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How to Serve Customers via Social Media

Only do it if you know what you're aiming to achieve, and you're able to focus sufficient resources to do so

In popular imagination, a customer service rep is normally wearing a headset and soothing a disgruntled customer on the phone, but this is fast becoming an outdated stereotype. Customers now prefer to solve whatever problem they have though a company website or, increasingly, social media.

This has meant that companies have had to quickly find ways to serve customers across a proliferation of different channels, and many are still struggling to do so well.  A lot of firms have simply relied on setting-up whatever channels their customers or – worse – consultants have told them they should, which tends to confuse customers and lead to “channel-switching” (customers having to go through multiple channels to resolve a problem), increasing both customer effort and company costs.

This is particularly true of social media, where 43% of customer service teams responding to a recent CEB survey said they already provide customer service through social media — surpassing web chat as a channel of service—and many more expect to do the same in the next few years. Unfortunately, only 19.2% of service leaders with a social media strategy are confident that it helps accomplish their most important goals.

Start with a Goal in Mind

Although it might sound counter-intuitive to a customer service team, it doesn’t make sense to try to always serve customers in the channel they prefer. Not only is it expensive, it won’t lead to a good service experience for the customer if the company is spreading its resources thinly across too many channels.

Instead, teams should understand the individual capabilities of each of the channels at their disposal and guide customers to the best channel for the issue at hand. This is especially true of social media which, because most interactions are so public, it’s important to understand its strengths and limitations and plan a strategy accordingly

Perhaps the most vital error customer service teams make is setting-up a social media channel without a clear goal in mind and a plan to achieve that goal.

Customer service teams that have decided not to create a social media channel tend to cite staffing constraints, a lack of technological sophistication, or other tactical reasons about why they haven’t made the leap, but the bulk of their worries – and the effort they should take – should be to focus on those things that have a measurable business outcome for their company and result in an improvement to the service experience for their customers.

Teams should take time to ask three questions.

  1. What type of involvement from the customer service team would have the most impact on organizational objectives?

  2. How do customers currently engage with the company through social media and would the customer service team add value to existing conversations?

  3. What unique implementation challenges should the service organization consider if it wants to add social media as a service channel?

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