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Social media customer service: understanding the risks

Back in the days before online social media, when you had an issue with a local vendor or store you most likely did one of the following: if it was a local business, it would have been easy to drive to the store to leave a complaint or a compliment. If you couldn’t visit the store, you could write them a letter or phone their customer service department. One of these options of contact most likely gave you a response, but it used to take days or even weeks. In today’s digital driven business world, one would expect that the turnaround time should be quicker.

Do you use social media for customer service? What is the purpose of your Facebook page, Twitter profile, Pinterest boards, and your YouTube channel? The primary function for most businesses starting out with building their brand on social media is to disseminate information to current and future customers.

Social media is an instrument of communication that facilitates social behaviour. It can be used to promote your ability to handle your business online. It can give you direct answers in real-time to customer queries and it shows that you are not just able to give answers to questions, but you are also willing to take action when it’s required. Social media is real-time and news on the social web travels almost as fast as the speed of light. Think how quickly a positive or negative trend can burn through Twitter in mere hours.

Social media risks
With any marketing medium available today, social media also comprises of a couple of risks. One of the most important points to consider with any social media campaign is that no one can really hear your voice over a computer — maybe you have updated your status on your favourite social media channel about something humorous and someone took your tone of what you shared the wrong way. It is really important to not misuse social media as this can cause you and your business damage.

Never neglect your profile
Always answer questions and comments in a timely manner. This is not saying that you should be on Twitter and Facebook every hour of the day, but if a customer has a question about a specific service or product, it’s best not have them hanging without an answer for days.

If you are too worried about missing posts from them, there are ways you can set up automatic notifications through email and other services. By setting up these notifications and listening posts you can keep track of any activity.

Never be defensive
You might have a number of people managing your digital profile, and while there’s nothing wrong with that, it may open the door to the occasional “rant” when responding to a complaint. It is very important for the person managing your profile to know that every response to a comment represents your business, not always only one individual. Most of the time, if a customer or a potential prospect is offended by a negative remark or comment, they will only see your logo, and associate a bad experience with your business. It is very important to handle online situations with tact, grace and expedience.

Never delete
It is true that no one likes a black mark on their Facebook wall. It looks ugly and it is the closest thing to a bruise. You might think that it will go away when you delete it, but most of the times it won’t. If the complaint or negative remark is valid, use this opportunity to address the issue publicly and how you intend to solve it. The person who left the comment will see that you are attentive and others will realize that you are there to provide value, and a business that listens.

Can social media help you with customer service? It definitely can if you know how to handle various situations, and not just using your social profiles for direct advertising.

Image: Andy Arthur

Author | Anton Koekemoer

Anton Koekemoer
I'm your friendly neighbourhood digital marketing specialist. I specialise in helping brands connect with targeted customers by enhancing their online presence through emerging web-based communication channels. I translate business objectives into comprehensive initiatives that focus on humanising brand identity while maximising measurable business results. More
  • Great post, Anton. I’ve read recently about a growing number of companies that had started but are now abandoning their social media customer service channels, essentially because the costs to the business (not just direct, but indirect) are too great and cannot be justified vis-a-vis the benefits. It will be interesting to see if this becomes a new trend.

  • Thanks Scott

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