9 Tips For Becoming A Social Customer Care Rockstar

"Offering" social customer care is not enough. It's imperative to do it correctly.

Brian Cantor

Each week, I seem to encounter several high-profile articles about this cutting-edge notion of using social media for customer service.

I can’t help but be disappointed.  We’re long past the idea of social customer care being a new and radical idea.  Social media has clearly established itself as a preferred communication channel for customers.  It is not an exciting, new option.  It is an utterly fundamental requirement in an era where customer channel preference dictates engagement.

So why do these articles keep emerging?

No matter how “cliché” it may seem in thought leadership circles, great social customer care continues to elude many organizations.

And so when mainstream journalists evaluate the marketplace – and see so few businesses doing it right – they will naturally think it represents a “fringe” topic for the business world.  They would be stunned to know it is such a common, if dated talking point among customer management professionals.

CCW Digital is part of the customer management community, so I won’t pretend the idea of social customer care is a wild idea.

I will, however, share some tips for delivering a social customer care experience befitting today’s era of customer-centric, omnichannel engagement.

1)      Respond – Quickly and Completely

Businesses know not to ignore people who come to the customer service desk.  They know not to ignore customers who call the support line.

It is time they stop ignoring customers who seek assistance on social networks.

Social irrefutably represents a legitimate engagement channel, and that means all customer inquiries must be taken seriously.  When a customer contacts your business – be it through a general brand handle or specific customer service account – you must respond quickly and sufficiently.

Replying back with a general “Thanks for your message, please contact our help line” four hours after the initial message is not a “response.”  When I say “respond to inquiries,” I’m advising you to offer a meaningful, contextually relevant answer moments after receiving the customer’s inquiry.

2)      Guide, Don’t Deflect

It is easy to advise businesses to “solve every problem in the customer’s preferred” channel.  And, make no mistake, that should be the goal.

It is not always realistic in practice.

Due to the limitations of social media, there are some issues that are better suited for another forum.  Certain legal restrictions, in fact, may require businesses to shift the conversation to a different channel.

If offering a social solution is truly impossible, a customer-centric brand will facilitate seamless escalation to an alternative channel.  It will make the process of relocating informative, friendly and utterly frictionless.

A rockstar brand never blindly deflects customers from the social channel.  It either solves the problem in that venue – or guides the customer to a more suitable one.

3)      Monitor (And Respond) To Indirect Mentions

Unlike that in “conventional” channels (telephony, email, etc), social engagement is not necessarily direct.  Customers do not exclusively speak to brands; they also speak about them.

The best businesses monitor these interactions – these indirect rants do count as the “voice of the customer,” after all.

They also respond where necessary and appropriate.  While they do not address every indirect mention (they do not want to come across as invasive), they do offer assistance where applicable.

Imperative when it comes to addressing complaints and customer service issues, this approach is valuable in all forms of engagement.

Consider how Mohegan Sun handled a recent "indirect" mention on Twitter.

In a Tweet directed at Imagine Dragons, a mother revealed that her teenage daughter died during a soccer game.  The daughter's team loved Imagine Dragons' music, and she was hoping there was a way to take the entire team to the band's show at Mohegan Sun.

Even though it was not "tagged" in the Tweet, Mohegan Sun responded by offering a "skybox for the team."

4)      Try To Be The Bigger Brand

Customers are not, in fact, always right.  They can be objectively wrong about facts.  They can also communicate in a rude, belligerent and downright unacceptable manner.

No matter how tempting it may be, a great brand generally avoids arguing with these customers in social media.  It instead commits itself to being the “bigger brand.”  It demonstrates warmth, class and an unwavering resolve to satisfying customers – even those customers who are “annoying.”

Taking the high-road is a win-win approach.

Social care interactions are public, and individuals relish in the opportunity to take sides.

If the public sides with the customer, then it will appreciate the brand’s display of accountability.  If the public sides with the brand (as it did in the Ann Coulter/Delta fiasco), it will admire the brand’s class, while dismissing the customer’s criticism.

