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Customer Service through ‘Social Media’

29th September 2011

Is Social Media a viable route to customer service? If so, how is it actually done? How do you use it to grow your customer base and make sure they come away with a favourable impression of your brand? Where is the best place to start and how do you get a foot on the ladder?

Many organisations are still floundering at the foothills of the social media landscape and just as many are bravely venturing forth but without much of a clue. So it seems like a good time to have a look at a few of the obvious pitfalls and how to avoid them and proffer a few tips on how to get it right.

So… everyone is doing it, your competitors are doing it, even your Nan probably has a Facebook and Twitter account by now and yet your organisation is reluctant to put a toe in the water. You are probably concerned about missing the boat and losing out on business opportunities if you don’t get up to speed, but you’re still understandably nervous.

Have you really got the time or resources to invest in social media? Is it a fad? How can you be sure it will have a positive effect on your business? What are the implications for getting it wrong? How do we control what’s being said about us and stop the negatives from travelling faster than the positives?

Well, we can safely say that it is probably not a fad. 78% of the UK online population use social networks to share and pass on information. The platforms and devices may change but the trend for directly communicating with customers in digital social spaces is unlikely to go away. We can’t control what’s being said about us but we can listen carefully to what’s being said and act on it and we can do a great deal to turn a negative viral chain into a positive one.

We have put together a few helpful dos and don’ts to consider, to help you win followers and influence the influencers, before you take your first steps into the murky waters of the social stream.

Social Media Fails

DON’T announce your presence with a big fanfare and then disappear offstage

By opening an account on a social media platform, you are starting a conversation with your customers. It would be pretty rude to walk off mid-chat if you’d just introduced yourself to someone in the pub. The effect is about the same.

DON’T bombard your followers with hard sell links to your website or services

This is an easy way to bore people away. They’re following you, so they are probably already interested in your services, your organisation or what you do. You need to find more original ways to engage them.

DON’T litter your feed with personal and off-topic messages

A human face is a positive, but incessant personal natter will chase your customers away.

DON’T fail to respond to inquiries or complaints

You will appear horribly rude. This is the equivalent of blanking someone you know in the street and will not win you friends.

DON’T get embroiled in negative discussions in public

If someone makes a jibe or an accusation about the company, respond quickly within the feed offering a phone call or offline conversation. Solve the customer’s problem efficiently and send them away happy. A social media chat is not a substitute for good old fashioned customer service. Don’t get into a ‘you said’, ‘we said’ dialogue on your feed. Your customer is still more likely to report a bad experience than a good one and news travels faster than ever on Social Media.

DON’T outsource your twitter account to a third party

By all means get some strategic help in writing for social media, but your audience is savvy to corporate trickery. Be honest and straightforward and your customers will appreciate it.

DON’T send ‘broadcast’ messages

Social Media is a narrow-cast medium. You are talking to a diverse range of individuals, not writing a press release. Make sure your messages are relevant, natural, conversational and personal.

DON’T be afraid to engage in a discussion

But do remember that if you can’t say anything nice, it’s probably better to say nothing at all. Have opinions, by all means. Be interesting or even controversial, but keep it light, humorous and polite.

DON’T launch straight into attempting a viral app until you’ve got your basics straight

A viral campaign needs careful planning. Who is it for, what does it need to achieve and how it will achieve it? Make sure you have the answers before you jump in.

DON’T be more concerned with quantity than quality

Don’t get hung up on the number of followers or Facebook ‘likes’ you add each month. Look for ways to measure the improvement in the quality of your relationship with your customers.

Social Media Wins

DO listen before you speak

Plan to spend some valuable time understanding who is talking about you, where those conversations are taking place and what people are saying.

DO look around at all the options

There’s no point standing in the Fox and Hounds with a sign saying ‘free beer’ if all your customers frequent the Dog and Duck. Consider the merits of other platforms apart from Twitter and Facebook. Make sure you know where your customers like to hang out and then hang out there. Think of it as dating.

DO involve your staff

Get internal buy-in before you launch. You will be much more successful if your staff engages with your business account in a natural and positive way. Your team are your best asset for social engagement, so make the most of them.

DO plan your presence carefully

Is one account enough or will you need different accounts for different groups of people or different areas of the business? Who will manage these? The last thing you need is fifteen un-managed accounts littering up the internet with nobody to monitor or update them.

DO plan resources

Make sure you have resource set aside from the right people to monitor and engage with your users and fans.

DO work on tracking

Think in advance about tracking. How can you measure your ROI into social media and what impact might this have on your business?

DO track down your key influencers

Who are the people who are talking about you the most – what are their other interests and how can you be interesting and relevant to them? These are the guys who will send your viral stuff stratospheric, if you look after them.

DO follow your followers

It’s nice to be nice, it’s considered polite to return a favour, and this way you’ll find out what makes them tick.

DO monitor and update regularly

Make sure someone is monitoring the feed daily, and that you are updating your feed at least once every couple of days.

DO fine tune

Use what you’ve learned to fine-tune your social presence. Now you’ve really got to know your audience, you’ll know what they expect from you. Deliver on this and you will gain and delight a loyal following

Should we jump in?

Hopefully that’s covered off a few of the basics and given some food for thought as to how to approach your interactions and how to keep people tuned in to your stream.

Just in case you’re still asking yourself whether social media is something you need to get involved in, here is a quick checklist to make sure you’re doing it for the right reasons.

Ask yourself if any of the reasons described below resonate with the way your organisation is currently thinking. If the answer is Yes to any of the below then you should certainly be pulling your social media strategy together and planning your spend. If not, there’s probably still some homework to do before you get going.

I want to take advantage of the opportunity for some free marketing.

It is a fallacy that social media is free. You’ll need to invest time, money and resources to get results. Recent figures from the US suggest that you need to be thinking about dedicating up to 30% of your marketing budget to Social Media strategy to keep up with the increase in usage. Good reason to get started?      NO.

Everyone else is doing it.

This is not a good enough reason on its own. Why do you want to do it? What can it bring to your business? How can you make sure it delivers? Do you have a business problem that social media engagement can solve? Good reason to get started?      NO.

I want to learn more about my customers.

Arguably there are few better ways to learn about your customers than by talking to them directly. Social media allows this dialogue like no other medium available, and it’s instant. Good reason to get started?      YES!

I want to give my customers better customer service by being where they are.

Great! You’ll probably do a great job. The fact that you are already committed to providing great customer service means it shouldn’t be too hard to translate this to social media. You probably already understand a lot about your customers and want to engage with them directly. Good reason to get started?      YES!

I don’t want people to say horrible things about us on the internet.

This goose is already loose. The conversations are already taking place, whether you’re listening or not. Can you really afford not to get involved? Good reason to get started?      YES!

OK so it’s a slightly crass format but the serious point is how important it is to define your objectives before wading in. Jumping on the bandwagon because it’s the latest buzz is unlikely to return results to boast about. Make sure your strategic goals are well defined and you can ensure you stay ahead of the social media game.

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Usability and general user experience botherer at Reading Room Manchester.

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