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Social media customer service: the beginner’s guide

guides Social media customer service: the beginners guide Foreword

1.  An introduction to social media customer service 2. How to build a social media customer service strategy

3.  Social media customer service tools to consider

4. Structural considerations 5.  Social media customer service metrics and measurements 6. 7.

Lessons from the leaders Your to-do list

Social media customer service: the beginners guide



Neil Davey, editor, Welcome to’s dedicated guide to social media customer service, collating insight, expertise and advice from the pages of our website and from extensive interviews with some of the leading lights in the world of social media. This is a topic that is new and exciting to the business world, and as such there is still a great deal of confusion surrounding it. It’s further complicated by the inevitable hyperbole that accompanies anything social media-related. But we hope this guide will provide you and your business with some valuable clarity, ditching the hype and business jargon in favour of down-to-earth detail. In the following chapters, we’ll walk you through the world of social media customer service, step by step – from building a strategy, to selecting the tools, to putting processes in place. We’ll also examine best practices from some of the leaders in the field, and provide a handy checklist for you as you get your project under way. But first up, we’re going to examine the state of play in social media customer service circa 2013, providing us with some valuable perspective before we pick it apart. I hope you’ll find this guide to be the perfect starting point for your social media customer service journey. Neil Davey, editor, Social media customer service: the beginners guide


Chapter 1.

An introduction to social media customer service Frank Eliason blazed the trail for social media customer support some years ago now, demonstrating how social platforms had the potential to usher in a new age of customer service. And with ground-breaking social support case studies emerging around the likes of Dave Carroll and giffgaff shortly afterwards, momentum quickly gathered within the emerging field. But some five years later a growing number of commentators are voicing their disappointment that the revolution has never materialised, including a recent feature on by IBM’s Guy Stephens. So what has happened? Was social media customer support a flash in the pan? Did our initial excitement blind us to the fundamental impracticalities of providing customer support on social platforms? Do customers even really want to receive support on social media? “It has been a question of reality vs hype,” explains thinkJar’s Esteban Kolsky. “Hype was that ‘this is going to solve all of your problems’ and the reality is that it’s just an extra set of channels. And when reality hits hype, it usually slows down because then we have to figure out what to do with it. And when

Social media customer service: the beginners guide


we try to figure out what to do with it, we find it’s not everything we thought. Some are disappointed, some try to find a way to make it work, some sit around and say ‘maybe next time’. There were some early adopters that have had decent results. There were some early adopters that had crappy results. And the majority of the adopters in the second wave don’t know what to do with it. So that’s where we are.” And yet despite this, reports estimate that as many as 80% of companies still plan to use social media for customer service. The likes of Twitter and Facebook are not a natural fit for customer support – “You can only do so many messages in one day on Twitter – and Facebook has some privacy issues and performance issues because it constantly changes the API and the way they work,” says Kolsky. So why is there still so much enthusiasm for social media customer support from businesses?

“The number of minutes spent online is dominated by social compared to any other online activity”

“The number of minutes spent online is dominated by social compared to any other online activity; about one in two people have a Facebook account, and Twitter has grown to around 12 million in the UK – everyone’s social behaviour continues to develop and mature,” says Martin Hill-Wilson, social business strategist and director at Brainfood Consulting.

Social media customer service: the beginners guide


“Brands are responding in like terms. So if social media service has become ‘quieter’ it is because brands have not got a lot to brag about yet as they’re still trying to catch up with the fact that customers are leading the way.”

The cost of doing business

Having just researched and written a book on the topic of social media customer service, Hill-Wilson has found many organisations are reporting that social contact is knocking back the level of live voice and email, and are therefore growing their teams of social agents, one such example being supermarket giant Tesco, which has ramped up its social staff from four to 40 in 18 months. And while social platforms aren’t naturally geared towards customer service, businesses need to follow the lead of their customers. Quite simply, Facebook and Twitter are “the cost of doing business in today’s world” says Hill-Wilson, with one in three users now preferring to contact brands using social media rather than the telephone, according to Nielsen’s social media report. “Facebook and Twitter aren’t necessarily more costeffective forms of communication, particularly if in most cases they are going to direct message or private message in order to take people out of those public forums,” he says. “A lot of people say that once you’re organised on Twitter it can be more productive – for instance, if you are a business that has a lot of service requests that are best communicated as a visual response then you could build up videos on YouTube and then tweet bookmarks to help customers. Social media customer service: the beginners guide


That would be very efficient – but it is often a more clumsy form of communication. And particularly if brands are pushing people back into the contact centre, bearing in mind that a lot of customers have just come to social from the call centre, that whole interaction loop can be very inefficient and much more expensive.� Certainly there is huge scope for improvement in this field. Despite the fact that customers have made the decision that they want to conduct brand conversations in the social arena, there are still a great many businesses that are either barely responsive or not present at all. Research from Social Bakers found that the industry average of customer response to social media enquiries is only 55%, while on Twitter the global average is a response rate of just 32%. And even those that do reply, do not necessarily do so in a timely fashion – the industry benchmark for a response on Twitter is 357 minutes, a shockingly long time compared to a call centre. But even that pales in comparison to the average response time on Facebook, which is a whopping 819 minutes.

Questions to ask

Part of the problem is that brands are taking an outmoded view of the social sphere. An Interbrand study of top brands using social media found that many companies resource their social channels according to the traditional 9-5 working day, something that is totally at odds with the permanently active world of social.

Social media customer service: the beginners guide


But there are also a great many other challenges that brands are experiencing that are undermining efforts to support the social customer. A survey of practitioners by thinkJar last year identified a number of common issues including:

 ustifying and validating investment in J social media customer service programmes (“Organisations may be doing it to satisfy customers, but they can’t isolate the customer satisfaction for the people that were served only on the social channel,” co-author of the report Mitch Lieberman told

 reating definitions of what constitutes a C successful programme, thereby making it difficult to benchmark and measure performance.

 inding the right balance between social customer F service and more ‘traditional’ channels.

