5 Dos and Do Nots of Social Media Customer Service

Brian Cantor

There is a difference between doing something and doing something correctly. And when it comes to social customer care, if you are not doing it right, you will be doing a grave wrong by your organization.

Because of social media’s irrefutable—and irrefutably significant—value, business leaders cannot succumb to their fears and risk aversions. In today’s business climate, they have no choice but to recognize and embrace the opportunity. They have no choice but to make ambitious use of this revolutionary, lucrative customer engagement channel.

Their fears are not, however, without logical justification. By shifting customer interactions to a public, unfiltered sphere, they sacrifice control over the content and distribution of the dialogue. They can neither completely dictate what customers say nor who listens.

That is why getting social customer care right is so essential. Businesses will not only be judged for their foray into social media but by the quality of interactions they drive within social. If they do not display a keen ability to understand and satisfy customers, they will be broadcasting their lack of customer-centricity to the entire universe of past, present and prospective customers. And if their support experience serves to actuallyanger customers, they are essentially passing those customers microphones and amplifiers for more effectively communicating that frustration.

As you seek to commence or optimize your customer care strategy, it is imperative you consider these 5 dos and don’ts of social media customer service.

Do: Establish a presence in all channels relevant to customers

Do Not: Limit that presence based on convenience, resourcing or other internal factors

Social customer care is an "all-in" endeavor. When a business declares itself open to interactions within a given social channel, it is committing itself to providing a great experience within that channel.

Unless asked to do so by customers, retroactively deciding to approach certain channels only as broadcasting platforms or as non-urgent support avenues is unacceptable. A business does not get to say, "Sure, we have a Facebook account, but we don’t monitor user posts."

Once a business is on Facebook, it is open for customer-driven interactions. If a Facebook user wants to ask product questions, the business must provide answers. If a Facebook user wants to garner product support, the business must be in position to offer support.

Do: Respond to all (non-spam) social inquiries urgently

Do Not: Mistake an acknowledgement for a response

Businesses looking for sympathy for their social customer service woes ("we don’t have the resources to respond to all Tweets, let alone within a few minutes") are barking up the wrong tree. They are forgetting that, as far as the customer is concerned, the quality and rapidity of social media service should not pale in comparison to those of telephone support. A customer Tweeting is doing so because he wants his problem to be solved in that forum. He is not saying he is okay with vague, inaccurate information, incomplete resolutions and week-long hold times.

If you would not leave a customer phone call unattended for five minutes, you must not leave a Tweet unattended for five minutes. You must respond with the same—if not better (since your effort is on display and in a channel known for instant gratification!)—efficiency and efficacy that you would in a more traditional support channel.

It is worth noting that response, in this case, refers to the act of bringing an issue as close to resolution as conceivably possible. Quickly acknowledging all Tweets and then leaving customers to either wait for detailed responses or switch to a different channel is neither acceptable nor valuable. If your business is not in position to engage social customers on their terms, it is not in position to operate within social media.

Do: Direct interactions to private and/or different channels when of value

Do not: Deflect interactions to private and/or different channels when desired

Customer management thought leaders might tout the importance of a singular, all-encompassing experience across all channels, but they cannot account for the complete spectrum of circumstances. Some issues are too complicated to successfully resolve in 140 characters. Some issues are too private—according to common sense and even the law—to discuss in an open forum.

As a result, businesses will occasionally need to direct certain interactions to private message systems or phone/email settings. While such a practice might not precisely align with the "serve the customer where he wants to be served" mantra, it will ultimately add value to the customer experience when in appropriate scenarios.

The key, however, is to assure it is only done in those appropriate scenarios. Transferring a disgruntled customer to a private channel to remove his dialogue from the public sphere is unacceptable. Not what he wants, it is of no discernible value whatsoever to the customer. It preserves a superficial business need at the expense of customer preference.

Using Twitter primarily to provide customers with support numbers is an even more egregious offense. By connecting with a social channel, a customer is saying that he expects the business to exercise every possible measure to serve him within that channel. Preemptively asking him to call or e-mail without respect to his individual circumstance is a business’ surefire way of letting the customer know that his needs and preferences are unimportant.

Do: Offer personalized responses to customers

Do Not: Make aggressive assumptions when crafting those personalized responses

Social media is a human channel; when connecting with customers, it is important to do so from the perspective of an individual. Instead of providing stock, generic responses to customer inquiries, businesses should customize each response for the specific customers they are serving and issues they are addressing.

They do, however, need to be show restraint in the personalization process. Humor is great, but jokes that do not relate to—or even risk offending—the customer could destroy the interaction.

Offering personalized conversation points and cutesy banter is always recommended, but it is a practice that, too, must fall under a conservative, risk averse umbrella. Making a comment about the dog in a customer’s photo, for instance, could prove crushing if the dog is not in great health. Offering an assumption about a customer’s travel plans—such as referencing Disney when speaking to someone flying to Orlando—could backfire if the customer is not traveling to Disney. It, in an attempt to be personal and human, would reveal that the business does not truly know its individual customers.

Do: Celebrate and reward loyal customers and brand advocates

Do Not: Ignore or slight detractors and disgruntled customers

Customer enthusiasm does not grow on trees. When businesses sense it in the form of positive anecdotes on social, repeated demonstrations of loyalty or even overt brand advocacy, they should do everything in power to further the cultivation process.

Whether defined by actively engaging with the delighted customer, spotlighting something about him within a social networking, following him or even providing some sort of reward or compensation, the celebration of customer loyalty serves to increase that loyalty. By letting the customer know he is valued, it prompts him to develop even more affinity for the brand.

It also serves as an invaluable marketing tool. The word-of-mouth associated with customer loyalty is a gift that cannot be bought and sold. And as customers sift through social media to learn about companies’ products and corresponding support systems, their eyes—and wallets—will be drawn to those that shower love on their passionate, loyal audiences.

Chasing—and embracing—advocates is not, however, an excuse for ignoring detractors. They might not be as friendly as advocates, but they are every bit as entitled to quality interactions and resolutions. And when they do not receive both, they are every bit as empowered to share their negative experiences across their vast social networks.

While it might seem risky to engage detractors—and thus put such dialogue at the center of the organization’s official social pages—doing so is also the only means of remedying the situation. In addition to showing that the business indeed cares about satisfying its customers, addressing complaints head-on gives the brand its best opportunity to win back disgruntled customers.