26 Tips for Adding Customer Service to Your Social Media Strategy

social media how toDo you need a plan to add customer service to your social strategies?

As Jeremiah Owyang states, “as internal and external demands mount, companies become mostly reactive, relegating themselves to a ‘Social Media Help Desk’.”

With strategy, planning and communication you can ensure that your company won’t be caught off guard. If the day hasn’t come yet when your social media team is thrust into fielding customer-service problems, it’s fair to say that it’s just a matter of time before they will be.

In this post, the seventh installment in the A-Z guides published here on Social Media Examiner, I’ll discuss the importance of developing an integrated social media and customer relationship management program for your company.

A to Z Guide for Integrating Customer Service Into Your Social Media Strategy

#1: Allocate your resources

Assign a number of team members the responsibility of managing social networking profiles to ensure they’re all covered throughout the workday.

allocate resources

Provide coverage when staff isn't around to monitor social networking profiles.

#2: Bridge the gap

Bridge the gaps in customer-service coverage during staff breaks and vacation times. Don’t risk missing important messages.

#3: Create a center of excellence

Jeremiah Owyang advocates for creating social media centers of excellence described as “a centralized program that provides resources, training and strategy to a variety of business units that are deploying social media in order to reduce costs, increase efficiency, and provide standardization. This team is often run by the corporate social strategist, who’s the business stakeholder and program champion.”

center of excellence

The social media center of excellence has four major duties: planning, resources, processes and vendor selection and management. Image source: Altimeter Group

#4: Deliver

Deliver on your customer communication as promised. Whole Foods, for example, lets users know what time and days they can expect to hear back.

whole foods twitter

Whole Foods lets users know the hours they monitor their Twitter page.

#5: Evaluate

On a regular basis, stop and take a look to see how your social media pages are doing. Monitor reports and keywords and determine how much of your time is spent fielding customer issues.

#6: Food for thought

A couple of good mathematical equations to remember are contained in this food for thought offered by Seth Godin: “My rule of thumb is this: every person you turn away because your product or service isn’t right for them turns into three great customers down the road. Every bad sale costs you five.”

#7: Guerilla marketing techniques

Ann Evanston offers five guerilla marketing techniques to improve customer experiences in the social sphere:

  • Set up search phrases for issues that your target market faces, like “slow Internet” or “Internet connection.”
  • Also set up search phrases for your business name. Searches are easy to set up in Twitter, MarketMeSuite, HootSuite, Social Mention and will search blog posts as well.
  • Watch those mentions and respond to them! Offer empathy, help and make a suggestion. Show them you heard.
  • When people use your business name positively, saying “thank you” creates a way to keep in touch as they’re becoming fans and referral sources (or potential customers, if they’re not already).
  • If something negative happens, deal with integrity and good communication. Don’t delete it; that’s like putting your head in the sand. You can show others how gracious you really are.

#8: Hub and spoke

Jeremiah Owyang suggests that the hub-and-spoke model provides centralized resources to business units. And Drew McLellan recommends that clients build the web of content creation in a hub-and-spoke model. “You need to have a core—or hub—for all of your social media activity. One place that’s the repository for your core content.”

hub and spoke

Create a hub-and-spoke model for social business. Image source: Altimeter Group

#9: Interface across functions

The Community Roundtable suggests in their report, the 2010 State of Community Management, that community management is “increasingly a distinct and separate role that’s explicitly responsible for interfacing across many functions to ensure continuity of care for community members.”

#10: Justification

Heed the advice of the Community Roundtable : “Measurement is NOT about justification. It’s about understanding the data so that you can do a better job.”

#11: Key stakeholders

Remember, key stakeholders will care about different aspects of your social media and will need access to different types of social media metrics. In Forrester’s white paper, “Social Media Marketing Metrics That Matter: Communicating the Right Data to Internal Stakeholders,” Nate Elliott points out the focus of the company’s various internal stakeholders will differ. “Create frequent reporting of digital metrics to community managers and social media strategists, per-campaign or annual reporting of branding and trial metrics to other marketing team members, and quarterly or annual reporting of financial metrics to executives.”

