Jul 25, 2016

Social Media is a Customer Service Channel - Whether You Like It Or Not

A few months ago I was beside myself with excitement over a new liquid lipstick I had ordered. My friend had been gushing about both the company and the product and I was itching to try it out. Once I swiped it on my lips, I was completely sold. Not only did the lipstick not budge (even when vigorously wiped), it was cruelty free and vegan.

I knew I was in for the long haul.

I picked my favorites, planned out how many I would buy per pay check, and started saving money. I also posted a picture of myself on Instagram wearing the shade I owned. Little did I know that would start the ball rolling on one of the weirdest social media experiences I’ve ever had.

The owner of the company (who runs the social media accounts) shared my photo on Instagram, and engaged with me on Twitter. I followed her on both as a way to continue my support of the company.

And then, as so often happens, a customer voiced a valid concern. And all hell broke loose.

Social media IS a customer service channel

Far more than a place to connect with friends and family, social media also provides a platform for potential and existing customers to reach out to brands and seek help when they have queries, issues or concerns. Customer experience management company, Market Force, explains:

“The emergence of social media has given consumers a whole new way to interact with the brands they love — and a forum to complain when brands disappoint. But what many companies have learned is just how powerful connecting one-on-one with customers can be when those consumers take the time to post.”

In other words, if a customer makes the effort to contact you by means of social media, they expect a response. Treat them well, and you’ll have their loyalty. If you ignore them, or treat them badly, you may find yourself dealing with a PR crisis.

In the case of the cosmetics company I was following, the problem came in the shape of extra fees upon arrival of the product.

Social media IS a customer service channel | Social Media is a Customer Service Channel - Whether You Like It Or Not

The rather tongue-in-cheek reply from the company referred to the following statement on their Customer Care page:

“We are not responsible for fees relating to importing goods to your country.”

Since the customer was in the UK, and the company in the US, the owner jumped to the conclusion that the customer was confused about customs fees. The customer replied that she was not referring customs fees, but rather a notification that the seller had not paid enough shipping. She also pointed out that she didn’t appreciate the owner’s tone.

This is when things took a downward turn.

What should you do when a customer complains on social media?

When customers use social media to complain, it’s often because a company has already failed to assist them through conventional customer service channels. Generally speaking, at this point in the process they’re also incredibly frustrated. Provoking them further is inadvisable.

The complainant in this situation had indeed been trying to contact customer service, but received no response. Unfortunately, the owner of the cosmetic company did not respond well to her customer’s response regarding shipping fees.

What should you do when a customer complains on social media? | Social Media is a Customer Service Channel - Whether You Like It Or Not

When angry consumers turn to social media to vent, current and potential customers are watching. They weigh up your response to the complaint and how you treat the customer along with other factors such as price and quality. If you mistreat the person complaining, your customers are likely to switch their allegiance to a competitor. Even if it means paying more, they’ll do it for better customer experience.

As the owner tweeted her meltdown, replies began to pour in, including a couple from me.

Even when you feel that you’re not to blame for the problem, it’s best to apologize and provide a solution promptly. If you cannot provide an immediate solution, ensure the customer that you are working on it and follow up as soon as you have an answer. It’s also a good idea to point the complainant to a phone number or email address where they can reach you directly. This makes it easier to communicate, and keeps members of the social media community from interjecting.

You don't want to fail your customers

Before social media existed, consumers might have shared a poor customer service experience with a few family members, close friends, and co-workers. However, once Twitter and Facebook became prevalent platforms, angry customers gained the ability to broadcast tales of terrible customer service to an almost infinite audience.

The statistics tell a story of their own, and as a business, it's one that you want to be on the right side of.

●89% of consumers began doing business with a competitor following a poor customer experience. (Oracle)

●45% of consumers share bad customer service experiences via social media. (Dimensional Research )

●88% of people trust online reviews written by other consumers as much as they trust recommendations from personal contacts. (BrightLocal)

●Consumers are 71% more likely to make a purchase based on social media referrals (Hubspot)

●When companies engage and respond to customer service requests over social media, those customers end up spending 20% to 40% more with the company. (Bain & Company)

Because of digital tools and channels, our customers have more power and influence than they ever have before. If you fail to treat social media as more than just a promotional platform, you could find yourself in a world of hurt. Keep your customers happy by engaging with them as quickly and often as possible — and if you’re angry or irritated, resist the temptation to go on an escalating Twitter rant. You don’t want to end up seeing this in your feed:

You don't want to fail your customers | Social Media is a Customer Service Channel - Whether You Like It Or Not

About the author: Liz Greene

Liz Greene is a writer, marketing professional, and history geek from the beautiful City of Trees, Boise, Idaho. You can follow her on Twitter @LizVGreene or catch her latest misadventures on her blog, Instant Lo.

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