I ntegration problems around data and process (Lieberman said: “Part of the cause of the data silo is adding a data field so that you recognise that @mjayliebs is Mitch Lieberman, for example. It is not rocket science, but it is also a question of whether customers want the company to know. Businesses are experimenting with that in B2B, but you aren’t talking about banking transactions or health claims – if you get the wrong person you have egg on your face, but if you give the wrong healthcare data matched to the wrong person you might have a bigger problem.”)

Social media customer service: the beginners guide


And there are plenty of other questions that organisations need to answer if they are to remove roadblocks to social customer service. For instance, a common bone of contention is who has ownership of social.

“There is no clear organisational buyer for social...Sometimes it is owned by marketing, sometimes it is owned by customer service. ” “There is no clear organisational buyer for social,” notes Kate Leggett, principal analyst at Forrester Research. “The contact centre manager rarely owns social customer service. Social customer service is a job function that sits between marketing and customer service. Sometimes it is owned by marketing, sometimes it is owned by customer service. It is slowly moving into customer service but it hasn’t quite made it there. So I think that is one issue that we’re dealing with – who owns social customer service within the company?” Elsewhere, there is the small question of how to manage social at scale. “One of the aspects of social customer service that is not true of traditional is that if things go horribly wrong – i.e. viral – then you have a real issue of how to scale to meet that demand,” says Hill-Wilson. “You really need to be prepared for how you’re going to Social media customer service: the beginners guide


respond when volumes on social multiply by a factor of 10 or 100, because as most people know, having an issue in social is a matter of when rather than if. So what do you do? And the answer is that you need to be able to scale from your initial social team up to the whole customer service team and then beyond that to possibly virtual points of connection – people who have got some experience but aren’t necessarily plugged in full-time. So that is one of the resourcing issues that people are thinking through at this time.” And businesses also need to ask themselves whether the foundational elements are in place to ensure that they aren’t simply attempting to bolt social technologies onto a sub-optimal contact centre. “Social customer service is another communication channel that companies need to offer to their customers and so they have to be able to provide service level agreements (SLAs) like they would any other channel and then meet those expectations,” says Leggett. “From a customer’s point of view, we know these are channels that customers want to be engaging on, but customers aren’t always happy at the engagement they get on these channels. And a lot of this has to do with companies not following all the best practices to be able to adopt, and to be able to mature interactions on these channels.”

Here to stay

Leggett points to Forrester stats that highlight that Twitter usage for customer support has doubled in the last three years, while the percentage of consumers that have used online communities for support has leapt from 23% to 33% in the same time scale. “We Social media customer service: the beginners guide


know that these are channels that customers would like to be using,” she emphasises. “But we have looked at average satisfaction ratings for social channels and they are mediocre,” says Leggett. “And the reason that they’re mediocre is nothing to do with technology, but because the business processes haven’t been firmly worked out on any of these channels and companies haven’t matured them.” This paints a clear picture for organisations – improve their social media customer service or risk suffering in a very public domain.

“Nobody can hear you scream in the IVR – but this time around you’re killing your brand in public if you aren’t anything but excellent,” notes HillWilson. “That conversation is continuing to grow, it is getting more focused and more real. The pressure to do something about it is definitely there and brands are getting used to it. It might not be as dramatic as it was a few years ago, because it hasn’t got the charismatic people involved in the case studies, it is just ordinary folks. But it is here to stay.”

Social media customer service: the beginners guide


Chapter 2.

How to build a social media customer service strategy Neil Davey Gone are the days when the social media customer support ‘team’ consisted of the tea boy toiling away on the brand’s Facebook page with little guidance. These days, social media is a far more serious business, with brands far more prepared to staff up and resource a coordinated social media response. But that still doesn’t necessarily mean that there is a robust social media customer service strategy underpinning the whole operation. And indeed in many organisations, this is still lacking. “Businesses need a well-planned social customer support strategy because people are going to use their social channels in this way, whether the business likes it or not,” says Neil Major, strategy director at Yomego. “Thus if you start with the assumption that any public facing channel will be used this way, you can plan accordingly. Tactical responses on the other hand will just lead to constant firefighting – and the chance of things going wrong, with the negative attention that can bring.” “Your customers are already talking about you on social channels, so you need to agree what to do with those conversations,” says Tamara Littleton, CEO of eModeration. “If you don’t have a developed strategy on this, you could waste a huge amount of time listening to the wrong things.” Social media customer service: the beginners guide


“If you don’t have a developed strategy on this, you could waste a huge amount of time listening to the wrong things.” The development of a strategy also ensures consistency with the other service channels that a customer could use – something that is increasingly important given the channel-agnostic nature of the modern consumer. “While it’s critical to react to positive and negative posts made over social channels, customers also have real questions around service, promotions and product information that require thoughtful answers consistent with the overall service strategy,” notes Wes O’Brien, CEO of CrowdEngineering. “Tactical responses to service questions on Facebook, Twitter and forums often leave the process of service and achievement of service goals (i.e. tracking first call resolution, customer satisfaction scores and customer effort scores) to chance. A tactical approach underutilises the significant investment most companies have previously made in their customer service organisation, fails to promote a proactive service environment, and can often lead to frustrating customer experiences when service needs are not met.”

