In 2013, Amy’s Baking Company became famous overnight after premiering on a particularly dramatic episode of Gordon Ramsay’s “Kitchen Nightmares” — a reality TV series that followed Ramsay’s attempts to help struggling food establishments improve their business. Once a failing restaurant, Amy’s Baking Company now had a flock of new customers rushing to their location in Scottsdale, Arizona, eager to check out the only establishment that the renowned chef had ever walked out on mid-episode.
With the fame came a wave of social media engagement. New customers and fans of the show posted comments and reviews of Amy’s Baking Company to social media channels like Facebook, Yelp, Twitter, and Reddit. That’s when the real nightmare started.
Instead of engaging in proper social media customer service, Amy’s Baking Company had what the internet described as a “meltdown”, unleashing a tirade of insults against their customers and critics. On their Facebook page, the restaurant dared those who were criticizing them online to come say it to their face — at the same time, they claimed that the police were going to arrest everyone who had posted a negative comment. On Reddit, they created fake accounts to try and scare their customers into believing that these supposed arrests were already happening. This over-the-top reaction generated more criticism, and attracted a growing amount of people eager to mess with the frantic business owners.
After hours of repeated threats and curses, Amy’s Baking Company updated their Facebook, saying (instead of apologizing) that their social media accounts had been hacked.
Although this case may be extreme, it isn’t unique. As the years have passed, social media has brought an ever-increasing amount of empowerment to customers, and a growing set of expectations. Large corporations and small companies alike have had to either learn how to properly engage with customers over social media, or lose business as a result. This chapter will explain the importance of social media in customer service, and how customer support via social media can help take your business into the future of customer care.
1. Connect with the People You Serve
As of right now, Facebook has over 2 Billion active users. Instagram has over 700 Million. Twitter has more than 328 Million monthly users. And Snapchat has at least 300 Million. While not every single customer will be on social media, the numbers make it clear that a large amount of them will be. That’s a lot of potential for customer care.
The problem is, although many companies already use social media, they aren’t using it the right way. Brands on social media typically send out 23 promotional messages for every 1 response given to their audience. If a brand does end up actually responding, it’s usually after letting the user hang for an average of 10 hours, even though most consumers consider under 4 hours reasonable. This isn’t exactly a great connection.
By practicing effective social media customer service, you will be able to connect with your customers, and show them that their voices matter. By responding to inquiries, feedback, praise, and complaints in a timely and compassionate way, you will be able to cultivate a caring brand image, and in turn generate more positive, productive connections, rather than one-sided posts.
2. …On Their Terms
Hearing from your customers is an indispensable part of growing a successful business. Customer feedback can help you remedy website glitches, improve processes, adjust your policies and better your products. The problem is, you can send out customer survey after customer survey — despite your best efforts to make a connection, oftentimes you never end up hearing back.
How can customer support through social media help? Research from OpinionLab shows that 66% of customers prefer to give feedback by actively reaching out — not by taking surveys. Social media allows customers to reach out to companies easily, without going out of their way. Instead of scouring a website for a company’s contact info, or spending minutes filling out a survey, customers can tell companies what they think within seconds, as easily as tagging them in a status, tweet, or post.
JetBlue discovered the power of social media as a source of customer feedback back in 2007, after they posted a video on YouTube apologizing for what later become known as the “Valentine’s Day Crisis” — an incident where storms kept passenger-filled planes on the runway for hours, and led to about 1,000 canceled flights in five days. According to Marty St. George, JetBlue’s then VP (and current EVP): “Some of this feedback was, ‘I can’t believe you guys let us down like this.’ Some of the feedback was, ‘I still love you and it’s OK.’ As a marketer, my response was, ‘This is like crack because I spent a lot of money and waited a long time to get feedback like this via traditional market research.’ [Now] I’m getting instantaneous feedback. To me, that was the power of it.”
Instantaneous feedback leaves room for immediate improvements and adjustments to your business. Ask yourself the following questions as you review customer comments:
Are your customers asking technical questions?
If so, is your website’s FAQ section up to date with answers and easy to navigate? (Regardless, you should still answer their questions directly on social media — don’t refer them to this)
Are your processes as clear as they could be, and your website/product easy to use?
Are your customers complaining?
Are multiple customers complaining about the same thing?
What are their top complaints?
What can you do to solve whatever it is they are complaining about?
Have your customers had a poor experience?
Have your customers had a poor experience?
What needs to change?
Are your customers telling you what they love?
