Even if you live in a mud hut in northern Greenland, you’ve heard all about the impact that social media can have on your business marketing. And that’s exactly why I’m not going to talk about it. Instead, I’d like to point out a growing trend—the use of social media as a customer service venue. (Of course, customer service is a form of marketing, but I digress.)
Social channels are the ideal place to listen to your constituents and provide unparalleled customer support. One stellar example is Media Temple, a webhosting company that supports mega-brands like Sony, Toyota and NBC Universal as well as small businesses and entrepreneurs.
Web hosting is a tough business and for many businesses not being online comes at a huge cost, and Media Temple takes their responsibility very seriously. As one would expect, they have a well-defined process to log support requests online or over the phone. But we’ve found that they respond even faster if we use Twitter to point out a problem we’re having.
Think about what that means internally: Media Temple has assigned someone (probably more than one) to monitor the Twitterverse for mention of the company, to parse the information for customer service opportunities, to make a decision, and then to act upon it. That indicates a very thoughtful process that has been allotted both time and resources to succeed.
During Hurricane Irene, I also had the time and opportunity to observe some local and regional businesses use social media to talk to their constituents. Out of all these experiences, I came up with a few guidelines for using Facebook and Twitter as a customer service tool.
Think of social media as a two-way street.
To quote Yoda: “Do, or do not. There is no try.” If you don’t have the personnel or the process to monitor it, don’t even bother having a social media presence. Seriously. Done well, it can win your business praise and patience. Done poorly, it will win you ridicule and resentment. It takes a commitment of time and resources to do consistently and effectively. During the hurricane, one regional utility provider gave regular updates presented in a personable company voice. They were responsive to questions from the audience, kept long hours and provided exceptional value in each of its communications.
Get ahead of problems whenever you can.
For all but the largest businesses, being everywhere that your customers need you is nearly impossible. Service requests and repairs need to be triaged. Social media as a broadcast tool can help set expectations for your customers as you make your priorities clear—particularly important during a crisis. The same utility provider made a very strong push on Twitter BEFORE the hurricane, getting out the word to follow them and to explain what to expect in the days ahead.
Be transparent, honest and helpful.
What you say on Twitter or Facebook is coming straight from the brand. It doesn’t take much on a social media channel to give your company a reputation for being unprofessional, secretive and obstructive. Typos, misspellings, grammatical mistakes all . make your business look amateur. You can still be conversational—but treat it like any other official communication channel. Be wary about delegating the responsibility to someone who’s not ready for prime time.
The key takeaway? As more of your customers embrace social media, your marketing and customer service functions need to do the same. Consumers expect you to be responsive, sincere and honest. Failure to do so could cost you their business and the business of their friends and family. That’s a pretty high price to pay for not being ready and willing to embrace change.