July 1, 2020 KahnMedia

KM 101: 7 Golden Rules of Social Media Customer Service

You can please some people some of the time, but you can’t please all people all of the time. Dealing with disgruntled customers is a challenge for every business. On social media, where small incidents can quickly escalate and even go viral, customer service can be a minefield.

Businesses can’t afford to leave social media customer service to chance. An evasive, inconsistent or insensitive approach to customer service can tarnish a brand’s reputation and sour its relationship with customers. But a responsive, honest and transparent approach to customer service — especially when problems are resolved quickly — can galvanize customer loyalty and win over new fans.

Customer service on social media can’t be an ad hoc, do-it-when-we-get-around-to-it part of your business. It needs to be an integral part of your sales and marketing strategy, especially if you sell direct-to-consumer (D2C). In this installment of KM 101, where we provide easy-to-understand information and guidelines for businesses that want to pivot to a “digital-first” model or enhance their online marketing efforts, we review the golden rules of social media customer service and provide tips and examples to help you succeed. 


New to KM 101? Read our previous installments:


The Power of Positive Customer Service
Time and time again, customer satisfaction research has shown that dissatisfied customers are much more likely to tell other people about their experience than happy customers are. The goal, then, is to minimize the number of customers who end up disgruntled because of poor customer service and maximize the number of satisfied customers. Consider these statistics that demonstrate the power of positive customer service:

Just as good customer service can win over existing customers and attract new ones, bad customer service can send customers into the arms of a competitor: 

That’s why it’s critical to your brand’s reputation and your company’s success that good customer service is a top priority. So, where do you start?


7 Golden Rules of Social Media Customer Service
Good customer service starts with putting customers first. A strong desire to provide products or services that will satisfy customers needs to be one of your company’s core values. If you’re not interested in making customers happy, then you’ll never be able to provide them with the type of service that inspires the sort of devotion and intimacy enjoyed by great brands.

Follow these golden rules of social media customer service and you’ll be well on your way. 

1. Great Customer Service Starts With Great Listening
If you don’t have your ear to the ground, then you are likely to miss what people are saying about your brand. Whether you are paying attention or not, the conversations are happening. These days there are some great tools available to make sure you don’t miss out on the good, the bad and the ugly conversations involving your brand. 

  • Set up Google Alerts for your brand and industry keywords.
  • Keep a close eye on your Facebook page, including comments and direct messages.
  • Follow relevant conversations on Twitter and use hashtags to stay up to date.
  • Read reviews about your business or products on Amazon, Google, Yelp, TripAdvisor, Zagat and other sites.
  • Identify forums or online communities where your customers congregate and regularly check in on them.

Example: Starbucks

Starbucks makes it a priority to monitor conversations about its brand. The tweet above from a customer doesn’t directly tag @Starbucks, but the company found the tweet and was able to engage with a potential customer. How? By using third-party platforms, you can target and track custom keywords and phrases commonly associated with your brand, allowing you to keep up with conversations and engage with your customers on a deeper level. 


2. Respond Quickly & Compassionately 
When dealing with an upset customer on social media, time is of the essence. The longer you wait to address the issue, the angrier and more vocal the customer will get. Misery loves company, and it can spread like wildfire. 

When you do respond, avoid a canned corporate response. Customers want their concerns to be validated, so a cold, robotic response can just make matters worse. Respond with warmth and empathy, make sure you clearly understand the problem and offer to provide a solution regardless of who is to blame. 

Example: JetBlue

During his flight on JetBlue, customer Esaí Vélez realized his seatback TV didn’t work, which led to a boring four-hour flight. Vélez tweeted about his frustration and tagged @JetBlue on Twitter. How did JetBlue respond? It immediately tweeted him back, asking if the problem affected just him or the whole plane.

Once it was confirmed only Vélez had the issue, JetBlue asked him to send a direct message (DM) and offered him an apology and a credit for his next flight. The result? Just 23 minutes after the initial complaint, Vélez tweeted: “One of the fastest and better Customer Service: @JetBlue! Thanks and Happy Thanksgiving.”


3. Be Honest & Transparent
Some customer complaints are an easy fix and take little time to resolve, but some problems are more complicated. You don’t have to solve every problem immediately, but you do need to be upfront and honest about how long it will take to resolve the issue. Whether you need to consult your internal team or wait for a part to be delivered, honesty is the best policy when customers are involved. 

Example: Adobe

When Adobe had an outage due to an issue with Amazon Web Services, it reacted immediately and posted a tweet before customers even realized there was an issue. Posting a GIF of playful puppies provided some levity, and by acting quickly and transparently, Adobe avoided a flood of complaints from angry customers.

Example: MagnaFlow
Performance exhaust manufacturer MagnaFlow experienced some production issues as a result of the lockdowns caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. When customers were looking for answers on a forum, MagnaFlow was open and honest about the situation, which customers appreciated. 


4. Offer a Real Apology or Don’t Apologize
A genuine, confident apology will earn more respect from customers and the general public than will a half-hearted, evasive one. Which would you rather hear: “We’re sorry you feel that way” or “That was unacceptable, we’re sorry for the inconvenience and we’ll rectify the situation”? Take responsibility for the situation, do what it takes to solve the problem and thank them for the opportunity to show them how important their business is.