What are your customers’ favorite things about your company?
What processes can you put into place to ensure that you keep it up?
Are your customers making valuable suggestions?
Which suggestions could be useful for your business?
How can you go about implementing those suggestions?
Some customers may not feel moved to contact your company directly, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t saying anything about you. By having an active social media customer care system, you can type your company’s name into the search bar, to find out what customers are saying about you in public posts or tweets.
Whatever feedback you end up getting, make sure that you establish a system that will build your social media customer suggestions into a defined continuous improvement process. This is especially important if different departments are handling your company’s social media. Important feedback can sometimes be lost if marketing, for example, aren’t clear on the need to feed back to the research and development team (or if they assume that the research and development team already knows about an issue).
Train your social media team to funnel feedback to the proper department, using your company’s chat or email system. Have a dedicated person from each department receive the feedback, and bring it to the rest of the team. Encourage forwarding both positive and negative feedback so that your teams can work out the kinks in your operation, while also receiving a morale boost.
3. Win New Fans
Customers love to know that you are listening — it lets them know that their satisfaction really is your top priority. By listening and prioritizing social media customer service, you can convert people into highly vocal brand advocates.
If you don’t believe it, look to the numbers: 75% of people say they are more likely to post something positive about a brand that makes a meaningful connection with them on social media, while 70% say they’re more likely to actually make a purchase. 71% of consumers who experience positive social media customer service are likely to recommend the brand to others, compared with just 19% of those who do not.
Those positive comments and recommendations pack a lot of punch, especially given how social media has revolutionized word-of-mouth advertising. A satisfied (or unsatisfied) customer who might tell two or three people about their experience in person can now reach hundreds of people online. This is why an effective social media support strategy can double as a stellar marketing strategy — customers trust their friends and contacts more than they trust advertisements.
4. Increase Customer Loyalty
Since Facebook implemented the “Like” button, it has been used more than 1.13 trillion times, with that number rising every day. This button isn’t unique to Facebook — Instagram, Twitter, Youtube, Google, Tumblr, and other social websites also have their versions of the same feature.
It doesn’t matter whether the “Like” button is shaped like a heart or a thumbs up — the feeling of validation that comes every time it’s pressed makes the recipient feel good, and leaves them wanting more. That’s because when someone likes something you posted on social media, you actually feel a rush of dopamine — the brain’s pleasure chemical — being released. The pull of dopamine is so strong that studies have shown tweeting is harder for people to resist than cigarettes and alcohol.
So, what do the people who are giving the likes get in return? People “like” posts because we want to maintain relationships. When we like each other’s posts, we add value to the relationship, and reinforce that closeness. At the same time, we also create a reciprocity effect: We feel obliged to give back to people who have given to us, even in a small way, to even up the scales.
The same is true for customer-company relations. If a customer reaches out to your company on social media — and you reach back in a positive way — your customer will feel closer to your company, and the reciprocity effect will generate more loyalty. Research has shown that 86% of high-value customers are more loyal to brands they engage with on social media. During the same study, 46.7% of survey respondents indicated that personalized responses from brands would strengthen their brand loyalty, while 28.1% said it might affect their brand loyalty.
By using social media customer care to your advantage, you can trigger your current customers’ dopamine centers, strengthen your relationship, and keep them coming back for more.
5. Engage with Millennials
It’s no secret that the age of the Millennials is upon us, and they are ready to do things their way. For companies, this brings tremendous opportunity for growth and a different kind of outreach — after all, millennials have $200 billion in spending power right now, and over $10 trillion over their lifetimes as consumers; to ignore them would be a mistake.
Using social media for customer support is an excellent way for companies to meet millennials on the platforms that they dominate. According to a report by Microsoft, 64% of millennials believe social media is an effective channel for customer service, as opposed to the 27% of Baby Boomers who feel the same way. The same report found that about 52% of millennials actively use social media to resolve customer service issues, and 47% have used social media to complain about a brand’s service.
By having active social media support, you can generate a loyal following from the generation that uses social networks the most. By engaging with millennials on their platforms, on their terms, you can prepare younger customers to become long-term buyers.
One company that has mastered social media engagement with millennials is Taco Bell. This popular fast food chain’s most recent engagement strategy involves what they have dubbed the “Taco Emoji Engine.” The idea is for users to tweet at Taco Bell a combination of a taco, plus any other emoji, and Taco Bell will respond with either a GIF or an image of an original emoji fusion. This fusion of marketing and customer care gets users talking about Taco Bell and engaging with the restaurant, all while incorporating the millennial generations’ love of emojis.