#12: Listen

Set up a good listening strategy and be sure to not only listen for customers’ compliments, but also keep your ears tuned to hear their complaints. Heidi Cohen says, “With the help of social media monitoring tools, customer service can hear what consumers are asking, provide timely responses, and determine early warning signs of PR and other issues.”

#13: Mitigate problems

It’s one thing to listen to what customers are saying. In addition, we must also take precautionary steps and actions. As Heidi Cohen says, “In the current social media ecosystem, it’s critical to have a crisis management plan in place to mitigate potential problems.”

#14: Number of interactions and issues

Some businesses are heavily focused on the number of fans and followers they’re acquiring through social media. And while that’s all fine and good, we must remember to track the interactions staff are having and be able to report back the issues identified and how many were successfully resolved.

#15: Opportunities

Customer-service issues and complaints need not be seen as all negative. With the right mindset, we can view them as opportunities to learn more about what people want and expect from us. Use feedback as opportunities for improvement.

#16: Processes and policies

Customer service and social media needs must be addressed by more than the marketing department. Companies are encouraged to develop thorough processes and policies. Drew Kraus writes in the Gartner paper Emerging Technology Analysis: Social CRM for Customer Service that “one of the inhibitors for the adoption of social CRM customer service technologies is the lack of defined processes and policies… Many fitting the mainstream and late-adopter profile will look to hold off on bringing the new technology into their contact centers until optimized processes and policies have been vetted by early adopters. Instead, they will opt to allow their marketing departments—which have access to near-term budget for such investments—to take the lead in handling all social CRM interactions in the interim.”

#17: Questions

Answering consumers’ questions often ends up taking a back seat to responding to customer complaints. However, the timely response to a question will make customers feel heard and potentially can alleviate dissatisfaction.

questions

Apologize for missed communication.

#18: Resolve problems

Try to resolve problems immediately. Stacey Acevero says, “Sometimes the largest protesters can become advocates with a little bit of love and attention. If you don’t provide some source of customer service or redirect online to someone who can help, you’re risking your reputation.”

#19: Structural hole

A structural hole can be seen as the person between two groups who has been taken away, thereby creating a disconnect between the two groups. Community Roundtable suggests that the “recognition may cause companies to rethink the outsourcing of their Twitter accounts to their PR companies.”

#20: Template for Social CRM

Gartner’s Drew Kraus offers actions for technology and service providers which includes developing a “template” social CRM for the customer-service delivery process for your customers. You may think of this as the standards by which you base all of your customer service, whereby all of your business reps deliver the same quality of care and the same services and messages.

#21: Unhappy customers

When we think about social media and customer service, there may be times when we find ourselves on the other side of the spectrum as the unhappy customer. Erik Deckers writes, “If you’re unhappy with a company, by all means, complain. It’s your right as a customer. But if you do it the right way, you’re more likely to get what you want than if you whine and gripe about their incompetence and failures.”

#22: Variety of functions

Heidi Cohen states that social media has changed how consumers and companies view customer service. Customer service fulfills a variety of different functions including enhancing your marketing. Heidi lists 12 ways social media enhances customer service:

  • Gives business a human face
  • Listens to what customers are saying
  • Proactively engages with prospects and customers
  • Provides additional product-related content
  • Answers product-related questions
  • Supplies alternative contact channel
  • Gives customers a channel to talk to each other
  • Shares customer feedback
  • Celebrates your customers
  • Shows customers behind the scenes
  • Makes special offers
  • Creates new purchase options

#23: Wisdom

There’s a lot of wisdom in this statement by Jacob Morgan from his post,

What is Social CRM? “Social CRM is about moving from fans and followers to customers and advocates.”

#24: (E)xposure

The MarketingProfs post Brands Undervalue Social Media for Customer Service points out that “when social CRM is done well, it provides the added benefits of increased exposure for your brand by helping to retain existing customers, acquiring new customers and driving brand awareness.”

