Bad customer service infects like a virus. The snide answer creates a ripple effect, spreading its snark in a wide circle, affecting everything it touches. After all, aren’t we all more comfortable complaining than bragging?
No matter the size of your business, you will provide customer service on social media at some point.
It’s frustrating when you’re on the front lines dealing with an issue that isn’t your fault. Answering the same question in a thousand variations a million times. Trying to mitigate the potential of lost sales. That doesn’t make it okay to be lazy, rude, or, the worst, uncaring.
I’m not saying it’s okay for the customer to be rude either, but the only person you can control is yourself. Therefore, it’s up to you to take control of the way you provide virtual service.
Put these guidelines and boundaries in place to ensure you act with integrity and consideration:
1. Set expectations.
Try to answer all questions or complaints as promptly as possible. If you’re on social media to promote, it’s a reasonable expectation that you’re on social media to respond.
When will you be online?
If you’re an international company, you may be receiving customer service queries at all hours. If your target is local, when will the customers be using your product? If you’re a dinner delivery service, you can’t close down at 5pm.
Who will be answering your social media?
Set these expectations in advance, not only with your customer, but with your team. If you’re a small boutique agency, perhaps only the manager replies to complaints. If you have a dedicated customer service department, do they reply as the company or do they personalize their responses with their name or initials so the customer knows who they’re talking to?
Not only is Internet instant, those who grumble have paid to boost their complaining posts. Give that a few hours to go viral while you’re in a meeting… This is also where having a social media manager comes into play. If your nephew is taking care of your social media for you, does he have the wherewithal to withstand the backlash? It’s not a position that you want to put a summer student or intern into, either, unless they have this unique skill set.
2. Don’t post and dash.
This is the particular point that sparked this article. It’s horribly convenient to do this in Facebook groups – that doesn’t mean you should.
I recently posted a process reminder in a group for military families, created and managed by a federal service. Note, a reminder, not a complaint. The process is a bit convoluted and the last group discussion was two years ago. This group sees a fair bit of turnover, so I felt it valid to remind others how to prepare themselves. The federal service replied with a link to an article on why the process MUST remain convoluted but didn’t preface the link at all. Posted and dashed, without acknowledging me or the many commenters.
BOOM. The comment thread exploded. Vitriol was spattered and the federal service was left scrambling, fiercely trying to maintain a defensive position.
Another example comes from a Facebook group of entrepreneurs I participate in. Folks post looking for advice and assistance and reassurance. The group owner, already a very busy person, has recently taken over the group from a social media manager to save money. One beseeching soul recently posted, only to have the owner comment to a link to one of their paid programs. Nothing else. The message received – the path to your solution is through my bank account.
If this is the thousandth time you’ve answered a question, yes, post a link. Preface it with why you’re sharing the link, acknowledging that you’ve heard and understood the query. If it’s a helpful post, agree, and don’t forget to thank the poster for reaching out.
3. Don’t ask questions you don’t want the answer to. But answer questions when asked.
Customer feedback is the impetus that keeps our world turning. Ideally, we want to hear that we are amazing, our service is amazing, our product is amazing. We want to meet our customer’s needs. They’re a moving target, however. Thus, the need for feedback.
If you ask what your customer doesn’t like, they’ll tell you. Oh, will they tell you. Reframe your questions to provide feedback for improvement rather than focusing on the negative. And you run the risk of feeding the trolls.
Speaking of, starving the trolls doesn’t work either. There will be questions you’ll be able to copy and paste the answers to, yes. It’s not a substitute for real empathy, and it won’t help you out with crazy questions like “why did you fire my wife?” either.
4. Provide access to real people. And the right ones.
One of the biggest trends for 2017 is the rise of artificial intelligence. A plaintiff, however, is going to smell that inauthenticity a mile away, and it’s not going to make them your friend. My personal stance is that bots have no place in social media (see the American Airlines example here).
Additionally, while responding to the issue for all to see is important and knowing you take the time to respond is one of the facets that keeps customers loyal. Sometimes you need more than 140 characters to help. Sometimes, the customer needs to hear the empathy in your voice when seeing it in text just isn’t enough. Ensure you have a policy in place to know when to take it offline and who will handle that.
5. Don’t take it personally.
A customer generally understands this wasn’t your fault. You didn’t wreck their received product or service on purpose. The complaint is not a personal attack on you, either.
This is one of the benefits of a social media manager. They’re a bit removed from the process, believing in your product but they didn’t birth it. A social media manager has the training and awareness to handle virtual queries. They also have a bit of a thicker skin, developed in their experience online.
There are many, many times that virtual customer service has been done right. Lest you think that I’m just whinging, I’ve reached out to other social media managers for their best tips, too.
“Engage! So many companies post through schedulers they aren’t taking the time to engage with their customers/followers. Respond to comments every day (even if just a few at a time) Answer questions, be present. And have fun! It’s about being social not cramming your product and service down their throats all the time.”
Kristi Johnson, Accomplish Pro Virtual Assistant Services
“Everyone is an influencer …”
“For dealing with customer service via Social Media, brands need to remember to communicate honestly about products, services or messages. Don’t talk down to customers and Act with integrity at all times.”
“Be present every day. If you’re only ever on social to respond to a bad comment or review, it paints you as a defensive player. Be on offense as much as possible.”
Brittany Gray, beYOU Marketing
“Go with the two and out rule. if you cant solve the problem in 2 replies, take it to a DM and dont reply publicly any more. same goes for extremely angry/rude customers.”
“Always respond. Even if you don’t have a solution right then, if you’re repping a larger company or org you may not. But making that initial contact to let the person know you received their question and are working on their behalf and quickly speaks volumes. Then, of course, follow through!”
Amy Hughes, Parker Xavier Media
Is there any we missed that you’d add?