Social media customer service: the beginners guide


Listening and purpose

So where should organisations start? How can they lay the groundwork for a robust social media customer service strategy? A good place to begin is by listening to what your customers are saying, and where they are saying it. “You need to know what it is being said about you and your competitors, where it is being said, and who is saying it,” suggests Jay Cooper, COO of BLOOM Worldwide. “This will give you an overview of where you are and enable you to develop objectives and strategy around your customer needs and expectations. It will also give you a good idea of the training and processes that you need to develop for your staff. There’s no point spending thousands of pounds on a robust Twitter customer support strategy, and then finding out all your customers expect to interact with you on Amazon.” Major adds: “You need to know what people are saying so that you can create an effective strategy. You should also look at your other channels to assess the most common likely issues. Listening first will allow you to work out what issues you have and what you can say about them and provides useful steer to help you plan your strategy and get an idea about the levels of resourcing required. It will also help you establish the goals that you hope to achieve – the next step in the strategy building process.” “Agree what you want to achieve,” advises Littleton. “Is it reduced cost, better resolution time or a better Social media customer service: the beginners guide


user experience? Agree whether you want to include customer service in your main social feeds, or split them out (like ASOS does with ASOS Here to Help).”

Securing buy-in and establishing responsibilities

Having listened to your customers to establish a need for social customer service, and also drawn together the goals of the project, it’s now time to secure senior buy-in. As this can sometimes be a tough nut to crack, it is worth ensuring that you have an influential figure heading up the project in the first place. “In order to develop a sound social customer support strategy you need a lead figure at the helm,” explains Peter Heffring, CEO and founder of Expion. “This needs to be someone who firstly understands social media but is also deeply passionate about it. Without this person there won’t be any internal buy-in, at any level. Brands need an evangelist internally to inspire action on social.” And senior buy-in is also essential. “Social media customer support will extend across the entire business and impact on the work of multiple functions. Without senior buyin, the different business functions may operate in silos with different agendas, creating a disconnect and an inconsistent customer service experience,” says Heffring. “For example the digital team may have adopted a sound social customer service strategy while the legal team is reluctant to use social media as a channel to communicate with customers. If those at the top have not bought into the value of a clearly defined social media strategy, it will fail.”

Social media customer service: the beginners guide


He continues: “Once everybody is on board you must define everyone’s roles and responsibilities and confirm the amount of resource the company is willing to commit to the social media customer support channel. The importance of training all stakeholders cannot be underestimated. Training will ensure that all stakeholders are skilled up to the same level and are delivering a consistent message to customers.”

Resources and integration

The issue of resources can be a big concern for businesses, who worry about the level of investment they’ll need to build a successful social media customer support strategy. But Littleton has the following advice to ensure that you’re prepared for the volume of tweets and posts without committing too much investment upfront.

“Planning resource is the most important thing. Customers want a response on Twitter within about 15 minutes (that doesn’t have to be a resolution, just an acknowledgement) and on Facebook within an hour.”

“Initially, it is likely to be small, but will increase as you build awareness of your social customer service channel,” she says. “Planning resource is the most

Social media customer service: the beginners guide


important thing. Customers want a response on Twitter within about 15 minutes (that doesn’t have to be a resolution, just an acknowledgement) and on Facebook within an hour. If you’re likely to get a high volume of Tweets, consider a dedicated channel (as ASOS does) so your feeds don’t get clogged up with posts that aren’t relevant to the majority of your followers.” Social media thought leader Steven Van Bellegham emphasises that the initial ‘listening’ phase will have given you an idea of the resource levels required, but highlights that because of the nature of social, and how quickly things can escalate, it is worth considering how you’ll be able to scale in the event of emergency. “In order to understand how big or how small everything should be, the best place to start is by observing current online observations. It will give you an idea of the amount of conversations you will have to deal with,” he says. “Next to the internal structure, it is interesting to consider external back up as well. In case of a crisis, the internal group can sometimes not handle all requests in time. If you have external support ready at that time, you score points among your clients.” When considering which parts of the organisation will be involved in social media customer service, even if these are resources that will only be used on a contingency basis, it is important to plan how communication is supported between teams. Integration will be a key part of the strategy. “Effective internal communication is vital, Social media customer service: the beginners guide


but frequently organisations have their client communications teams set-up in competition to one another, i.e. the performance of the call centre are measured against the social media team and as such communication between those teams is significantly impaired,” says Sean Burton of Seren. “Ultimately, the customer sees the business as a whole and doesn’t want to have to know which team are dealing with their query – they just want it resolved in as efficient a manner as possible.” And this integration also needs to extend to metrics and KPIs. “Customer service should be equally good over any channel,” says Littleton. “Make sure your social media and customer service team are working closely together, and set policies and guidelines that work over all channels.”


Once you’ve outlined the issues you want to resolve, you have secured budget and it is time to develop the strategy, here is a checklist of things to think about, as recommended by Dominic Sparkes, CEO and cofounder of Tempero: •

 utline who should provide the support - in-house O or agency

If in-house, are you recruiting or up-skilling?

 hat is their remit – standard response, tailored W or bespoke? List all the guidelines, scripts and workflows that need creating

 re your agents using existing tech or new tools? A If you have the people, tech and process – how are you training them? Social media customer service: the beginners guide


What traning and support will you give the team? What are your KPIs and how can you measure them? Heffring has listed the most common mistakes made during the strategy building process in order that you may avoid the following pitfalls: •

 ack of senior buy-in – When introducing any L new processes or concepts into an organisation, you must secure senior buy-in. Without this buyin, the new process is unlikely to become part of the company culture and will ultimately fail.

 o training provided – You cannot expect your N employees and stakeholders to implement a new strategy without training and guidance. You must equip your workforce with the training required to deliver exceptional customer service via social media channels.

 oor planning – You need to ensure your team is P equipped for all eventualities. For example, if you are a car manufacturer and one of your models has been recalled due to faulty brakes, you need to make your team aware of these issues and upscale accordingly to meet customer concerns.

 ack of process – All programmes need clear L processes. If these processes are followed all customers will have the same customer experience.

 ack of goals and measures – Without laying out L what you expect the programme to deliver, it will not succeed in the long term.

