Social Media: a Critical Part of Customer Service

Jon Fesmire |
I was an early Internet user starting back in 1993. I was an early World Wide Web user in 1995. I used Netscape for my browsing, Eudora for email, and had a Geocities site. Now, as a blogger, I work on the Internet every day and the amount of information we can access and share amazes me still. Social media is a natural outgrowth of our ability to do so much online, and with that in place, critiquing companies had to follow. Today’s technology moves quickly, so many businesses are still behind on social media, just as many were behind in getting websites for years. If you have largely ignored the social media swimming pool up to now, it’s time to dive in. Social media customer service is now a necessary part of most businesses. You don’t have to learn to swim by trial and error, though. This article is designed to keep you from drowning in a sea of customer comments. If you’re in self-storage, a great Internet presence is critical. Today, most new customers find our facilities via the Internet and a great reputation goes a long way toward converting those seekers to tenants. Customer complaints not handled correctly can turn new business away.

How Social Media Affects Businesses

A case study by Lithium, a provider of social media customer service software, revealed that 72% of disgruntled customers who post to a company’s Twitter feed expect a response within an hour. You’re probably as shocked as I was when I read that, but that’s what the study says. A surprising 60% of those who do not receive rapid responses will escalate. This can take the form of publicly shaming the company on Twitter, Facebook, or another platform. In turn, this can have an immediate impact on a company’s success. About 17% of people complained about a company in 2011, and that increased to 35% in 2013. Despite this, 70% of Twitter complaints go unanswered. The news isn’t all bad.Consider this: 9 out of 10 people read online reviews to assess local businesses before becoming customers. While bad reviews can turn customers away, 70% say that a company’s response to such a review can sway them back. Also, 7 out of 10 people trust a business more after reading a positive review, and those companies most engaged with their customers earn the best reviews. With these statistics in mind, the path forward becomes clear. Monitor what people say on social media and respond to it promptly.

Customer Service for Social Media

Of course, your prompt response also needs to be a professional response. How you work with customers on social media follows the same general rules as any other type of customer service. Stay positive and be helpful. Pay attention to posts about your company. These won’t always be on Yelp or on your own social media feed. So, a few companies now make the process much easier. One with an incredibly robust platform is Reputation.com. The company’s platform allows you to monitor social media sites and to respond on each via a single, integrated interface. Companies can use it to manage reviews for one location or hundreds. I recommend this or a similar solution to save you a great deal of time. Monitoring social media is just the first step. The next is handling feedback well. As mentioned, customers with complaints expect you to respond within an hour. However, it is a lofty goal and not always possible. Do your best to respond the same day or within 24 hours. If you can answer a customer’s question quickly, do so without referring them to a manual or a website document. Apologize without getting defensive and let the customer know that the company is dedicated to helping customers, making their web browsing a positive experience, or whatever your company does. When addressing a more difficult complaint, take the conversation off social media as soon as you can. Leave a response explaining that you want to help and can best do so if they go to a certain page on your site or call in for support. You can even link to this page to make it easy for them. Explain what steps the company will take to remedy the situation, and learn from the criticism. Social media can be brutal. Just read through the comments for any popular YouTube video and you’ll see what I mean. Sometimes a customer complaint might upset you, and that’s fine. When this happens, don’t respond right away. Wait until you’ve calmed down so that you can write a thoughtful reply. You might not be able to respond within an hour, but your answer will be measured and professional. Do realize, however, that it can be difficult to distinguish between genuine customers who are upset and trolls. A “troll” on the Internet is defined as someone who posts annoying or upsetting comments just to get a rise out of others. If someone is clearly trolling, you can pretty safely ignore the comment. If you recognize it as such, others reading your reviews will too. When in doubt, err on the side of helping the customer. Strive to treat all customers equally. It helps for the company to have a consistent voice that all employees understand. That way, a response from any employee is the company’s response. Along this same line of thinking, have rules and policies in place that allow anyone doing social media customer service to give consistent responses. If one tenant gets a month free because of not being able to access their unit during normal business hours, then all customers who experience this should get a month free. Never ignore a legitimate complaint. It’s in your company’s best interest to solve the problem and to learn from it. This will remove or at least make that problem less frequent in the future, will help to repair your relationship with the customer, and show your professionalism to the public. While humor can diffuse tension, do not make a joke of a customer request, even if it’s meant well. This can easily come off as insensitive or insulting and drive customers away. Some Internet practices are severely frowned upon. First, never ask a customer to take down their complaints, and never delete or hide honest complaints yourself. A company that strives to fix its issues looks much better than one that hides them. Second, never use sock puppet accounts to give your own company positive reviews. Savvy Internet users have a sense of what’s real and what’s fake. Your feedback won’t all be negative! When customers give you positive reviews, thank them personally on social media. A customer who goes out of their way to publicly support your company deserves a genuine thank you message. However, take care of the negative reviews first. Those require quick responses. Once you have written back to those folks, it’s time to address the positive reviews. I hope this helps out friends in self-storage to handle social media like masters. This is new territory for many, but not so difficult once you know the rules. References: http://shawngraham.me/blog/handling-customer-complaints-on-social-media-case-study http://socialcentiv.com/responding-customer-complaints-social-media-2/ http://www.business2community.com/social-media/106-amazing-social-media-marketing-statistics-2014-2015-01151764) http://onlinemba.ohio.edu/resources/infographics/types-of-social-interactions-businesses-might-encounter/