Social media is more than technology that helps us connect with friends and family. It provides a powerful platform for audiences to connect with brands and get help when they have questions, issues and concerns.
As the accessibility and ubiquity of technology has changed, so too has our decision making and buying behaviour. According to BrightLocal’s annual Consumer Review Survey, 91 per cent of 18 to 34 year old consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations.
We make decisions like what we eat, where we sleep and things we buy based on this information.
These changing consumer behaviours have huge implications on how organizations need to adapt. Marketing and customer service can no longer be treated as siloed activities – they need to work closer than ever to ensure they are aligned around the customers needs.
Not only do users read other people’s reviews, 89 per cent of respondents to the BrightLocal’s survey also said they read businesses’ response to reviews. When one review can make or break you, gone are the days when brands could ignore what is being said about them online. Being disconnected is no longer an option for any organization.
When audiences use social media to raise a concern, it’s often because we have already failed to assist them through conventional channels.
This is where a detailed social media community management plan comes into play. Keep in mind that a community management plan isn’t just for consumer-centric businesses. At its core, customer service is a reputation management exercise. Any organization that has a reputation to manage (i.e. all of them) should have a plan in place on how they will respond when their target audience comes a calling.
Like the development of any good plan, the first step should be research. Running an audit of your current customer service activities is a great way to understand where and how your target audience has been trying to reach you.
A few of the questions you should consider as part of the audit process include:
- Are people already using your established support channels (social, website, email, phone)?
- Are there online conversations happening about your organization in places where you aren’t currently active?
- Are there trends in the types of comments you are receiving, both positive and negative?
- Are your internal processes for handling inbound comments effective? What are the roadblocks in responding to these messages (time, approvals, don’t know the answer, etc.)?
Once you have gathered your insights, you can develop a plan that will ensure you can effectively engage with your online audience.
At a minimum, this plan should cover the three M’s: Management, Messaging and Measurement.
The most critical part of customer service on social media is having a system that tracks, mentions/tags, comments and replies on a consistent basis. This system will allow you to respond promptly and help your audience understand that you care and are monitoring to help them.
Categorizing/tagging comments into positive and negative is probably the most basic way to track and get a general sense of the comments out there. If you want to take it to the next level, building a comprehensive tagging system into your plan will allow you to show trends over time, and analyze how specific events, posts and other factors are influencing your audience’s opinion.
While patience may be a virtue, it is often in short supply when dealing with customer service related issues. Having pre-approved messages/responses ready will cut down the time it takes to get your audience the information they need.
Some common practices when responding are to be open and truthful, always respond positively, never dismiss how your audiences feels, and set expectations if you don’t have an answer at your fingertips.
In this day and age, you’ll also notice many comments which are off topic. This could be because someone is bored, lost on the wrong channel, not comprehending the context of someone else’s commentary or maliciously posting comments. You need to plan for when to address these comments, when to ignore them and when to take the conversation offline.
Finally, it’s essential to track and report your customer service efforts. Create a service feedback survey or audience satisfaction survey to offer at the end of each engagement to ensure you are identifying areas for improvement.
Tracking and listening to audience feedback, both positive and negative, can provide valuable insights for your organization on larger systemic issues, opportunities for new products/services, and can help build brand loyalty.