Social media customer service: the beginners guide


I nability to interpret the data and action it for business purposes – Social media can provide hugely valuable customer insights as well as other business intelligence. If you are not able to interpret this data for business purposes, the data is redundant and a missed opportunity for businesses. “This is an exciting and transformational time for customer service,” concludes O’Brien. “While many of their elders still reach for the phone, Gen-Y customers simply don’t dial-n to call centres. With an estimated one in three social media users preferring social over phone support, companies need to offer robust and quality support choices for those ‘connected’ customers sooner than later.”

Social media customer service: the beginners guide


Chapter 3.

Social media customer service tools to consider The social platforms are in place. The customers are present. You’ve got your social profiles. But is that enough if you are serious about social media customer support? There are any number of tools and technologies on the market, offered by an array of vendors ranging from the behemoths like down to start-ups. And understanding what is best for your business isn’t always easy. “What tools you need really depends on what you’re trying to achieve,” notes Tamara Littleton, CEO of eModeration. “If you’re a big, established brand, you probably need something that can handle and filter huge volumes of data, such as Adobe Social, to manage conversations on social media. If you’re just starting out, something like Hootsuite might be more appropriate.” So with that in mind, let’s take a whistle stop tour through some of the many tools that are available on the market, and how they can support your social media customer service needs.

1. Listening tools

As a first step into social customer support, organisations should monitor the conversations that customers are having about their brand. This Social media customer service: the beginners guide


can uncover previously undetected problems with products and services as well as identify specific customer issues. Facebook and Twitter both provide basic analytics tools, while social media monitoring tools on the market include Sysomos, Radian6 (part of Salesforce. com’s Marketing Cloud), Augify and Yomego’s SMR service. But the tools alone won’t deliver value, and organisations must ensure that workflows are created so that specific enquiries are routed to the right department and right service agent for resolution. “Many companies are using social listening tools but few companies have the maturity of process to be able to derive value out of the insights gleaned from it. However, Conversocial is a premier example of a vendor that doesn’t only offer robust technology, but it is geared to the group within the organisation that takes care of social,” says Kate Leggett. “They don’t care if it sits inside the contact centre or a marketing organisation. They work with the purchaser of their technology to be able to teach them best practices. With the social channels, there can be a flood of enquiries, and you need to be able to figure out what ones you’re going to ignore, what ones you’re going to acknowledge, what ones you’re going to do something about and what ones you’re going to escalate and reach back out to the customer to do some damage control. Conversocial not only has a wonderful technology but also has a set of practices on how to deal with social customer service.” There are other challenges to bear in mind with social listening tools, as highlighted by Martin Hill-Wilson. Social media customer service: the beginners guide


“If you strip out the fancy language of ‘social monitoring’, what you’re actually looking at is text analytics – and as we all know, simple things like sentiment analysis is only about 50% accurate anyway, and all forms of analytics – whatever you automate – require tuning up,” he explains. “Service folk have started waking up to the fact they need to be involved in this new form of communication channel, and often a social monitoring platform will probably already be in place, procured against a requirement specified by marketing and PR. The reality is that marketers and PR, or the original vendors, will have built the analytics queries to suite a marketing and PR perspective, but won’t necessarily have done that to suit service requirements. “So one of the things that customer service heads really need to get their heads around is to go back, get to grips with the social platform, get to grips with what it was being used for, calibrate that against what service needs you have got and bring it up to standard. And that is probably one of the reasons why people aren’t necessarily picking up all these service-related communications going on – because at the moment the average customer response to social media enquiries is only 55%.”

2. Peer-to-peer communities

Providing discussion forums to your service capability enables your customers to share information, tips and best practices with peers, without having to engage with the company’s service agents – an initiative that has benefits for both business and consumer. Social media customer service: the beginners guide


“This is probably the most mature part of social interaction because the likes of Microsoft and SAP have been providing peer-to-peer support through communities for the last few decades,” says Hill-Wilson. “These are highly sophisticated communities which deal with problem solving, education, ideation, brand building and loyalty. All sorts of stuff wrapped into a highly sophisticated form of interaction and involvement. And the more popularised versions of that, which people like Get Satisfaction and Lithium have brought to the table, have really just boosted that form of interaction.” And it is also one of the areas of social media where there is clearer sense of ROI. Sony’s European forums, for instance, has 12 community moderators who are then supported by ‘super fans’ that support up to a million customers in Europe, in all the languages and across all the product ranges that Sony provides. Not only is this a hugely cost-effective project, but its peerto-peer online support reports an 85% resolution rate, solving complex problems much faster than support line calls. And Sony isn’t alone - telco player giffgaff, for example, claims it is responsive within 90 seconds 24/7.

“... peer-to-peer online support reports an 85% resolution rate...”

“If you are using the customer to source the knowledge and to be the resource to provide the knowledge, the quality of your knowledge is much better,” says Hill-Wilson. “It is much richer and more Social media customer service: the beginners guide


valuable to other customers because it doesn’t go through the internal process of editorial control and legal approval so that it is out of date and anodyne by the time it has been approved and is in circulation. It is immediately relevant and available, so there is a quality uplift. And you also benefit because in terms of providing an integrated channels strategy you have got a community that never sleeps – there is always somebody there. “ Other online community vendors include Jive, Telligent, Joomla, Ning and Social Engine.

