Providing great social media customer service
Today’s customers expect excellent social media customer service from leading brands. Learn how to win buyers’ hearts on their favorite platforms.
Published December 9, 2019
Last updated November 9, 2021
What is social media customer service?
Over 60% of customers think solving an issue fast is the most important part of good support. That alone makes social media customer service invaluable because it’s another channel for near-instant chat.
Social media sites have evolved to be more than marketing and advertising platforms. Today, they’re also valid and important channels for consumers to get customer service, especially with the rise of conversational business.
Offering omnichannel support via social media can be a challenge for B2B and B2C companies, both large and small. Smaller companies may struggle with the manpower to keep up with customer requests. Large companies with high levels of engagement may find it hard to connect with every contact.
Either way, customer service expectations are rising every year, and your company needs to evolve to meet them.
Offer social media customer service where your customers are
One of the first challenges to providing great social customer service is deciding where to focus your time and resources.
For engagement to happen, your support team has to be available on your customers’ favorite platforms. For most companies, that means Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn. You might also have customers using Pinterest, YouTube, and Snapchat.
To feel out where your customers are, search social media for likes, tags, and mentions of your brand. Manual searches can be run by using Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram’s search bars. But if you really want to keep complete tabs on what customers are saying about your company online, consider investing in a social media monitoring tool. These platforms use complex algorithms to track every mention on your brand online to keep you on the frontlines.
If your audience isn't talking about you much, look for ways to include your business in relevant industry conversations. Try adding something of value to the conversation to increase engagement.
The consumer — not the business — wields the most power over a brand's image on social media. Neglecting conversations on sites like Facebook and Twitter can have staggering consequences. Convince & Convert reported that not answering a customer complaint on social media lowers consumer loyalty by 50%.
Know what buyers are saying on social media channels
Using social media monitoring tools to find your brand name mentioned online is one thing. But listening is equally important, from a support perspective.
Keep track of customer interactions with your brand on social media. Look at the information you've collected and consider the following.
- How many comments sound frustrated, like they were written after having a bad customer experience?
- How many comments are technical or account-specific questions?
- How many comments provide feedback, either positive or negative?
- How many of the posted questions can be answered using links to existing help content?
- How many brand mentions would benefit from a response?
- What time of day are your customers most active on social media?
Answering these questions helps you plan staffing, set up self-service options, and decide which issues need to be resolved offline.
Track and manage your customer support volume
Some companies will see a lot of “noise" on social media platforms, like mentions that don’t require a response. Their challenge is to sift through the clutter to prioritize comments that do need action. Other companies will find that most of the comments are direct requests for customer service.
Depending on the volume of customer comments and your staff size, you may want to use technology to help you. Certain customer service platforms can track social media inquiries and turn them into support tickets. This makes it easy to handle issues while still responding to customers on the platform where they reached out.
What an integrated, multi-channel customer service platform can provide is context. The more you can see about a customer's history, the better.
Are there open or past conversations with this customer? Who did they interact with, and what was the result? Have they had this same issue before? Have they already tried reaching support through other channels, or was social media their first line of defense? If agents already have this user data stored, they can reduce back-and-forth questioning.
Managing support volume effectively is critical for response times. And with social media, your customers expect you to respond as fast as their friends and family would.
To increase response time, you have to prioritize your customer contacts, so the most critical issues are addressed first.
Highest priority: Aim to resolve these issues right away.
- Technical or account-related questions
- Complaints from unhappy users
- Issues (or outages) that affect many users or raise a potential PR crisis
Second priority: These issues aren’t urgent, but they’re an opportunity to be proactive.
- Responding to general mentions of your products or services
- Thanking those who provided positive feedback
- Touching base with those who made comments about your brand or industry that weren't necessarily targeted at you or requiring a response
Manage your customer support volume through prioritization and using technology to streamline your process. Your agents— and, more importantly, your customers — will thank you.
Time is of the essence
It's worth restating: speed of response is critical.
Several studies have found that most people feel they deserve a response over social media within the same day. Our Customer Experience Trends Report 2020 found most customers on social media expect a business to respond in less than an hour. Of this group, 6% expect a response in under five minutes.
As a best practice, always respond immediately — or as quickly as possible. If you don’t staff live agents 24/7, one workaround is writing template responses. These automated messages are sent when a customer reaches out outside your normal operating hours, so they know you received their request.
Social customer care is care—period
How successful your social customer care will be depends on the quality of service you provide. Warning: you might want to pull out the kid gloves. Agent responses must be timely, accurate, sensitive, brief, and friendly — a tall order.