#25: Why measure

For community management to be successful, we need to regularly measure our efforts. Dion Hinchcliffe writes, “If you aren’t looking at overall levels of participation, growth rate of new members, making lists of the recently disengaged and following up on them, etc., then you aren’t managing your social environment. Understanding the overall health and momentum in your community, directly responding to it, and doing it every day will be vital for the long-term success of your effort.”

#26: Zealous

Social CRM requires dedication and devotion. Be zealous about maintaining good customer relationships.

Have you integrated your customer service and social media efforts? What would you add to this list? Leave your comments in the box below.

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About the Author, Debbie Hemley

Debbie Hemley is a freelance writer and social media coach. She helps businesses develop and maintain social media content strategies. Follow her on Twitter @dhemley & Facebook. Other posts by »




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  • Nathan Shepherd

    Great list on a very important topic.

  • https://plus.google.com/+AnaHoffman/ Ana Hoffman

    Thanks for a great post, Debbie. The way in which many companies handle customer care leave a lot to be desired and your post set a clear and thorough structure for handling this aspect as part of the social media function.

  • http://kpwriting.com/ copywriting career

    Good work! Thanks a lot.

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  • deb1221

    Thanks for reading!

  • deb1221

    Yes, I think we’d all have our own personal customer service horror stories to share if the flood-gates opened!  Best, Debbie

  • deb1221

    Thanks, Nathan!

  • http://flavors.me/40deuce 40deuce

    Fantastic tips!! I think that customer care is one  of the easiest thing a company can do through social media and these are some great ideas for how to go about doing it.

    Cheers,
    Sheldon, community manager for Sysomos (http://sysomos.com)

  • deb1221

    Hi Sheldon, Appreciate you taking the time to read and comment! Best, Debbie

  • Donna

    Very comprehensive overview!  We are building a new social media organization at our university and it will be a student run organization.  Do you ever do pro-bono work?  I would love to chat further.

  • http://twitter.com/rachelhonoway rachelhonoway

    Great list, Debbie! Using social media to provide on-the-spot customer service is a great way to utilize mediums like Facebook and Twitter. It’s SO easy and SO inexpensive – you just have to be ready for it!

  • deb1221

    Hi Donna,
    Thanks for your comment. Reach out further too if you’d like and let me know what kinds of questions you may have. Best, Debbie

  • deb1221

    Thanks Rachel. It’s true, Facebook and Twitter can be great tools for the job. And you’re right, a lot is about readiness. Best, Debbie

  • http://aremorch.com/ Are Morch

    Hi Debbie.

    Nice and great touch point to add customer service to your Social Media Strategy.

    Actually you are doing something I support turning it a little upside down. Putting Consumer Engagement in the driver seat, and then allow the process to be resolved before the Customer Service touch points need to be initiated.

    That is to me some of great strength of Social Media, and of course also some of the challenges for us that work with the service industry. 

    Thanks for sharing.

    Cheers.. Are

  • Ren

    Exactly what I have been looking for to get my colleagues on board!

  • deb1221

    Thanks, Ren. I hope this helps!

  • deb1221

    Hi Are,
    Yes, I think this can be a very powerful and effective way for businesses to use social media. I think we’re going to begin to see more and more businesses jump on board with this type of approach especially as more of their customers come in through the social media door. Best, Debbie

  • Brooke Gabbert

    I think an important point that could go under Allocate your Resources is to make sure you have operational teams looped in so that social media community managers do not spend time resolving issues offline. We have a streamlined process w allocated operational business liaisons in each department that respond to the customer offline and resolve their issue. This has helped our organization tremondously in effectively responding to issues that arise in the social media space.

  • deb1221

    Brooke, Thanks for sharing your experiences–sounds like you’ve been prepared.  Best, Debbie

  • http://aliciavaz.com/ Alicia Vaz

    Now I know my ABC’s, all 26 of them. Thanks a million!

  • deb1221

    Nice, glad we could help!

