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Give the Gift of Social Customer Service

By Ann Ruckstuhl CRM Buyer ECT News Network
Sep 30, 2014 5:00 AM PT

Snow flurries and the smell of pine needles. Eggnog and hot apple cider. Gingerbread men and latkes. Stockings and dreidels. Ornaments and menorahs. Trips to see family, and... visits to the customer service department?

Give the Gift of Social Customer Service

Oh yes, the holiday season is upon us, and it isn't complete without a customer service interaction or two.

You Never Hear Elves Complaining

Remember when there was an actual customer service counter in department stores? Those days are long gone. Today's customer service department is a virtual one online -- and much to a brand's horror, social media has become the new customer complaint department.

The Internet has transformed the way brands and customers interact. Conversations that once were one-to-one now are one-to-millions. When unsatisfied customers take to social channels to broadcast their bad experiences or negative reviews of a company or brand, these complaints have the potential to take on a life of their own as others who agree are often quick to jump in and Like, retweet or comment.

These dilemmas can be triggered by poor brand experiences ranging from a delayed flight to a grumpy sales associate or even a disgruntled former employee. The results sometimes can be disastrous.

Perhaps worse than a negative comment is when a brand lacks a process for handling such an issue and mismanages a social channel. While having a social presence can be a valuable way to reach customers and provide service, brands need to be careful how they manage various scenarios and questions that may arise.

For example, if a shopper has a question about a product's safety or a lost package -- a very serious matter during gift-giving season -- then slow response times can be extremely damaging. Your gut instinct may be either to delete or ignore these comments, but that is a surefire way to drive a customer to a competitor.

In fact, a brand's failure to respond via social channels can lead to as much as a 15 percent increase in churn rate for existing customers, according to Gartner. Failure to tackle poor reviews quickly allows negative word-of-mouth to catch like wildfire and has the potential to impact overall customer lifetime value.

Dream of a White Christmas but Prepare for a Blizzard

Establishing social customer service protocols should be an initiative that begins as soon as a brand launches a social channel, because it impacts every aspect of a business -- from product development and sales, to customer service and marketing.

The British Airways promoted tweet incident last year is a prime example of why good social customer service is so important, especially when it comes to brand loyalty and integrity.

There have been numerous social media disasters and damaged reputations in just the past year, making it scary for a brand to move into unchartered territory.

Before companies fully integrate social, they must be prepared and armed with the right tools, technology and properly trained people. It's important to ensure that everyone within an organization who touches social media has a clear understanding of the plan and social strategy to successfully handle complaints or negative comments.

When a company illustrates the objectives of a brand's channels, representatives know what success looks like, and then can act and respond accordingly.

Social customer service best practices indicate there are six optimal steps for escalation management to ensure service flow and an appropriate escalation path for swift resolution:

  1. Listen

    A brand must be tuned into the discussion to know what the hot-button topics are for customers. Social listening tools allow threshold conditions to be set and automatically look for keywords and hashtags. These terms can trigger auto notification via email or SMS to a social response team immediately, day or night. Brands are now able to take this a step further with contextual routing technology, which combines insights gained from Big Data with real-time information gleaned across all channels to identify patterns of behavior and give brands the ability to serve customers proactively, at the exact moment when help is needed.

  2. Categorize

    Some companies receive thousands upon thousands of comments and tweets per day. This is where technology can be a big help. Even if a sophisticated tool isn't an option for a brand, categorizing can ensure that negative or urgent requests are prioritized and handled promptly.

  3. Route

    Route the comment or tweet to the right department where the best answer can be provided the first time.

  4. Templatize

    Depending on the brand, you may receive a lot of inquiries that are very similar, and having answers to common questions already scripted can expedite resolution for both the manager and the customer.

  5. Personalize

    Although templates offer great time-saving benefits, it's important to not appear robotic. Responses must be varied and personalized beyond just using the customer's name in the response. A few words can go a long way in terms of making a customer feel special.

  6. Analyze

    Analyzing how customers respond and their overall sentiment is a part of a solid social media strategy. Examining aspects of a brand's social presence -- like response times, sentiment, Likes, etc., can help identify areas of weakness, as well as which aspect of the strategy is succeeding, so that a brand can continue to refine the process.

Keeping these steps in mind and taking social strategy and objectives into consideration, those managing a brand's social channels can feel confident and prepared for whatever may come their way.

Cranberry Sauce From Cranberries

A negative comment or complaint can turn into an opportunity to shine if a brand responds quickly and intelligently. Zappos.com truly has mastered the quick and thoughtful response to customer concerns. Just a quick scroll through the Zappos Facebook page illustrates the company's dedication to its customers.

Zappos responds to all customer queries -- whether they are negative or positive -- within minutes. When representatives are not able to respond on their social channels -- due to a company event or meeting -- the Zappos team posts that they will be going offline temporarily.

In fact, the company's service is so amazing that have even had customers step in to help them out while they have been offline.

It was during a company All Hands meeting on July 31st that a first-time customer had an issue with a delivery. This customer took to Facebook and complained -- not only about the delayed delivery, but also that she was unable to get in touch with anyone in her time of need.

Before the Zappos team had returned to their posts, another customer came to Zappos' defense and responded to the negative comment. This loyal customer asked the first-time customer to not be disappointed in Zappos, assured her that her issue would be resolved as soon as a representative was available, and sang Zappos' customer services praises. If that isn't a brand advocate, I don't know what is.

Social media is both a blessing and a curse; it never sleeps -- meaning neither can a brand. However, if used strategically and carefully, it can provide a great way to connect with customers and promote a brand. As the holiday season approaches, brands do not need to fear the social airwaves. Rather, they should recognize these customer interactions as an opportunity to turn tart cranberries into sweet sauce.


Ann Ruckstuhl is SVP and CMO of LiveOps.


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