them in the response process. Develop a plan for a possible crisis in advance; you don’t want to get caught “with your pants down” in a crisis situation.

Can the canned responses

One day when perusing my social media feed, I noticed a friend’s post. He shared a post from a company’s Facebook page written by a customer about a squeezable food product. The customer was unhappy because he found mold in his product (gross!), and he openly put the complaint on the company’s social media page. The company responded, but not before many, many other customers commented that they had the same problem with the product at one time or another. The company responded with a canned response to each complaint: “Please contact us with your issues at…” which fanned the fire; soon customers were commenting back to the company, “Aren’t you going to respond instead of copying and pasting the same reply to our complaint?”

Be human

That brings us to the next part of delivering customer service: type like you talk, and know your company’s voice. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t sound professional, but that does mean your customer service response shouldn’t sound like a robot is responding. If your company is a pizza company with a younger audience, and a fun voice on social media, don’t be afraid to respond in that same voice; but don’t make fun of your customer or belittle their complaint. If your company has a B2B clientele, your response should sound more professional, but should still sound like a real, live human is there and ready to help.

Make it easy

Your customer shouldn’t have to work to get a resolution to their issue. Don’t make them jump through significant hoops or even have to pick up a phone. It is okay to ask for details in private messages and to ask for their information if you need to send something to them to resolve the issue; it’s not okay to start bombarding them with sales emails if they don’t ask (or give permission) for them.

Go above and beyond their expectations

Don’t assume that a bad customer experience equates to a lost customer. A few years ago, we ordered roast beef for a birthday party from a local shop. They said the order would be ready on Friday. When we called to make sure our order was ready on Friday, it wasn’t. The owner of the business called the next day with a sincere apology, reassurance that the order was ready for our party, and an offer to bring the order to our home. When he arrived, he brought extra of the order, and made sure we understood the cooking directions. Because he went above and beyond for us, we’d order from him again—and you can create the same favorable experience for your customers, even after a bad experience. Don’t think that because the interaction is online that you can’t deliver the same excellent customer experience; today’s social media is yesterday’s phone for many people, and your key to delivering excellent customer service.

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