In either case, the “bigger brand” comes across as a great, customer-centric organization.

5)      But Always Defend Your Values

When engaging in social media, a brand should always maintain its class.  It should never succumb to unchecked hostility.

There are, however, some situations in which an overly conciliatory approach can backfire.

Consider what happened when David Jones responded to a racist rant from a customer.

The customer criticized the Australian retailer for including a black model on the cover of its Summer Beauty issue.  Instead of admonishing the customer and defending its commitment to diversity, the brand offered a stock apology to the customer.  Many criticized David Jones for its soft response, which essentially dignified the customer’s racist position.

Critics were not expecting David Jones to relentlessly bash the customer.  They were, however, looking for the brand to take a firm stance against intolerance.

Yes, today’s consumers to demonstrate a classy, respectful, fervent commitment to customer satisfaction.

But they also expect brands to have identities.  They expect brands to stand for something.  They commit to brands not only because of their goods and services but because of their values.

Social communication represents a great window into a brand’s identity, and rockstar brands ensure that what they communicate always reflects who they are.

6)      Show Some Personality

Rockstar brands know that cultivating a social “identity” involves more than articulating core values.  It also involves establishing a memorable, appealing personality.

Rockstar brands incorporate this personality into their social engagement strategy.  They do not merely communicate in robotic, impersonal, “proper” language.  They leverage unique, fun, humorous antics to distance themselves from the crowd.

Their goal is not merely to be a business from which customers are comfortable buying products.  They want to be a brand with which customers passionately want to engage.

Over the last few years, Wendy’s has received praise for its biting, hilarious Tweets.

And while wry humor may not always have a place in customer service interactions, personality definitely does.

Jet Heads, the social customer care account for Jet.com, incorporates a natural, conversational, light-hearted tone into most interactions.  The approach positions Jet as a charming, accessible brand – the kind of business with which customers would want to connect.

7)      Make Responses Accessible

One of the most common social customer care questions involves the decision to respond publicly or in private.

Among experts, the general recommendation is to respond in public.  Issues involving personal account details obviously need to be handled in DMs, but most other matters can be addressed on the main feed.

In justifying their recommendation, experts note that public responses can help other customers down the road.  If a customer sees a Tweet applicable to their own issue, they will not have to waste time asking the question.  The business, moreover, will not have to spend time responding to a redundant matter.

This concept only works if the previous answers are easy to locate.  Customers are not going to scroll through thousands of Tweets to find a solution to their problem.

Twitter offers native support for this endeavor. The platform stores “replies” on a tab separate from the main account feed.  A brand can thus use its main feed to share a “knowledgebase” of answers to common questions and its replies to handle individual inquiries.

While no brand should ever force customers from social, it may want to supplement its strategy with a website that includes a searchable archive of past social care responses.

In addition to elevating the user experience, this “smart” approach to social customer care also simplifies the data mining process.

8)      Make Data Accessible – And Actionable

Social customer engagement does not occur in isolation; it is part of the overall customer journey.

Given this reality, organizations must ensure the social channel is connected to other communication touch points.

Non-social agents and systems should have instant access to data acquired in social channels (and vice versa).  They must be able to recognize the customer as they move from between social and other channels.

By establishing this backend integration, the business will create the ideal frontend experience for customers.  When seeking support on Twitter, they will not feel as if they are dealing with the “fringe social team” but part of the singular, unified customer experience effort.  In the event that they need to transition to another channel, they will be able to do so without any difficulty, let alone the frustrating need to repeat information.

In addition to improving the customer experience, integration enhances the overall value of the social channel.  The business will be able to better acquire – and act upon – “voice of the customer” data acquired from direct and indirect social interactions.

9)      Set Specific Metrics

Integration is not synonymous with uniformity.

Yes, social customer care should be integrated and aligned with the other facets of the customer experience.  But insofar as social interactions are not identical to those in other channels, the business cannot use the same, uniform approach to measurement and management.

The business must establish metrics that specifically capture success in the social environment.

It, moreover, must identify – and remedy – pain points that are specific to the social customer care experience.