3. Social adapters

Some of the community builders have also become sophisticated enough to layer the peer-to-peer platform with traditional multichannel capability. For example, Lithium’s purchase of Social Dynamx, and subsequent integration into Lithium Social Web, enables businesses to identify relevant customer conversations on social channels and route them to agents, allowing them to embed suggested content from the communities in response to issues, something that improves responses and reduce costs. Leggett refers to this kind of functionality as “social adapters” – “social customer service technology that allows companies to manage enquiries from communities and social channels like Facebook and Twitter, like that provided by Conversocial, Social Dynamx that was acquired by Lithium and the capabilities that the big CRM companies have.” In this arena, launched Chatter

Social media customer service: the beginners guide


Communities for service as a way to blend web self-service and peer-to-peer support; Jive has capabilities to integrate traditional infrastructure with communities; and Get Satisfaction is another community play with APIs that allow vendors such as Genesys and other third party multichannel vendors to integrate. “The advantage of doing it in this way is that if the community hasn’t answered a query in sufficient time, it is then escalated up to an agent who can take over,” notes Hill-Wilson. In some cases, businesses are addressing the issue of social customer care’s integration into the wider business by buying bespoke solutions, something that while not cheap, can be very effective. A good example of this can be found at Citibank, under the management of social customer service pioneer Frank Eliason. “The smart thing that Frank did was to recognise that in financial services, there were going to be a lot of times when the conversation was going to be confidential,” explains Hill-Wilson. “So he spoke with LivePerson, who provide chat solutions, and ordered a bespoke integration. And there are several good things about this. The main one is that even though it is suggested we flip out of social into chat, as far as the customer experience is concerned we still stay within text. Secondly, we have had the restrictions of 140 characters removed from us. And thirdly, it remains the same person that responded to the tweet in the first instance who now continues with the customer on chat. So it’s a nice seamless cross-channel example.” Social media customer service: the beginners guide


4. Roadmapping

Arguably the biggest technology roadblock for social customer care, however, is its difficulties in integrating with CRM and customer databases, so that client interactions can be informed by the likes of customer history. And while to date social customer service has tended to be a point solution, as brands are increasingly looking to plug it into the wider company infrastructure, so the demand for integration is growing. As Esteban Kolsky of thinkJar says: “The tools are important to have, but they are not the solution. Until the tools become fully integrated into CRM, which people claim they can but nobody has proven yet that they can do it really well, then they remain standalone tools. And that is not where you want to be.” Hill-Wilson adds: “The reality is that there are still very few completely joined-up solutions. People like Avaya, Genesys and Interactive Intelligence will say that they have had a social capability for a good couple of years, by which they mean they can take a feed from a social channel, put it through their unified queue, prioritise it based on something like Klout and you’ve got social.” The reality is that the infrastructure part of social customer care is still “up for grabs” says Hill-Wilson. “At the moment, social represents between 5-10% of companies’ communication volumes and if it doesn’t get more than that, then it is going to be subsidiary, and in which case you have to ask does it really matter to you that the interaction history is held in another silo?

Social media customer service: the beginners guide


If the answer is ‘yes’ then you need to find a way to port that, potentially in real-time, across to your CRM. But if it doesn’t matter to you, then consider whether it matters that you’re going to collect social ID or not, and try to integrate that into existing CRM. It really depends on who you are, what market you’re in, what view you have of the future, how much personalisation means to you and so on.” “But most people are going to have the same conclusion – which is that social has to be deeply brought into a single approach to service, and that approach probably has to be one that is more broad around a lifecycle and the knowledge that you have about customers’ social behaviour has to blend into all the other stuff you know about them, and you need to have cross-channel or omnichannel capability. But in terms of the people out there who are able to deliver that, they are still few and far between. Most are still roadmapping that.” Nonetheless, there are some options that Hill-Wilson and Leggett recommend. “Conversocial is a low risk, low cost entry point solution that has matured with the market,” says Hill-Wilson. “The company is API-ing itself readily to ensure that it continues to exist as the market matures by being able to integrate easily into and Microsoft Dynamics and anything else you want.” Leggett adds: “This is the hard part for businesses when it comes to social media customer service. And I believe that companies like Conversocial and Lithium will be successful because they have already done that integration for some of their products, and they have Social media customer service: the beginners guide


out-of-the-box adapters to the big CRM players. They have the tools to help prioritisation and identification of issues versus just the background chatter, and then if they need to kick an enquiry over to a CRM system to understand more about who the customer is, those integrations are there.�

Social media customer service: the beginners guide


Chapter 4.

Structural considerations Love it or loathe it, consumers are turning to social channel for customer support and brands are increasingly expected to provide effective social service to ensure satisfaction.

“social customer service creates greater satisfaction, increased brand loyalty and brings a requisite rise in lifetime customer value”

The good news is that the rewards of a successful social customer support operation can be big – according to Conversocial’s latest report, social customer service creates greater satisfaction, increased brand loyalty and brings a requisite rise in lifetime customer value. The bad news, however, is that if the customer is unsatisfied with the response – or indeed there is no response at all – it occurs in a public environment. This raises the stakes considerably, as this is still a very new area for the vast majority of businesses. In particular, as demonstrated by the MyCustomer community, organisations are still unsure how social should integrate with the rest of their service

Social media customer service: the beginners guide


operations. Specifically there is the question of whether there should be a team dedicated to dealing with all social channels and their interactions and engagements, or whether social media should be another set of channels dealt within the contact centre team.

