Getting in touch with customer service isn’t exactly at the top of my to-do list. Most of the time it means there’s some kind of problem, or worse, I can’t figure something out on my own. While I am a die-hard fan of hold music (“soft piano riff – 10 hour version” is my favorite), I’ve got better things to do with my day, like DM Wendy’s and hope they’ll roast me on Twitter. The point is, contacting customer service has never been the most streamlined or ideal process. So what’s the alternative? Sheepishly accepting the wrong order? Asking for help in person? Absolutely not.
The real alternative is social media. In the same way that it’s become a real alternative for an actual social life, social media is rapidly evolving to account for the sheer volume of users interacting, and one area of growth is customer service. Companies have taken notice of this shift and started to climb on board by offering customer service and significantly more active social accounts, all for the sake of interacting with the massive user base spread across social media channels.
But is that effective? Are people really out here asking McDonald’s why the ice cream machine is always broke? They super are. In fact, over 40% of people shopping online use social media to check out new brands and products, with even more regularly interacting with social and customer service accounts. If you’ve ever stepped foot into the cesspit of comments on YouTube or Twitter, there’s a 100% that you’ve seen the complaints people have. I didn’t even make that stat up. Go read a Twitter feed right now. Either way, people are definitely here for that customer service life on social media.
For the People
So what gets everyone hot and bothered about @ing their local major corporation? As it turns out, social media is actually an incredibly effective customer service method. Most users are familiar with the instant responses and the always-on nature of socials, and when it comes to companies they expect the same quick turnaround on responses to complaints.
That expectation, when met, can be an incredible opportunity for businesses to build a positive relationship with their customers. In a more general sense, it’s that relationship building that makes social media such an attractive way of interfacing with a company. People like interacting with a real person – it suggests authenticity, and while quality and cost will typically be the main draw for most consumers, company ethics and social appeal are becoming more of a concern.
We see it a lot with companies moving towards green initiatives, making socially conscious statements, and taking a more vocal role in social exchanges. That’s not to say that businesses aren’t legitimately invested in these movements, but building out that social appeal and broadcasting it on social media is a perfect chance for them to show their audience a more human element.
For the Brands
When it comes to brand benefit, it might not be as straightforward. Happy customers regularly interacting with your business and brand is great, but it also opens you up to a lot of criticism. One bad tweet or an off-key post might lead to a whole fraction of social media users dropping support for the company. So how does a brand maximize the effect of customer service on social media? And how do businesses really benefit from staying in touch?
Not unlike naive mermaids, sometimes a company has to find its voice. Wearing seashells and being quirky isn’t enough, either. Brand voice is all about presenting a solid, unified face across all interactions. That means all social media channels and social interactions should be representative of the company face.
This one is hard to balance because you still have to provide quality service for people looking for it, but you also want to have the flexibility to engage in publicity friendly content. Starbucks and Nike are already well known for their outstanding online support, and a majority of their tweets stay relevant to their individual services, while companies like MoonPie and Wendy’s are known for their quips, quick wit, and odd humor.
In each instance, the company has established how their social media managers and company interact with people online. Not only does that establish a degree of consistency, which projects a level of consistency across the whole company, but it offers them a chance to market effectively to a huge audience. Brand recognition, regular interaction, and an easily identifiable ‘persona’ are all aspects of a successful presence on social media.
Be “Always On”
Like I said earlier, most people trying to reach customer service have a problem. If they’re anything like me, that inconvenience is literally never minor and every second it goes unresolved is akin to dying a thousand deaths. That means people typically want their problems solved right away, and with call centers or email, the process was usually a lengthy one.
With social media, companies can respond in real time and on a much faster basis than the older customer service systems. However, that demands a dedicated social media team that can function as both customer support and socials management. Microsoft realized this and implemented a system specifically to address the bandwidth of social media interaction.
The risk is that companies who don’t respond to social media posts can alienate their audience. In the same way that people like talking to a real human, making consumers feel ignored or feel like their inquiries aren’t being answered can have a negative impact on brand reputation.
Save Time and Money
Looking forward, the important aspect here isn’t to completely overturn the previous systems. It’s more about integrating the new with the old. Instead of relying fully on call centers or Twitter DMs, there’s got to be a happy medium. Finding that good space can increase the amount of customer interactions you have, and hopefully increase the number and pace of successfully resolved problems.
By combining the efforts of both social media customer service and more traditional customer service, you can streamline the entire process. For example, if someone comes to social media for an easy answer, a company can answer and resolve an issue in five minutes. It’s quick for the business, it’s fast for the customer, and everyone is happy. But more complicated issues might not be so easy to resolve without a phone call or more extensive conversation, so in those cases you’d still have to fall back on things like call centers.
At the end of the day, how you interact with customers can make or break your business. Without having a monopoly or some niche product, there’s almost always an alternative brand or product. Cultivating a solid relationship with your consumer base, being on social media and interaction regularly, and consistently providing top quality customer service is key. The future is now, old man.