Of the estimated 3.2 billion internet users out there, approximately 2.3 billion are active social media users. In a little over ten years, the social networking revolution has changed the way we work, the way we document our lives, and even the way that we fall in love.
Despite a few stumbles in the beginning of the transformation, it didn’t take brands long to realize that social media would also change the way that people experienced marketing. The result was a gold rush as every company out there competed to build a huge following online, creating a virtual store front and trying to generate real human interaction in what is essentially an age of detachment.
However, as much social media offers businesses a way to push their message, it’s a two-way street – customer complaints are seen by prospective customers and can easily damage the reputation of a business if they’re not addressed.
To ensure that this doesn’t happen, most businesses now use their social media channels as customer support lines, providing real-time responses, advice, and service in the digital world to keep their customers happy in the online space.
However, as with most business outputs, some brands seem to have the art of social customer support down, while others seem to struggle –we’ve all seen brands fail on social media. So what is classified as great social media customer support and what can you do to make sure your brand handles queries and complaints correctly?
Diffuse the situation
Social media users are often prone to getting really worked up. Because these websites are public forums, users often use them as soap boxes to voice their opinions for anyone who will listen. Whether people are complaining about a worm in their salad or simply bad service, many brands take a creative approach to diffusing the situation.
By speaking to the user in an authentic way – remember, you’re dealing with real people – and not using a generic redirect, you can calm the situation down and address the real issue. Your audience will see this happen and you can turn the aggravated party into a brand advocate.
Try an Apology
What most people are looking for when they start kicking up a stink about something a brand has done is an apology. Too many brands offer a generic response – “We’re so sorry to hear about this, please DM your details” – instead of taking ownership of the situation and issuing a heartfelt apology (provided the brand is actually at fault).
Worryingly, the rise of messenger bots suggests that apologies from an actual person with a passion for the business are going to be less likely. Don’t be the corporate giant who doesn’t have time to send a written letter of apology. Take ownership and fix the problem.
Calling Out Liars
Trolling is a huge problem on social media, and many people push brand’s buttons to try and get free stuff or simply smear a brand’s name. Brave brands are ready for this, and build a rapport with their audience. By creating banter, your brand also has scope to call out trolls and rebound false attacks or misinformation.
Be careful though – this is a particularly risky place to play in if you handle it in the wrong way. Think James Blunt’s Twitter account, not simple digital bullying.
Be the Brand
It sounds like a cheap business seminar cliché, but the easiest way to handle customer support in the social media space is to take criticism personally. There’s really nothing different between a customer complaining online and in your actual store; if anything, more people are exposed to social media complaints. Respond quickly, honestly, and personally because this kind of interaction is the way people see and perceive your brand.
Your social community managers are your front line in fighting your ORM (Online Reputation Management) battle, and it’s important that they live, breathe, and defend your brand. Reward them for what they do well and train them in your brand’s voice, because they are your brand.
Social media is a powerful business tool, but it’s not a precise science. People make mistakes and brands get it wrong, but remember that things blow over – it’s an indecisive crowd. As much as your social pages are a window into your business approach, it’s highly unlikely that social media is all there is to your business. Do what you can to follow the best practice guidelines for social customer support, commit to your fans, and make sure you’ve got a plan to help customers get what they’re after.
About the Author
I am a regular writer for Forbes, Inc., Huffington Post, Entrepreneur Media (among others), as well as CEO and Chairman of Alumnify Inc. Proud alum from 500 Startups and The University of San Diego. Follow me on Twitter @ajalumnify