Whatever you do, avoid these fake “apologies” at all costs: 

  • Tone-Deaf: Remember Golden Rule #1: Great Customer Service Starts with Great Listening. Make sure you understand the problem, don’t be afraid to ask for clarification and communicate with sensitivity.
  • Long Hair Don’t Care: This slogan from the ’60s was used to dismiss the outdated attitudes of previous generations. Today, it’s a shorthand for the way some companies dismiss or downplay customer concerns because they think they know better. 
  • Sorry, Not Sorry: Giving lip service to an apology but lacing it with sarcasm and insincerity may seem clever, but it is the exact opposite of good customer service. Don’t try to use humor at the expense of your customers, or else they’ll spend their money elsewhere. 
  • Radio Silence: While it’s true that sometimes the best approach is to stay silent (see Golden Rule #6 below), that doesn’t apply to actual customer interactions. Customers want to feel heard more than anything, so when a company ignores them their complaints are likely to grow louder. 

5. Know When to Take It One-On-One
Most of your customer service interactions are likely to take place on social media. While some interactions can be handled quickly, others will require more attention, care and time to address properly. When that happens, it’s best to take the conversation out of the public arena and create a direct conversation over direct message (DM), live chat or email. As many as

four out of five customers prefer to use live chat for customer service because the communication and resolution happens in real-time. And many younger customers prefer DM to email in nearly all of their communication.

Direct messaging is a great tool for customer service. Not only is it a semi-private way to communicate with upset customers, it’s a great way to gather personal information needed to resolve the problem, such as an account number or order number. DM is also a way for customers to connect with industry experts, influencers and brand ambassadors.


6. Know When to Respond and When to Keep Quiet 
Not all negative comments are created equal. Like it or not, there are critics and internet trolls out there who use inflammatory comments just to provoke a response. Usually their criticisms or complaints are completely baseless, and they post them just to set a trap. Engaging with trolls or responding to their comments almost always does more harm than good. As hard as it can be, sometimes the best response is no response.

Do your best to avoid these situations:

  • Criticism on a small blog, in a forum or under the comments section of an article. Your response will only draw attention to the criticism and potentially make it worse. 
  • Blatant attacks are all too common on the internet because users can hide behind anonymous or false profiles. Don’t address them. It will be obvious to others that the issue lies with the attacker, not the brand.
  • Internet warriors want nothing more than to pick a fight and cause a scene. Avoid interacting with them at all costs. 

Question: Is it okay to hide or delete comments on my brand page?
Yes and no. If a comment corresponds to one of the three situations described above, then hiding or deleting the comment is probably a good idea. But hiding or deleting every negative or unfavorable comment is a bad business practice. Honest feedback is how brands learn to improve and better meet customers’ needs. If someone leaves a bad review for legitimate reasons, use it as an opportunity to resolve the situation or to make changes.

Question: What about online reviews on Amazon, Google and Yelp? 
When it comes to third-party websites that allow customers — and sometimes non-customers — to post reviews about a company or product, marketers get nervous. Take a deep breath and have faith in your company, your employees and your products or services. For the most part, these reviews provide good representations of what customers can expect from your brand. We provide a few tips below for dealing with fake reviews. 

Amazon
Amazon struggles when it comes to fake reviews. Because five-star reviews drive sales, there are strong incentives to stack the deck. Reliable reviews are those with the “Amazon Verified Purchase” label, which means the person writing the review purchased the product at Amazon and didn’t receive the product at a deep discount. If you see a review you suspect is fake, report it to Amazon Seller Central.

Google
Google Business is a useful tool for businesses to connect with new and returning customers, but as with any online platform, there is the potential for fake reviews. It can be difficult to get Google to remove reviews, but you can flag individual reviews you believe are in violation of Google’s policy. The request will be reviewed by Google and a decision will be made whether to keep or remove the review. 

Yelp
Yelp connects users with services or products based on reviews and photographs provided by previous customers. But Yelp does not require users to verify their experience or purchase, which opens the door for fake reviews and other problems. To have a review removed from Yelp, you need a specific reason other than “I don’t like what they wrote.” If you think you have a legitimate claim, you can report it to Yelp and they will review it for violations and potentially remove it from the platform. Also, Yelp allows a business to “claim” its page, which allows it to reply to reviews. 


7. Track the Results 
If you’re going to invest the time and resources to provide good customer service on social media, then it’s worth keeping track of the conversations, topics and sentiments as a way to follow trends, identify blind spots or weaknesses and measure your progress. More than likely you’ll find recurring items, comments and feedback, which can show you what you’re doing right or what areas need improvement. 

A great way to quantify the customer experience is through satisfaction surveys and email remarketing using tools like SurveyMonkey and Mailchimp. Customer relationship management (CRM) platforms like HubSpot allow you to target customers after they have made a purchase or if they have left an item in their shopping cart. Regardless of the tool, there are many ways to turn your online customer interactions into actionable data.


Doing It Right
Legendary management consultant and author Peter Drucker once said, “Quality in a service or product is not what you put into it. It is what the customer gets out of it.” Good customer service begins with putting the customer first. And that means treating customers as you would want to be treated. After all, that’s what the Golden Rule says: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

Good customer service isn’t about being perfect. It’s about being responsive and ready to find solutions. It’s about taking responsibility for your actions or those of your employees. It’s about being honest and true to your company’s core values. And it’s a learning process. Like any relationship, the relationships you have with your customers will have ups and downs. Even though social media can feel like the lawless Wild West, it’s where many of your customers and the general public will interact with your brand. Treat them right on social media, just as you would in person.

Need help? Drop us a line at Help@KahnMedia.com to schedule a free consultation.