That is the question. Just like Shakespeare’s Hamlet introductory words, I often ask this question when it comes to customer service, and please don’t misunderstand me, I am not one of those who believes the customer is always right. Neither a business though.

God knows how many Facebook messages and comments I made on company pages, without ever being acknowledged, let alone answered. Sometimes I wonder if the business is simply playing hard to get in a bid to increase the desire for its services, or worse still, a careless attitude towards an underestimated customer service channel. 

In fact, rather than care, many companies tend to scare their customers away on social media, no matter how customer-centric they advocate to be in their marketing messages. The general mistakes which businesses commit on their own social pages are pretty common:

One-way communication: businesses tend to promote their products/services with regular posts but then fail to engage with their followers, whether via public comments or in private messages. Communication is two-way, otherwise it would be called a digital monologue.

Delayed response time: social platforms are live means of information, there is no room for delayed engagement. It’s off-putting to show an interest in something as a customer and not receiving the same (supposedly more) level of interest from the seller part.

Ignoring followers: if you first attract users to follow your pages and then just ignore their comments, messages or, worst still, complaints, it’s not sexy at all. There is a high probability that users will start de-following you and giving you bad publicity, and that means marketing funds going down the drain translating into loss of revenues.

Disconnected employees: it’s useless having a great sales team and a poorly-informed employee replying to social media enquiries. Just like it doesn’t make sense to have customer service or social media experts handling customer engagement to then having this backed up by a very poor support system for sales/after sales. The teams need to be in synch homogeneously so that the customer does not feel being ping-ponged between one department and another.

Rejecting complaints and negative reviews: I have been raised to see the silver lining in every cloud and apply the same creed to bad feedback. If it is true that you can never make everyone happy, I do believe it is always possible to reach a compromise without necessarily breaking rules, discriminating between customers or going against fine print T&Cs. It’s all in the way we approach our customers and show them that we value their custom that we will make a difference.

So here are some tips to help you improve on your customer service skills without any added costs:

Customer engagement: show your social audiences that you care. If you upload a post at 5pm or on a weekend (especially if scheduled in advance which I don’t always agree with),  it’s pretty useless if your social media specialist is out of the office at that time.

Many companies tend to scare their customers away on social media, no matter how customer-centric they advocate to be in their marketing messages

Response time: with social media being a communication platform that is so fast and volatile, almost perishable and intangible, customers who ask questions expect an immediate reply: if you can’t handle that, at least try changing the publishing time to be available for support. If this is not possible, then make sure your opening hours are clearly updated and add an automated reply to private messages to keep the expectations of the customer at bay while your social customer service is closed/offline.

Acknowledging enquiries/comments/feedback: what can be more annoying than sending a message, seeing it has been read by the business and never receiving a reply back! Social media is to be treated just like any other customer care channel, if not more. In the future it will become more important than ever, so we need to gear up and get going in treating it as an opportunity to engage and to market. 

Teamwork: give your salespersons (with best communication skills) some basic training in customer social engagement and incentivise them to handle their own enquiries and turn them into opportunities, whether sales related or support-wise. You can always have a moderator to oversee the communication.

Dealing with complaints: if there is a negative public review or private feedback, there is no reason to fear being exposed for your own threats and weaknesses. Instead, use it as a chance to turn it into opportunities and strengths. An intelligent customer will know if you’re being honest and outgoing in your approach, which will be a point in your favour already. Being respectful and open to criticism and admitting mistakes is not a sign of weakness but of maturity; you should actually thank your customers for giving you free advice to better your service!

If the customer is being unreasonable and an agreement cannot be reached, you might have to let them go, but do try to offer them a completely different and separate incentive to win them over competition.

From experience, I can confirm that is it only the odd one out that stubbornly refuses a resolution.  

Finally, a customer is a human being, so the most important rule is to treat them as a person, not a number.

Try addressing your customer by first name (informal is acceptable on social media) and not by “dear client or dear madam” (and I’m like “hey I have a name!”. Sorry but I can’t stand such outdated and impersonal introductions in any form of customer communication).

Ultimately, businesses should always make sure to treat customers the way they would want to be treated and going beyond their expectations.

Social media gives us the chance to go beyond the cursory and traditional customer care and create the wow factor which generates a high level of satisfaction, often unexpected. When you do this in the public domain, the positive direct and indirect returns you get are high. It is the best form of successful customer care I can think of, but just in case you can’t handle it as yet, just call it Customer Service because ‘care’ is a huge word.

Socialogy, ‘The Art of Social Marketing’ provides cost-effective and sustainable social media marketing to SMEs and marketing agencies at a European level. For more information, visit socialogy.eu.

Alison Casha, Founder of Socialogy

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