First, agents have to understand their customer's emotional state and mirror their feelings. If a customer seems happy, smiley faces or emojis might show friendliness and a willingness to help. If a customer is upset, on the other hand, a formal tone of empathy or apology might be needed.
“Oh no! That’s not what we like to hear! Are all the TVs out on the plane or is it just yours?”
[Once the passenger confirmed it was just his.]
“We always hate it when that happens. Send us a DM with your confirmation code to get you a credit for the non-working TV.”
In general, all tenets of excellent customer service apply to social media.
- Correctly identify the issue or problem.
- Provide links to additional information.
- Close the loop (even to a "thank you" comment or tweet).
- Include a personal touch, such as signing off with the agent's first name or initials.
- Be consistent across the organization with regard to tone and response time.
Remember the most important ingredient to customer care: the customer. Treating them with the same level of service you’d expect can go a long way to turning a frustrating situation into a great one.
Decide when to take an issue offline
Providing a public response to a question or complaint can go a long way.
But not every social media contact can be easily resolved in a single exchange (or in less than 280 characters). Customer service reps have to be skilled at deciding when to take a conversation from a public page to a private message or off social media altogether.
Agents should move a conversation out of the public’s view when:
- There are many back and forth replies, like when a customer needs to answer a series of questions.
- Sensitive personal data is required (email address, phone number, password, account or credit card number).
But how to do it? Sensitive information that can be quickly conveyed in writing may easily be sent in a private or direct message through the social media site.
@Customer My sincerest apologies! I would be happy to look into this for you. Can you please follow us and DM me with your order #? ^SB
@Customer So sorry for those emails! If you need help w/ your email settings, don't hesitate to LiveChat us [bit.ly/link] ^SB
@Customer Apologies for the inconvenience! I just reached out to you via Facebook Message. Be sure to check your "Other" folder. ^SB
Some examples of using Twitter to request information, suggest another channel, and move a conversation into a private message.
After an issue is resolved offline, return to the public channel and thank the customer for reaching out. This gives customers a chance to praise the support experience where other customers can see it.
Look for opportunities to “make lemonade”
A 2020 survey by Statista found that 33% of customers use social media to communicate their complaints to a brand. When this happens, everything depends on your response.
Receiving negative feedback is an opportunity. It’s an open invitation to fix your brand's image and, more importantly, your relationship with the customer. The customer must feel like they've been heard and that you're willing to do what it takes to make them happy.
Here are some other proactive ways customer service reps can engage customers when they’re potentially upset.
- Respond even when the user hasn't directly tweeted at you or asked for help. Answering brand mentions or comments that don't require a response, but might benefit from one, shows you're paying attention.
- Promote your customers by retweeting a happily resolved support interaction or by "liking" helpful interactions that occur between customers. It's kind of like giving your customers a hug.
- If feasible, follow up a resolved interaction with, "How is everything?"
One of the best payoffs for a support rep is when they’re able to take a negative situation and turn it into a positive one. Focusing on proactively managing frustrated customers is the key to making lemonade.
What not to do on social media platforms
Whatever the social channel, there are a few ways to (publicly!) stick your foot in your mouth. Avoid these at all costs.
- Don't neglect your customers. If you're going to provide customer service over social media, at minimum, every direct support question should be answered.
- Don't delete (or hide) comments or posts. The only exception is when comments are clearly spam or in violation of posted community guidelines. Deleting a customer's negative comment will only further enrage the customer and damage the relationship.
- Don't be defensive. Remember that the customer, even when angry, reached out to you. Thank them for bringing their issue to your attention, acknowledge their concern, and apologize for the inconvenience.
- Don't overwhelm your customers with too much information, whether you're posting articles from a knowledge base or a too-lengthy response. Try to focus on only answering their specific question. If the proper answer is a lot to explain or complicated, suggest you move the conversation off of social media.
- Don't reply or respond to every customer in the event of mass issues or outages. When many customers are affected by a single issue, it's best to provide only public status updates that will reach everyone.
Make sure your customer service team is all on the same page with these don’ts. Our Customer Experience Trends Report 2020 found that 50% of customers would switch to a competitor after just one bad support experience.
Take your customer support from acceptable to exceptional
Monitoring your company's social media pages and training your agents on how to use the platforms effectively can up your support game. The better you get at interacting with customers on social media, the more traffic you can expect there.
More on using social media for customer service
If you're looking for more advice on providing great customer service over social media, download these platform-specific tip sheets: