Customer Service Gets Social

Think customer service begins and ends with a 1-800 number? Welcome to the future, time traveler from the 1980s. Today’s retail customer service lives in the space that the customers do — social media. And just like the case for personal correspondence, there are right ways — not to mention very wrong ways — for retailers to interact on those platforms.

In today’s fast-paced, digitally connected world, customer feedback is delivered 140 characters at a time, on public display and fully available for all of a retailer’s shoppers — and potential shoppers — to find. The social media-ization of customer service has changed what it means to deliver a great experience and be responsive to customer needs, both integral parts of building long-term loyalty and generating word-of-mouth business. So, what are the new rules of delivering great customer service on social, and who is getting it right?

Swiftly advancing technologies have changed what it means to keep customers happy. The sufficiency of a 1-800 number went out the window not long after the rotary phone did; customers expect brands to be available and responsive to their needs nearly 24/7. Social media, in particular, has helped shape the new face of customer service. By giving customers, both happy and disgruntled, an immediate and very public forum to share their experiences, the stakes have been raised for getting customer service right.

While many industries have had to adjust to these new realities, eCommerce has taken a particularly hard hit in the arena of customer service. A recent Forrester study showed that 45 percent of U.S. shoppers will abandon an online transaction if their questions or concerns are not addressed quickly enough, while, even more shockingly, 91 percent of customers said they would leave after a bad customer service interaction and would not be willing do business with that company again.

Would customers stick to their guns in that regard? Probably not worth the gamble for retailers to bet against that outcome.

The situation has led many eCommerce brands to get interactive with their customer service support. Companies like Nike have taken their customer support to social media, along with approximately 99 percent of their retail counterparts, according to a survey from Simply Measured that tracked the social media performance of 100 of Interbrand’s top brands adopting the channel for customer service purposes. Another interesting fact the survey revealed was that of those brands, 30 percent (including the aforementioned Nike) have a dedicated customer service handle. This allows customer service conversations to stay somewhat out of view of the general social feed but allows customer support for a retail brand to be easily found with a simple search.

Of course, just having a social media handle for customer support isn’t enough. Brands have got to be willing to learn new tactics to get customer service right on social. Being responsive to feedback and requests for support via social is a good place to start. As consumers spend more time glued to connected devices, expectations around communication with brands have also changed. Customers now demand nearly 24/7 responsiveness to their needs if a brand wants to earn their loyalty. That same survey from Simply Measured showed the average response time for customer support on Twitter was 5.1 hours, with 10 percent of companies answering within an hour and 93 percent of companies answering within 48 hours. JetBlue is a standout in the airline industry for monitoring brand conversations and responding to travelers’ concerns.

When done right, this kind of active responsiveness is a great way for a brand to broadcast, loudly and clearly: “We hear you, and we care; how can we make this right?” It’s a tactic that could be a great differentiator when potential customers are deciding between one brand and another. Seeing positive customer support interactions on social media may very well be the deciding factor. Conversely, a survey conducted by Kissmetrics found that 88 percent of customers were less likely to buy from a company who leaves social media requests unanswered.

In a recent roundtable discussion conducted by Forbes, several top customer service professionals shared their insight and tips for nailing customer service via social media. Nearly all of them agreed that next to fast response time, responding to a customer on the channel they first contacted you on was a must. “Customers want you to meet them on the channel they are on,” said Sara Carter, head of customer success at Sparkcentral.

Her colleague, Bill Quiseng, customer service blogger and thought leader, added, “In other words, if someone text messages or Twitter DMs you, then don’t call them. In the response, ask their permission to switch channels.”

Fielding customer service requests via social media is also a great way to build loyalty among current customers but could also help to attract new customers as well. Word-of-mouth referrals are alive and well, both online and off, and despite a slew of new ways to connect potential customers with brands, referrals from trusted sources are still some of the strongest endorsements you can get for your brand. Positive customer service interactions via social media make it easy for friends or followers to view positive interactions as they’re happening. In the case of customer service done extremely well, social media makes it easy for a happy customer to go a step further and mention their great experience with their social network in a single click.

It seems that social channels have gotten the memo that this is how some of their biggest corporate clients are using the services. In recent years, tools for contacting followers and responding to messages have improved across Facebook and Twitter. In recent months, Facebook has opened up messaging for Pages, allowing admins to reach out to commenters via private message to resolve an issue out of view of the Page’s stream. And Twitter has lifted the 140-character limit on direct messages, allowing for private conversations to unfold in more detail.