A Few Tips on Social Media Customer Service

SEMA Member News—March/April 2011

In Social Media Environments, Every Customer Has Influence


Social media, such as Facebook, have evolved into powerful marketing tools. SPC is among the thousands of organizations that take advantage of the Internet’s ability to connect with a passionate audience.

Because “social media” are such buzzwords these days, a lot of people think that these new channels somehow exist in a different dimension of the space-time continuum and that different rules and laws of physics apply. Yes, social media channels are immediate. Yes, social media channels are broadcast platforms for the hitherto voiceless. And, yes, everybody is doing it. But when it comes to customer service and building and protecting your business reputation, the same principles apply in social media as in all other channels of communication between you and your customers. The following are three basic things that you should do well in customer service. But doing so may pay off differently in social media.

Set proper expectations. Just as you post office hours or customer-service hours for phone and chat support, you should set the right expectations for social media channels, such as Twitter and Facebook. While these online and mobile channels seem “always on,” it is important to tell your customers upfront what to expect in terms of response times and contact frequency. If you don’t have a team of representatives monitoring and responding to every tweet that comes your way or mentions your brand, you should state exactly what customers should expect or direct them to your other channels where help is more readily available. You can do so in the background image or in the “About” section on Twitter. You can also provide a link to your website or customer-service page.

Take every complaint as an opportunity to impress. This should always be the case, and not just in social media. Every time a customer takes the time to let you know that something went wrong, you have a chance to impress him and turn him into a promoter of your brand. But in social media, your average customer could have a much bigger impact than you think. Social media has given average netizens a broadcasting platform, and you never know which one of your customers has thousands of followers on Twitter or friends on Facebook. The network effect is incredible online, and your every response is in print. Virtual print, that is, but even more lethal when you get it wrong—or incredibly powerful if you set things right. The chief marketing officer of Virgin America shares a great story of how the company responded to an angry passenger’s complaint tweet on a delayed flight by having the pilot send her a free drink. That passenger was so impressed that she tweeted how great Virgin America was. The airline turned her from a detractor into a promoter within minutes.

Take conversations private when appropriate. Just as you would never want an angry customer infecting other customers in your store or at the counter, you want to take some conversations private as appropriate in social media channels. If someone is complaining about your brand on Twitter, Facebook or in an online forum or blog, he or she is doing so publicly and loudly. You don’t want to leave that person yelling in your store; you want to take him or her to the back office, calm them down and try to resolve the issue. It’s the same in social media. Acknowledge that you’ve heard the complaint and that you’d like to help, then either ask for an e-mail or provide a customer-service e-mail for that person to take the complaint off the public forums. If you manage to address the issue and exceed the customer’s expectations, he or she will tell others—just as in the offline world. But remember that he or she is likely to create a bigger impact in social media. You should also publicly post to the original thread after resolving the issue to tell the community that you followed through and fixed the problem.

Finally, there are myriad applications and services out there that can help you actively listen in on your customers. Some are free, some are paid and some cost an arm and a leg. Here’s a list of tools that I have found useful in monitoring social media.

  • Tweetdeck.com: This desktop app allows you to manage Twitter, Facebook and a number of other channels. You can set up saved searches for keywords tied to your brand.
  • Viralheat.com: This is the poor man’s version of Radian6, which is a social media monitoring tool. You can set up profiles and define
    keywords related to your brand.
  • Getsatisfaction.com: This is a crowd-sourced customer service site where the community and/or your employees can respond to customer-service issues. They do the backend work; you focus on helping customers.

Danny Chang is the senior product marketing manager for buyer experience at eBay Motors, the world’s biggest online automotive marketplace. Follow him on Twitter @eBayMotors.