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Social Customer Service: 5 Tips to Get in the Game

social media customer service, social customer servicePreviously viewed exclusively as a marketing tool, social media is quickly emerging as a popular channel for customer service. Whether you know it or not, instant-gratification obsessed customers have likely already contacted you for support via Twitter, Facebook and other platforms. The question is what do you risk by not responding? 

This was the primary question that prompted a recent four-week research project Software Advice conducted called “The Great Social Customer Service Race.” We tested and analyzed 14 top brands for social customer service responsiveness on Twitter. From this, we devised a list of tips for customer service strategists wanting to dive full-force into social service.

How the Race Worked

Myself and three of my colleagues used our personal Twitter accounts to send customer service tweets to 14 leading consumer brands in seven industries. Each company received one tweet per weekday for four consecutive weeks. Half of the time we used the @ symbol with the company’s Twitter handle, the other half we didn’t.  Using the @ triggers a notification to the account owner that they’ve been mentioned in a tweet

The questions fell into one of five categories:

  • Urgent
  • Positive
  • Negative
  • FAQ
  • Technical

If Response Delayed, Use a Placeholder

Several times during the race, companies took several days to respond to one tweet. This can be considered a misstep when many consumers expect a response within two hours. To mitigate this issue, require agents to post a placeholder response if the question has to be escalated or rerouted.

Something like, “Thanks for tweeting us @customername! I’m looking into this now and will let you know ASAP! – AV.”

Leverage Marketing and Customer Service Together

In our credit card group, MasterCard was the clear winner. Not only did the company post a better-than-average response time, MasterCard capitalized on an opportunity to market a customer service interaction.

When one of our participants asked whether the credit card is accepted globally, the MasterCard team responded and re-tweeted her message. This showed their 30,600 followers that they listen and respond. In another instance, they used a customer service interaction as an opportunity to pitch another product.

Prioritization is Key

Most listening software can be customized with keyword identifiers that send important messages to the front of the line. During the race, it was clear several of the brands prioritize messages with “thank you,” with one company responding in about 13 minutes to that tweet.

At the same time, many more messages with important words such as “mad,” “help,” and “thinking of switching” went unnoticed. Companies should work with their team to program software to prioritize messages with these words and others that indicate risk of negative messaging, or intent to buy.

Listen for Your Brand, @ or No @

Overall, less than 8 percent of the responses during the race came during the weeks we didn’t use the @ with the brand name. Just because the customer doesn’t address you specifically, doesn’t mean you  shouldn’t respond. This isn’t true in all cases, but consider this example.

Each of the tweeters in the race sent this message that didn’t receive one response:

“I’m thinking of buying a new laptop today. It’s Macbook vs. HP? What do you think?”

Both brands missed this high purchase-intent tweet on four occasions. Your listening software should listen for mentions with the @, without, and #brandname.

However with that in mind, some might argue that a response shouldn’t always be expected with or without the @ because often companies have several Twitter handles. They might have one for support, one for Europe, one for the U.S. and so on. The important thing to remember here is you can’t control how customers contact you. They are going to do what’s easiest, even if that means tweeting the brand’s main handle instead of their @BrandnameHelp address.

To respond to this issue, companies should program their listening software to apply the same prioritization and routing rules for mentions from every account. This doesn’t mean you will catch everything, but it does improve your ability to respond to the most important tweets.

Be Sure to Solve the Problem

In one interaction with McDonald’s, the agent didn’t provide a good answer to our problem and it wasn’t immediately clear she was with the fast food chain. We asked about placing a regular weekly order for a business and she simply replied that we should contact our local store.

If she really wanted to wow us, she could have asked the location of our office. Even better, she could have found the number of the nearest McDonalds, or even called them herself.

Social Strategy is Changing

These brands responded to a mere 14 percent of the 280 tweets delivered during the race. Whether the issue is one of strategy or technology, brands are still far from meeting customers’ expectations on Twitter.

About Ashley Verrill

Ashley Verrill is a market analyst with Software Advice. She has spent the last six years reporting and writing business news and strategy features. Her work has appeared in myriad publications including Inc., Upstart Business Journal, the Austin Business Journal and the North Bay Business Journal. Before joining Software Advice in 2012, she worked in sales management and advertising. She is a University of Texas graduate with a bachelor’s degree in journalism.

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