Seamless and scalable support

What’s clear is that firms cannot succeed at social media customer service by simply bolting social technologies onto a suboptimal contact centre. Similarly, treating social media as an isolated point solution is also not appropriate. There are structural considerations that need to be taken into account, if organisations are to deploy social technologies in a way that extends present capabilities and improves the customer experience. “You have to think about the omnichannel interaction,” says Kate Leggett. “You can’t just bolt on social to your organisation without thinking about and maturing the foundations of your customer service operations. And that means content that is aligned across all channels; being able to support omnichannel interactions; and empowering agents or customer-facing personnel with the right view of customer and product data across all the channels.” “For instance, if you don’t have mature search capabilities that can search across different content types, if you don’t have your business processes worked out between channels so you can jump from channel to channel, the customer’s experience on these social channels is going to be very fractured leading to customer dissatisfaction. Social media customer service: the beginners guide


“If a customer has a query, and they visit a discussion forum to ask a question, you need to make sure that the forum isn’t an island by itself. Therefore, if there is no response to the customer’s question, you want to take that enquiry and escalate it to a contact centre agent so that the customer has their question resolved, whether it is via social or traditional channels.” And another important structural consideration for social media support is how to ensure it will be scalable. As Hill-Wilson noted previously, the threat of something negative associated to your brand going viral is a very real possibility, and is something that needs to be prepared for. Consider how you could respond when volumes on social media multiply significantly.

“You need to be able to scale from your initial social team up to the whole customer service team and then beyond that possibly to virtual points of connection”

“You need to be able to scale from your initial social team up to the whole customer service team and then beyond that possibly to virtual points of connection – people who have got some experience but aren’t necessarily plugged in full-time,” says Hil-Wilson. The resourcing challenges associated with this are one of the big issues that businesses are still working through, he notes. Social media customer service: the beginners guide


Hub vs integration

So how are most businesses currently structuring their social service operations? Unsurprisingly, perhaps, there are differences depending on the maturity of the organisation, the type of business they are and the volume of service that they currently receive. But the two most common approaches, according to Laurence Buchanan, director of digital transformation & CRM at Ernst & Young Advisory, is either to set up a separate hub, a team that manages social across the organisation, or else drive social media into day-today business operations. “Most people today have taken the hub approach because it’s happened too quickly, social is still too new,” he explains, “so they’ve set up a separate team and taken 10 or so people out of the call centre and trained them up. They’ve created playbooks and manuals and policy guides and they’ve tried to identify where the integration points are to the second layer support, for example, or to other channels.” But it is the holistic and integrated approach that both Buchanan and Leggett expect to proliferate in the longer term. “It really needs to be integrated across the existing business operations, although it’s not necessarily easy to do in a quick period of time because it requires updates to skills, process, and IT systems to get it working” says Buchanan “You can’t view social as a silo. “You have to take a joined-up view of you other service channels in the first instance. That brings with it a few

Social media customer service: the beginners guide


demands – you need common processes, common policies, common procedures, a common language and common cultural ways of working across different channels so that it is a joined-up experience for customers. You also need to get a handle on all of the rogue apps and social media sites that your company controls but were never really designed for service – this means doing an audit of what social presence you have today, whether it is used, and if so is it being used for service and who owns it.” Recent research by Altimeter Group suggested that the average organisation with 1,000+ employees could have as many as 170+ different siloed disconnected social media accounts set up,so it can be a matter of some urgency to ensure that these disparate pockets of social media are brought under control.

A paradigm shift?

Buchanan also suggests that brands should be looking at how they can use their social data and user generated content about their service and products from their websites, forums and communities to prevent problems. “There is a paradigm shift here from thinking about service as reactive fire-fighting and the operational efficiency of that (such as how many tweets we have answered per hour) to thinking about how you can transform the way you do service altogether – prevent service requests before they even become requests and help customers fix their own and each other’s problems in a better way. “The best examples are gifgaff and Now TV from Sky,

Social media customer service: the beginners guide


where the service models are geared around peer-topeer support and the idea of trying to be proactive about identifying problems and fixing them at the source. Lots of businesses are really embracing this, alongside insight and analytics, and thinking about the paradigm shift for service.” Guy Stephens also believes that social media support could be the catalyst for a much bigger organisational change. “What people tend not to do when they look towards the future is to change the fundamental paradigm or model that is customer service. The technologies will change but the underlying way it happens and the framework/model will stay the same,” he says. “My sense is that, over time, that model will change as well so that if we look at it from an organisational point of view, we have customer service, marketing, sales and HR, recognising that they need to work together.

“It’s OK to work across departments and the walls between them are becoming more vague.”

There are, for example, lots of instances where marketing and customer service are coming closer together and recognising that there are opportunities for up-sell and cross-sell within customer service. So it’s becoming increasingly difficult to define where one departments stops and another starts.” And Stephens points to the example of consumer

Social media customer service: the beginners guide


electronics retailer Best Buy, which has an operational model that places employees and customers in direct contact with each other via its @Twelpforce, @ BestBuySupport and @GeekSquad Twitter handles. “When this happens, you start to see the organisation as a whole becoming the customer service interface,” he notes. This, of course, is a model that has tantalising potential for the issues of social scalability and seamless knowledge management. As Hill-Wilson says: “It’s not just the people who are located in the call centre that should be answering. If you think in more flexible terms around where the expertise is to answer queries, you may well be allowing others to notice a particular request or routing queries directly to someone in, for instance, R&D or any other department that has expertise to help you out.” Nonetheless, Stephens acknowledges that talk of “paradigm shifts” in customer service is premature when many organisations either keep social media in a silo, or simply try to bolt it onto existing operations. “The way we look at the different social technologies is that they’ll help us with the way we do social customer care. But what businesses tend not to do is to change the fundamental model of service – the technology will change but the underlying framework will stay the same,” he says. “We’ve got to be careful – we often want to take a hammer to the system we’ve already got because we see something better, rather than accepting that we’ve got to where we are because that’s the way we’ve evolved, rightly or wrongly. But we do now have the opportunity here to do something different.” Social media customer service: the beginners guide


Chapter 5.

