The advent of online media has opened up a constant demand from customers to answers to their questions. “Where do I..? How can I..? Where is my..? I’m really angry, what are you going to do about…?”

The world of customer service has changed.

Most will find it an easier and far more immediate avenue than phoning a helpline – plus, they can amplify their feelings to others (who doesn’t like a good vent?). Users will expect a very quick turnaround when it comes to online customer service. If your organisation is planning to (or has been forced into) utilising Twitter or Facebook for customer service you must be fully prepared and well resourced. If done right, this can be a really great opportunity to set your company above its competitors, grow customer loyalty and raise brand awareness.

Thought, time and detailed processes are all key here. You’ll also need buy-in from relevant stakeholders.

Here’s a few things to consider:

  • Ask your call handlers for the most common questions they get asked by customers and research the answers.
  • Start putting all of this info into a FAQ/knowledge bank. Regularly update it and make it accessible by all who work on the frontline.
  • On a content note, you’ll need to rewrite all this info into responses that conform with your tone of voice and, are adapted for each social media channel you inhabit.
  • Ensure all contact details and links to information are continually checked and updated too.
  • Have a designated ‘Gatekeeper’ (and a spare) who all new/revised info will pass through, and who will carry out the updates. Don’t leave in the hands of the ‘many’ – people’s approach to detailed processes and set guidelines can vary immeasurably…
  • If your business relies on or works closely with suppliers and/or other organisations, gather all the pertinent info you need from them and also involve them in the customer service workflow.
  • Re Twitter, you may wish to have two separate handles – one for marketing messages and one for customer service. So, should there a crisis that prompts customer complaints, you can ensure that a perky marketing message does not pop up amongst them! However, if you do have the one Twitter account then it’s vital all pre-scheduled messaging is monitored against real-time issues.
  • Workflow your response journey and timings. Best practice states that a user query on Twitter should invoke a response from you within 30 minutes, on Facebook, within the hour. Depending on the nature of your service, these timings can vary. If you’re providing travel services (flights, rail, etc.) then you will need to be quick and have an answer to hand. If you’re a big name, you’ll also need to be quick – there’s plenty out there expecting you to fail. If your service is less time dependent you may have some leeway to consider your response but, we’d suggest, never leave it for more than 24 hours’. Check out @HeathrowAirport for a best practice use of Twitter for time-dependent customer service.
  • Ensure your Twitter is set to allow DMs from all. This means your customers can stay ‘in-channel’ when they want to discuss an issue with you. It also has the added benefit of taking what could possibly be a negative discussion out of the public view. Continue to be careful with wording though as there’s nothing to stop users copying and posting your messages in public.
  • Have a clear sign-off process. At what stage does Legal need to be involved? Who has ultimate authority for issues and/or crisis.
  • Ensure you look after your staff. When things kick-off online, it can be very disturbing for your team. Provide them with backup and, get them to take regular breaks.

If you’d like to discuss things in more detail, do get in touch. We can put all those tedious workflows into place for you. We can also stay around to ensure all is working smoothly before your team takes it completely in-house (if that’s the way you decide to go).

Handling customer service via social media can be a real game-changer for a brand. It can do wonderful things. But, as with all opportunities, there is an element of risk. So, taking time and applying care to your set-up and processes is all important.

We’d say it’s worth it.