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Attracting new customers—and keeping them—has always been an essential part of maintaining any successful business. Growth with new people engaging in a product or service is always good, but what's even better is when they come and then decide to stay. And with repeat business, they might even bring others to the fold by being an advocate for your products or services.
In our 20/20 Vision: A Marketing Leader's View of Digital's Future report, we interviewed 200+ global marketing leaders to find out what they thought the future held for digital marketing. From this research, we discovered 61% of the organizations interviewed believe social customer service is one of the top 5 technologies for digital strategy by 2020.
For many companies, this type of customer acquisition and care has always been a more abstract concept. Businesses knew they wanted to do it, but aside from truisms like "the customer is always right," it was hard to know exactly how to encourage a deeper level of customer loyalty. Smaller, local business reps have an easier time achieving this because they meet customers face to face and establish relationships. But how can larger businesses achieve the same goal when they appear, based on size, less personal and approachable?
The Social Media Revolution
One thing that has never changed in the world of customer sentiment is that word of mouth is a powerful and effective sales technique. When someone has a good experience with a product or service and shares, sincerely, their enthusiasm and trust, then people who know and trust that person are far more likely to also engage with the same product or service. It's a simple concept: people trust people they know. So winning over people—sometimes even well-known, influential people—can work wonders for public relations and attracting new customers.
In the 21st century, big businesses found a way to mimic this more personal, word-of-mouth marketing on a global level through the advent of social media. At first, social media was used, unsurprisingly, to connect people to each other. Now, of course, businesses can use social media as a very useful channel for marketing.
But beyond that, there’s a new, much more interesting application for the use of social media, and that’s as a channel for customer service.
How Social Customer Service Works
Social customer service, as it is now being called, seems like a terrifying prospect to many businesses on the surface. It works pretty much as it sounds: you have a customer service staff member dealing with customer concerns on social media. That may be on Facebook or Twitter, but the key here is that the actual customer to staff member exchange is visible for everyone to see, due to the public nature of social media discourse.
For many businesses, this seems like a risky, even foolhardy undertaking. Of course, usually, when people talk to customer service, it is because of a concern or a problem they have that they would like addressed. Many businesses fear that a bad or poorly received public exchange could turn public opinion against the company, and they will lose customers.
However, the opposite scenario is also true and has massive potential. If a digital customer service employee deftly handles an issue on social media and generates positive customer sentiment, you can gain new customers and garner more interest in your brand.
Why It’s Gaining Popularity
The key characteristic here, as it is with any good social media, is engagement. While it’s true that customer service can engage just as much on a chat window in the website, people feel more at ease in a "public setting" like social media, where everyone can see the exchange. Having the "voice" of a company publicly engaging with an individual customer can gain traction and will earn respect.
It also means that more people can react to social customer service because they can see it, and, as social media intends, respond to it. So, when a customer is particularly happy with a social customer service exchange, the gratitude expressed is public, and the entire exchange can be reposted or "re-Tweeted," depending on the platform, and many others can share and respond to it.
Who’s Making It Work?
Not every business has considered implementing social customer service, and even of the ones that do, not everyone succeeds. But which are the ones that are thriving? There are some not very surprising big names in this list, but the reason they are succeeding is not necessarily because they have access to a bigger budget for staffing, but because these companies had the trust and willingness to innovate, which allowed them to take chances with how they handled customer sentiment in a digital setting.
The most successful coffee company on the planet has earned a reputation for being for being modern and hip, and this applies to their customer service. They were one of the first companies to see the potential in social customer service and take it seriously. Starbucks on Twitter, for example, is very fast and responsive when customers come to them with concerns.
They rarely let responses to legitimate queries linger for hours—let alone ignore them—and it is because of that responsiveness and attentiveness that Starbucks on social media quickly gained a positive reputation. That resulted in many followers, more likes, “re-tweets” and, perhaps most important of all, people willing to follow the social media channel and engage with additional marketing and promotion.
While Netflix may have brought about the death of physical, brick and mortar video rental stores, they have also set new standards in social customer care. Like Starbucks, Netflix is often attentive and responsive when people come to them with queries and concerns.
However, where Netflix has really distinguished its social customer care strategy is in allowing its social media staff to have a bit of fun and engage in humour. Social media itself is popular for sharing jokes, memes, and other bits of micro-entertainment. So when Netflix's social media accounts reply with something funny, clever, or witty, people re-Tweet it, re-share it, and otherwise make it proliferate, thus building up more awareness of Netflix's responsive customer care, and making the company appeal even more to those who appreciate a sense of humour.
This massive shoe company is one of the most successful at marketing, and part of this is parlayed into their social customer care. Nike knows that when they deal with a customer on Twitter, the world is watching, and they act it like it.
They are always responsive, available 24/7 for the world to see, and they are always supportive. Even when a customer admits to making an error on their part, Nike customer service is still patient, never assigns blame, and is ready to continue helping. It's made a significant impact on their social customer care that the people who they engage with never feel insulted, disrespected, or catered too quickly and impersonally in order to make them go away.
Making It Work for You
For social customer care to be effective, there are a few things that you need to be willing to commit to in order to get the most out of it. Much of this is going to be dependent on the type of business you have, and of course, your budgetary limitations, but these are good starting points.
Know Your Demographic
Are your customers Generation X and Baby Boomers, and thus more prone to sticking to Facebook? Are your customers primarily on Twitter? Are you going for a much younger demographic that has moved away from both and is busying posting photos on Instagram? For your social media customer service to gain traction, it's got to be seen where your customers actually are. So get the data that gives you this information.
We're talking about social customer service. So that means that not only should you be prompt and responsive, the way people expect this service to be, but you should also not be strictly business. When customers have concerns, notice them and be supportive. And when customers give compliments, announce news related to your business, or even just drop a line "to say hi," acknowledge them as well. If you're not being social on social media, you're not getting the point.
The other important quality that social customer care requires is sincerity and humanness. If you insist that your social media staff “stick to the script” and always come off as stilted, impersonal, and unapproachable, you’re going to lose interest and followers fast. But if you allow your staff to interact with customers in less formal, more natural and comfortable ways, this is going to reflect well on you and your business. People will start treating your social media account as a person, rather than a corporate mouthpiece.
While the best social customer service strategies appear spontaneous, natural and spur of the moment, that's only because a lot of planning went on behind the scenes. Companies don't impulsively create a customer- centric social media philosophy that is responsive, friendly, and attentive. These things take time and care, and if you want your own social customer service initiatives to gain similar traction, you have to be willing to put in the time and resources to cultivate your brand's voice, dedicated staff, and loyal following.