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One of the most practical ways that companies can engage with consumers on social media is to provide customer service from these platforms. That’s not just after a sale but at every step along a buyer’s journey. In fact, Forbes called social media customer service “the new marketing.”

It’s mainly customers who are initiating and reaching out to brands on platforms like Facebook and Twitter. That’s why it behooves companies to streamline the social media customer service experience and make it as positive as possible.

There are some compelling reasons why businesses should take social media customer service seriously. Start by learning how to develop a strategy. Then implement a few best practices, and you’ll be on the road to success.

What Is Social Media Customer Service?

It’s the process of responding to customer service inquiries and feedback via social media channels instead of traditional routes, such as phone or email. This could mean tweeting back and forth with customers or responding to Facebook posts.

For many businesses, social media customer service is primarily about listening to and empathizing with customers. It’s often less about answering a direct question or providing on-platform technical assistance. However, this varies from company to company.

Why Is Social Media Customer Service Important?

Done right, it’s great for your bottom line. Customers who receive help on social media end up spending 20 to 40 percent more with the business, according to Bain & Company.

When someone messages a company on social media and gets a speedy response from a real human, it personalizes the brand. That develops a connection between business and consumer. That’s a very good thing for customer satisfaction (past buyers), but it’s also fantastic for cultivating leads (potential buyers).

Another thing to remember: everyone can see the quality of your customer care when it happens on social media. Unless you take an issue offline, the thread is accessible to anyone, and it can either impress or disappoint observers. Some customer service interactions have gone viral — for both good and bad reasons.

Creating a Successful Social Media Customer Service Strategy

First, choose which social platforms you’re going to use to provide support. Obviously, you want to select the platform where your audience is most active. That may be Twitter, or it might be LinkedIn. Consider creating a separate account specifically for support to keep this dialogue separate from general discussion.

Next, set some ground rules for your support team. Their customer interactions should reflect your brand’s voice and tone. Will they use the company account or a personal work account? Create a schedule so that someone is always responding to inquiries during operating hours, whether that’s 24/7 or not.

Some social media platforms have customer service tools built in. However, if you’re making this a priority — or you have high volumes of incoming queries across channels — consider subscribing to a social media monitoring service. Here are several examples:

A monitoring service gathers all the messages and mentions from multiple platforms, even when you’re not tagged. It brings them to one spot where you can organize and respond to them so no customer falls through the cracks.

There’s a lot of noise on social media. That’s why it’s essential to identify what officially qualifies as a customer support need. For example, you may respond to a broad range of queries, but you might only open a support ticket in the following scenarios:

  • Direct questions from potential customers who need more information or clarification about your product or service
  • Direct questions from past or current customers who are experiencing issues with your product or service
  • Customer complaints or product returns
  • Urgent requests, such as help logging into your website or placing a rush order

Best Practices for Social Media Customer Service

Once you have a strategy in place, you can focus on providing the best customer experience possible. Here are a few tips that’ll help you do just that.

1. Respond Quickly

Because a sense of immediacy is integral to social media, customers presume that you’ll answer them right away. In fact, 42 percent of consumers expect a response on social media within an hour. It’s a tall order, but the quicker you respond, the more satisfied your customers will be — and that satisfaction is the whole point.

Still, it isn’t realistic for some businesses to provide round-the-clock support. For after-hours inquiries, arrange to fire off an automated response that acknowledges the message and tells customers when to expect an employee to reach out.

2. Create Scripts That You Can Personalize

As a rule, don’t respond to queries with canned or boilerplate copy. However, it doesn’t hurt to provide your service team with some scripts for common technical issues. It’s much faster and easier to copy and paste the bulk of a response and personalize it to fit the situation. Plus, it can help provide consistency in the quality and tone of your communication.

Furnish your team a reference list of helpful links that they can give to customers who need more information. These might look like “See our returns policy here” or “Scroll to the bottom of this link for product specs.”

3. Be a Human, Not a Robot

Even if they’re responding with the company’s account, make sure your reps include their names or initials to make the interaction more personal. Customers want to feel like a real person is on the other side of the conversation. When dealing with angry people, don’t get defensive or strike back. Instead, examine their grievances, and be polite about offering solutions or apologies.

4. Know When to Take Things Offline

There will be issues that your team can’t button up on social media. If you need any personal information — full name, email address, account number — then it’s time for a private conversation. If the support rep needs to ask a long series of questions, then it’s best to keep that back-and-forth off the social media platform. It’s important to prep customers for the next steps if you’re asking them to move away from social media. This might look like “Dial this phone number, press zero and ask to speak with John.”

Companies That Are Rocking Social Media Customer Service

If you’re interested in upping your customer service game on social media, learn from a few of these companies. Watch what they do, and apply the lessons to your own brand.

  • Netflixhelps and Zappos on Twitter are both great examples of how brands can interact in a fun, laidback way that draws people in with charisma.
  • SpotifyCares on Twitter is a standout example of how highly trained service reps can efficiently, consistently help resolve technical issues in an over-and-above fashion.
  • XboxSupport on Twitter has a lightning-fast response time of under three minutes. Each response contains the rep’s initials for a personal touch.
  • WarbyParker encourages customers to use the Twitter hashtag #hometryon to get advice on which pair of glasses to choose when they just can’t decide. This is a great example of a brand being proactive about customer care.
  • UPSHelp is a stellar example of how to approach customer service when sensitive information, such as tracking numbers, is required. UPS is quick to get disgruntled customers on track to real solutions.