Although merchants struggle to quantify the direct impact on sales, by now there’s little doubt that social media can play a significant role in driving sales and sustaining loyalty. But while opening new outposts on the latest “hot” social networks may hold appeal for reaching coveted demographics, there’s one fundamental aspect of social media no merchant should overlook in 2016: customer service.
As we’ve argued in the past, customer service is crucial as a differentiator in a crowded marketplace — and social media is increasingly an important touchpoint shoppers use to address their customer service needs. Increasingly, more and more consumers are turning to popular social networks for direct communication with merchants. Some two-thirds of U.S. consumers have used social media to receive customer service assistance, according to JD Powers.
Furthermore, plenty of evidence exists to suggest that social media plays a significant role when interactions go awry and shoppers turn to the Internet to share their stores. Fully 39 percent of consumers say they’ve shared negative experiences with friends and family, and more than 1 in 10 have posted negative reviews on sites such as Yelp or critical comments on their own — or a brand’s — Facebook page. Merchants with robust social customer service teams in place can act quickly to respond before flames are fanned into a firestorm.
To cover the bases, then, merchants might be tempted to multiply service outposts across social networks. But consumers have steep expectations for speed and resolution when it comes to social service: for example, 42% of consumers expect a response to a social media support request within the hour, according to a survey by the Northridge Group.
So in order for merchants to deliver effective social service, it’s crucial to clearly set expectations for what their brands can deliver. By fulfilling or even exceeding those self-imposed benchmarks, brands can surprise and delight followers and engender loyalty.
First, manage expectations for “always on” service — and provide alternatives. Merchants who are unable to staff social channels 24/7/365 must clearly communicate that fact and back it up with alternative options. Among the best practices:
- List every available service option everywhere, with hours. Consumers should be able to access live chat, an “800” customer service number, email support, and other social support channels from every social media touchpoint. Hours of operation should be clearly stated up-front.
- Reinforce opening and closing times with status updates. Signing off for the night and saying “hello” each morning lets social followers know when staff are available to field their requests.
- Similarly, closures for holidays should be both messaged in advance as well as that day. Related customer service information about shipping deadlines and order processing delays should be proactively communicated.
- Proactively address common questions and concerns with prominent customer service information in the social environment. Whether via a content tab in Facebook or substantive status updates on Twitter, merchants should anticipate consumers’ needs and supply the information that most frequently slows the journey along the path to purchase. By offering this always-available option within the social environment, merchants give shoppers a convenient alternative to live support.
Kibo merchant Figi’s provides Facebook users with a searchable trove of customer service information, accessible via a prominent tab. A direct email link is also available from the customer service tab, while the “About” section of the left-hand column displays still further options.
Avoid dead ends by giving staff the tools they need.
The temptation to divert serious customer service issues to the call center may be strong — merchants are more familiar with the medium, and the interaction takes place out of the public limelight that is a social media stream. But just 24 percent of social customer service users who are directed to call or email actually continue the interaction, according to social media marketing firm ConverSocial — leading to frustration for the consumer and lost opportunities for merchants. Instead, merchants must commit fully to providing robust service on the social media platform by enabling resolution, not just response — and that means empowering social service reps to:
- Interact one-on-one with followers within the social environment. Reps should be able to initiate live chat on Facebook and use Twitter “at” replies and direct messages to continue conversations privately if need be. And they should be armed with protocols for when to do so, such as if the interaction requires sharing personally-identifiable information such as an order number or payment details.
- Provide continuity by accessing customer data from other systems. Social service reps should have access to order management and customer relationship management systems so they have a full understanding of shoppers’ past interactions with the company. By the same token, protocols should dictate which social media interactions should be logged as a “ticket” and the details of qualifying incidents should be accessible to call center reps and even store associates.
- Mollify customers with substantive incentives and discounts, such as free shipping, promo codes for future orders, and priority admission to store events.
- Access online product information and inventory from across the organization. Social service reps should be able to resolve product questions and provide detailed buying guidance without shunting shoppers to another touchpoint.
Here is an example of a company that empowers its social service reps with the tools above. Kibo merchant Beauty Brands responded to a customer inquiry on Twitter with precise product information, and followed through over a multi-day exchange.
Go the extra mile to exceed expectations.
To shift from crisis management mode to proactive service that satisfies consumers, merchants must go above and beyond. To bring their social service to the next level, merchants should:
- Monitor beyond the brand page. Employing “social listening” services that go beyond branded Facebook pages and explicit mentions in Tweets and Instagram posts can help merchants proactively address nascent issues before they become high-profile problems.
- Don’t forget to call out positive experiences. Even as they focus on swift resolution of problems, merchants should also ensure that they respond to those followers who take the time to relate a positive experience or to praise products or the brand as a whole.
For example, Kibo merchant Modell’s retweeted a mention and photo of thanks from the recipient of donated sporting goods bound for a school in Namibia. Not only does the original poster’s cause receive a “signal boost” within the Modell’s fan base, but the retailer’s good works are on full display for followers to endorse.
How are you using social service to meet and exceed customer expectations?