Social media customer service metrics and measurements Social media may be a new set of channels over which customer service can be delivered, but some of the old rules still apply. For instance, the old adage 'you can't manage what you don't measure' is still highly relevant. In fact, with the jury still out on social customer support, you could even argue that nowhere is it more appropriate than in this field, as businesses are still feeling their way and desperately need visibility into the effectiveness of their efforts to be able to steer future investment.

“A lot has previously revolved around process efficiency...not about the experience or resolving an issue.”

There are, of course, a great many key performance indicators (KPIs) that can be applied to your social customer care efforts. For instance, in its popular Socially Devoted statistical reports into social support, Socialbakers measured the speed of brands’ social response, as well as the quantity of the responses – although the caveat here is that obviously

Social media customer service: the beginners guide


it’s easier to respond when the volume is lower, so this statistic favours smaller organisations. Nonetheless, this provides a useful point of comparison. Guy Stephens warns businesses not to fall into the trap that traditional service measures have in the past, however. He says: “A lot has previously revolved around process efficiency – how quickly calls are answered – they’re not about the experience or resolving an issue. Part of this is the result of the great production lines that came in at the start of last century. A lot of the metrics reflect that focus on processes, and this is an outdated way to look at something. You still need to understand the processes but now experiential metrics are more important. So now you should see a different type of metric, in addition to the process metrics, that put the resolution or the issue first. Supporting this view is a Gleanster study which suggested that the most successful brands are going beyond simple response time on social to focus on problem resolution time. As reported by Our Social Times, 94% of ‘top performing’ brands are monitoring – and actively looking to reduce – problem resolution time. Community manager Jeremy Taylor said: “Not only does this reduce costs, but a social media user that has their complaint quickly and efficiently resolved is likely to use the company again in the future and publicly recommend them to others.” He suggests that as more organisations invest in social media monitoring for customer service, they alongside marketing and PR are reaping the benefits, Social media customer service: the beginners guide


with one being able to identify trends. “This means that you can identify and resolve recurring problems to ensure that the same thing doesn’t happen to other customers. Furthermore, social media can provide an early warning when there is a specific problem with a product or service,” he says. In a presentation at Gartner's recent Customer 360 Summit, analyst Jenny Sussin outlined a host of social customer service metrics that brands should use to achieve greater visibility into the success of social customer care:  •

Time to first response     

Average handling time (overall and by agent)

 umber and percent of serviceable posts (actual N customer/consumer inquiries)

 ercent of inquiries managed by social channel P (such as Facebook and Twitter)

Cost savings on call deflection

Changes in sentiment

Changes in customer satisfaction

Net promoter score (NPS)

 nd flush rate (posts that are no longer relevant or A serviceable).

Social media customer service: the beginners guide



Effectiveness measures: • Posters’ sentiment • Evangelising the brand • Total reach for posts



Service measures: • Listening volume • Speed of response • Posts abandoned

Quality measures • Qualitative and quantitative • Impact of channel redirection

Diagram 1: Walter Van Norden’s three categories of social care metrics

Walter Van Norden from TELUS International suggests that broadly speaking there are three categories of social care metrics:

1. Service measures

“There are a number of different types of service measures – some are associated with demand such as listening volume, whereas others use the speed of response as an indicator of service level,” he explains. “Service level is one of the more important indicators of success. An industry best practice is to measure service level every half-hour and report it as a weighted average over the entire day. However, companies should start by finding a feasible increment of time for measuring service metrics and move towards the ultimate goal of measuring in half-hour increments. In addition, contact centres should calculate which posts are not answered in the outlined time and calculate the percentage of posts that are abandoned.” Social media customer service: the beginners guide


2. Quality measures

Measuring the quality of social care responses is a little more complex than calculating service measures and requires both a qualitative and quantitative evaluation of the responses,” he continues. “The key performance indicators that comprise quality measurements provide a more overarching examination of how social interactions are handled. In addition, quality measures include an evaluation of the impact of ‘channel redirection’ on metrics calculation. “Channel redirection occurs when a customer asks a question on a channel that is not able to support an appropriate response. For example, on Twitter an agent can only respond in 140 characters, and may ask the customer to move the conversation to another channel in order to answer the question fully. Although channel redirection ensures that customers’ questions are answered, it raises problems for measuring performance and customer satisfaction.”

3. Effectiveness measures Effectiveness measures provide contact centre managers with an evaluation of how the social care conversations affect overall brand perception. Depending upon the type of business the contact centre is engaged in, managers may wish to measure the posters’ sentiment, how likely they are to evangelise the brand, as well as the total reach for each post. Van Norden says: “The clearest indicator of customer satisfaction is first post resolution (FPR), which

Social media customer service: the beginners guide


is adapted from the traditional contact centre metric, first call resolution (FCR). Using a customer survey, FPR measures the percentage of posts that are answered on the first response. In addition to FPR, contact centres should also use this survey to measure the quality of an agent’s response, and should calculate the number of conversations that are redirected or transferred to ensure they capture the overall picture.”

Calculating ROI

But whilst it’s important for companies to measure service, quality and effectiveness, it’s also vital for leaders to be able to demonstrate the actual financial return of their social operations. Kevin Bottoms, also from TELUS International, recently explained that two of the most tangible gains are cost reduction and revenue generation. Examples of cost reduction activities include: •

 liminating the number of calls to agents by E facilitating the resolution of customer questions and problems via social care channels. How to calculate? Look for year-over-year declines in the volume of other channels. It’s important to survey customers who resolved their issue on social channels to determine how many would have contacted the service department via voice, chat or email if their issue wasn’t resolved in social channels.

 educe the amount of time customer service R agents spend addressing inquiries by building

Social media customer service: the beginners guide


an online platform where customers can search for answers to similar problems they are experiencing and solve their problems without interacting with the service department. How to calculate? Determining the cost savings of this indirect benefit is much harder to calculate than a direct transaction but can be estimated by looking at the reduction in utilisation of other customer service channels. •

 revent returns through topical and immediate P help.