6. Reduce Churn Rate
It’s cheaper and easier to retain customers than it is to attract new ones, which is why it’s no small deal that social media customer service can help you reduce your churn rate.
According to Aberdeen, companies that have a well-crafted approach to social media customer care experience 92% customer retention. This is because when you have an active social media presence and customer support system, you can help remedy issues customers have with your product or service on the spot — issues they might not have even have bothered to come to you with through other channels.
By 2020, Customer Experience is expected to overtake price and product quality as key brand differentiators. By arming your business with a quality social media customer service strategy, you can make sure that customers will leave the competition to come to you, not the other way around.
7. Customers Expect It
Most customers who reach out to social media aren’t doing it for nothing — they want a response. 67% of global consumers interacting with a brand for customer support on social media expect a response within 24 hours. 32% expect a response within 30 minutes, and 42% expect a response within 60 minutes. Millennials have even higher expectations (a quarter expect companies to respond to them in as little as ten minutes), and may hold it against companies who don’t comply.
Customers don’t only expect a quick response time — they expect engagement across multiple social media channels. A survey of nearly 600 consumers found that customers expect brands to be active on at least three to four social channels.
To make sure that your company’s social media customer service is meeting your customers’ expectations, we recommend that you invest in social media support that is available 24/7. If you don’t have the resources to do so, try at least having enough staff on your social media team to be able to respond to questions and comments quickly as they come in.
Before you decide to limit your social media customer care to only Facebook or Twitter, research to see where the most of your customers are connecting with you from. If you have a younger audience and a product that can be well photographed, you may want to try your luck with Snapchat and/or Instagram as well. As long as you are going where your customers are, your social media support strategy is on the right track.
8. Be Ready for Crisis Management
Companies are constantly under fire; that’s part of the business. And — like Amy’s Baking Company showed us — what fuels the fire more than social media?
Thanks to social media, people can share things with their friends and network in just a few clicks, which means that companies are now being held more accountable than ever for any slipups — major or minor. Think back, for example, to the video of the customer being dragged off a United Airlines flight. When that video went viral on social media, it was seen and criticized by millions of people around the world, greatly hurting United’s international market. This major company mess-up became such a social media crisis that, for a few days, the top trending topic on Twitter in the U.S. was #NewUnitedAirlinesMottos, with users suggesting slogans such as “Not enough seating, prepare for a beating.”
Although these larger social media catastrophes require an even greater level of social media customer care, they aren’t all that different from smaller, less damaging complaints and concerns. If you can respond to an upset or unsatisfied customer quickly, professionally, and caringly over social media, you can put out any potential fires before they begin and give them an experience that will ultimately be satisfying.
What happens if you don’t engage in social media support? A survey shows that if you ignore customers on social media, 36% will shame you publicly, while 1 in 3 will switch to a competitor. By practicing effective social media customer service, you can be there for your customers in their time of need. That way angry customers won’t shame you publicly, and — if you’re like Wendy’s — you can save your customers from dangerous sandwich feuds in the nick of time.
9. Customers Are Already Engaging
In a survey by the IBM Institute for Business Value, 45% of participants said that they use social media to interact with brands. In another survey by Nielsen, over a third said they preferred social to traditional communication channels like phone and email. Whether you’re ready for it or not, many of your customers are already engaging with you over social media. And that trend is only continuing; Gartner predicts that by 2020, 90% of companies will be using social media for customer service.
In today’s digital world, if brands are not a part of the conversation, they are going to be left behind. Consumers have flighty attention spans and are quick to move on to the next big thing. Customers can also galvanize quickly on social media, and have the power to steer the conversation about your brand in the wrong direction if you’re not in the loop to moderate. The presence of a social media customer care system reminds them that brands are still relevant, and that they can continue to provide value to customers now and in the future.
After an uphill struggle of fighting their customers on and off of social media, Amy’s Baking Company eventually closed their doors. They moved to California, rebranded themselves as a dessert company, and began to engage in professional social media customer service. Although the baking company may not have gotten it right at first, they eventually learned the importance of social media customer care, and taught other businesses a valuable lesson in the process.
Social media customer service is not only important: it’s necessary to create a winning brand image, generate a loyal following, and most importantly, be there for your customers. Whether you’re a small business, a big company, or a politician with his own brand, we hope you take it upon yourself to provide effective social media support, now and in the years to come.