  • Fred krauss

    I initially read this because Concentrix provides customer service and support outsourcing, then realized it’s a nice social media quick planning guide.   Thank you  @f_krauss

  • deb1221

    Thanks for reading, Fred.

  • http://www.online-business-virtual-assistant.com/ Shilpi Roy – Virtual Assistant

    I feel Social media is the effective way of connecting with potential customers and thanks for this great tips.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Manish-Krishna/100001266349808 Manish Krishna

    Great information Debbie about Social Media to fortify social media strategy.

  • deb1221

    Manish, Thanks for reading and taking time to comment.

  • deb1221

    Yes, I think when social media is seen as a way to effectively connect with potential customers, it will no longer seem superfluous to naysayers. Best, Debbie

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_UMIDQF5N4AZFO5VCC7CLZSCVQQ Jason Stuart

    Great tips here. Too many companies don’t take advantage of all the opportunities that actively responding to people with social media can offer, especially with building community and trust, and as negative-experience mitigation/resolution. It can be time consuming, sure, but the rewards are worth it. Our company (sonicseo.com) has even started managing the social media accounts for some of our clients to help ensure customer responses and posts don’t get ignored.

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  • deb1221

    Hi Jason,
    Thanks for your comment. I think your company is smart to get on board with doing this since they’ll likely be many companies who won’t have the internal resources to manage and would want the help of folks who are proficient in it. Best of luck! Debbie

  • http://www.aaroneden.com/ Aaron Eden

    It is once again proven how important social media is in building relationship with your clients/customers.And companies/business owners should take advantage on it to reach their customers.

    Overall, this is an exceptional, well researched post! This is a must-read article, Debbie! You nailed it!

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  • deb1221

    Thank you, Aaron! Appreciate your comments. Best, Debbie

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  • http://www.ricardobueno.com/ Ricardo Bueno

    Debbie: I couldn’t agree more with this statement…

    “Customer-service issues and complaints need not be seen as all negative.
    With the right mindset, we can view them as opportunities to learn more about what people want and expect from us. Use feedback as opportunities for improvement.”

    Ultimately, customers want to know that you’re listening to their concerns and that you’re going to address them. When they complain/vent on-line, often times it’s because they haven’t felt heard. A quick response, addressing their issue, usually helps nip things in the bud and turn that client into a fan again.

    I do a few things to provide customer service via social media:

    - I created a site full of product tutorials on WordPress: http://helpdesk.diversesolutions.com
    - I manage a community forum to answer client questions and provide feedback: http://forum.diversesolutions.com – we have 842 members in 3-4 months and growing.
    - I write articles and How To posts based on client and prospect feedback. I use surveys like KISSinsights for this.

    At the end of the day, seek to be helpful first. Provide excellent customer support, and your clients and fans will become your best advocates!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=10618874 Chase Sherman

    #8: Hub and spoke
    #9: Interface across functions

    An excellent way to facilitate these are through the use of a free enterprise social media platform called chatter.com.   It’s similar to Facebook but you can upload documents, create / follow groups within your company, and more.  Definitely worth it for a company to check out.

  • deb1221

    Hi Ricardo,
    Thanks for your message and the examples of how you are providing customer support via social media. Great stuff! Best, Debbie

  • deb1221

    Hi Chase,
    Thanks for letting us know about chatter.com. Will check it out. Best, Debbie

  • Randescott

    thanks debbie very well said

  • http://twitter.com/CiceroAndBernay Cicero & Bernay

    Thank you for the great post. This is very useful for companies who want to start their exposure online. A customer service online and especially on social media channels is one of the most important step to establish. Thank you for the great post.

  • deb1221

    Thanks for reading and taking time to comment!

  • deb1221

    Glad you found the post helpful.  Best, Debbie

  • http://www.directresponse.net David Polykoff

    Great list here!

    You seemed to really cover it all : )

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  • http://twitter.com/kenfitz85 Ken Fitzgerald

    Thanks for the post. Some good points in there.

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