Social media provides great opportunities for brands to connect marketing messages with its key audiences. That, combined with continually more sophisticated advertising on social media platforms, has created a unique marketing channel that favors engagement and conversation versus one-way communications.
Social media has forever changed customer service through the following four ways:
A Once Private Interaction Has Gone Public
Gone are the days when a customer service interaction was always a one-on-one interaction. Online support forums changed this a few years ago, but social media takes this type of multi-directional conversation to a new level. According to an article earlier this year in Mashable, 62 percent of consumers have already engaged in a customer service transaction using social media. There are both challenges and opportunities here.
The primary challenge is that customers are now sharing their problems, product defects, and other complaints in a completely public forum, and this is a challenge for brands that are pushing out marketing messaging alongside customers’ comments. However, brands have the opportunity here to demonstrate how responsive, empathetic and truly helpful they can be. What better way to make a positive impression on potential customers by showing you are proactive and take care of your customers in real time, publically?
Customers Choose Their Channel
According to a study by Genesys on Forbes.com, over half of Fortune 500 companies are not using social media for customer service, and as many as 27 percent don’t even link to its Twitter or Facebook profiles from the corporate websites. This is a serious problem, especially when consumers are increasingly choosing social media as their primary way to interact with companies. Brands who choose not to be part of this conversation will suffer a lack of control over customer support, and they’re clearly opting out of the solution process.
What do you do if you don’t want to handle customer service on social media? Unless you are one of the big brands that have chosen not to be on social media, make it clear on your marketing-focused profiles that you have other channels for customer service, and make sure you respond if a customer poses a question or problem on your company profile.
Organizations Must Be Nimble
The current way that many organizations are structured needs to change. Smaller organizations can be more nimble, but a larger organization whose marketing, public relations and customer services are spread across different departments, locations and even supporting agencies can have a difficult time adapting to the demands that a public customer service channel, such as Twitter or Facebook, can create.
One thing to keep in mind here is that the same type of response and interaction that works well in a one-on-one environment, such as a call center, is not necessarily what works best in a public-facing environment such as social media. There is a public relations aspect to these open communications that might best be handled by someone (or a team) that is used to handling situations watched and followed by people.
This means that the same types of responses that a call center gives might need to be tweaked a bit for your social media channels. It also means that a new hybrid PR/customer service role is needed in this age of customer service on social media. To start, make sure that all departments, roles and agencies that are tasked with managing your social media presences are on the same page about where, when and how to respond to customer service requests.
Customers Can Help Each Other on Social Media
Online forums have provided a way for customers to interact with each other about their problems and challenges for a while now, but social media provides a new spin on this type of interaction.
Interactions on social media take place where consumers spend their time for personal reasons, and thus their conversations with brands are shared with friends and family. This adds an important dimension to the type of help one can get. Instead of anonymous, or unknown users on an online forum, if you post a question or problem on a brand’s Facebook page, your friend or colleague can see your post and respond to you with advice. This enables you to get advice from a trusted source, as well as the people who you don’t already know that are less anonymous than the users that have generally inhabited message boards and forums due to the nature of social media profiles.
Brands benefit from this because they provide a public forum where all can give help. Brands can jump in when they need to, but can also let other fans, friends and users advise each other, thus demonstrating that there is a supportive community around their company or product.
Whether you like it or not, there is no going back to the old ways and silos of teams and information. While customer service on social media presents some challenges, I hope you see that there are just as many benefits when you do it the right way.
For more thoughts on the convergence of customer service, public relations and marketing on social media, take a look at Carousel30’s white paper on the subject.