Examples of revenue generation activities include: •

 onverting sales through direct transactions with C sales agents. This type of interaction occurs when an agent directly intervenes while a customer is asking questions on a social venue about buying a product. How to calculate?Subsequent revenue generation can be measured by matching the agent interaction with the customer’s purchase.

 onverting sales through indirect transactions C with a sales agent. These types of transactions happen as a result of the social community having visibility into direct sales transactions. When an agent helps one customer to convert a sale many other potential customers see that transaction and a percentage of those will act on that information. How to calculate? These transactions are more difficult to capture but can be measured with the help of post-sales surveys.

Improving brand equity through proactive Social media customer service: the beginners guide


customer service shows customers that a company is willing to invest in their satisfaction. When a company is proactive in responding to complaints and negative comments, customers notice and brand equity increases. People are more likely to buy from a brand they trust. How to calculate? This type of gain is difficult to quantify but can be measured through overall increases in sales and improved customer satisfaction.

Social media customer service: the beginners guide


Chapter 6.

Lessons from the leaders Tia Fisher According to a report on Mashable, a massive 80% of companies plan to use social media for customer service. But, as this recent interchange between the @ Cineworld representative and a disgruntled customer revealed, if you don’t get it right, it’s a very public problem. There’s an increasing amount of pressure on the channels though. Latest surveys reveal higher than ever levels of expectation – customers expect responses at least within the day on Facebook, and give it just 30 minutes on Twitter. To work properly, social customer service needs to be swift, channel-appropriate and – importantly – consistent: remember that consumers will be able to see how other people’s complaints are treated. Social Bakers has just released Q1 2013 of its Socially Devoted series, which measured the performance of response to questions posted on Facebook and Twitter pages. Its metrics attest to both the increase in size of social care and the improvement in brand responses: during Q1 2013, the volume of questions asked by fans increased by 30%. Also in this quarter, brands managed to answer almost 50% more questions than in Q4 2012. Since June 2012, the average industry response rate has increased from 30% to 60% in Q1 2013.

Social media customer service: the beginners guide


Q1 2013

• Volume of questions asked by fans up by 30% • Brands answered 50% more questions than in Q4 2012 • Since June 2012 the average industry response rate has increased from 30% to 60%

In this article, we want to give even more practical examples of how some of the most responsive brands are performing in the social customer care channels. Have they got separate Twitter channels? How have they directed users on their Facebook pages? What tone of voice are they using? Do they work 24/7? We chose some of SocialBakers’ top performing retail brands in the UK sector and examined a recent crop of consumer interactions for BootsUK, NextOnline, Marks and Spencer and Tesco to see what they are doing – and what lessons could be applied to other brands. To see whether there is a difference in US versus UK approaches, we also added Best Buy to the mix, the only US retailer to appear in SocialBaker’s top US brands, and arguably the shining star of US retail social customer service. Note that SocialBakers measures both the speed and the quantity of the responses – obviously, it’s easier to respond when the volume is lower, which is what makes the Best Buy, Tesco and Next performances on very busy pages, particularly impressive. Social media customer service: the beginners guide


Social media customer service: the beginners guide


Facebook ‘replies’ Community rules

Hours of business

FACEBOOK CUSTOMER CARE Other contact channels

Signed messages

ola Languages and regions

Diagram 2: How Brands can deliver customer care through Facebook

Customer care on Facebook pages

Brands can help themselves a great deal in the information they give in the ‘About Us’ section, on tabs and in the set-up of their Facebook page. •

 ours of business – as far as we could see, no H brands were responding to messages overnight although it’s likely that the pages were still being moderated and monitored for crisis issues during this period. SocialBakers’ response times are an average, definitely made longer by the overnight pauses. None of the brands published the period during which fans could expect a response to posts, and it’s worth considering doing this in order to set expectations. Note that Tesco and BestBuy’s Twitter Social media customer service: the beginners guide


accounts were very clear about their working hours. •

 ther contact channels – can your customer O reach you by phone? Email? On your website? Do you have a separate customer care Twitter account? Marks and Spencer probably did the best job here: alongside Twitter, the phone and email links led to webforms with FAQs, so that customers had a good chance of helping themselves first. Tesco has a separate tab to its customer service: ‘Here to Help’ leads to phone lines and email contact forms which gather the necessary information to speed up the query resolution. Best Buy use ‘About Us’ to try to direct users with customer service queries to its forums at Best Buy Unboxed – but interestingly, don’t point to any of its excellent Twitter customer service accounts.

 ommunity rules – Best Buy, Boots and Tesco C all publish their ‘house rules’ outlining the behaviour they expect on the page, and also the service which their customers can expect from them. We recommend this for all Facebook pages. Setting clear rules on conduct, languages responded to, and ownership of content can save a lot of trouble later on.

 anguages and regions – do you have different L Facebook accounts for different regions? If so, and if you’re not set up as a Global page, then it would be good to take a leaf out of Marks and Spencer’s book, and have an app directing customers to the correct page for their country. Social media customer service: the beginners guide


Will you respond to posts in other languages? You could make this clear in your guidelines. •

Facebook ‘replies’ – eModeration has written a lot about the Facebook reply (or ‘thread comments’) feature in recent weeks, concluding that it’s great for engagement, but frankly, unless you’re set up with an enabled management tool, then it’s a challenge to moderate and manage. (Although it’s a lot easier if you’re using our simple guide!) Looking at customer service though, replies definitely make the service smoother, provided that no content is being missed. Of the pages we looked at, they were split about 50/50 between those who had enabled replies and those who hadn’t. On July 10 this year, replies will be enabled by default: make sure you’re prepared.

Signed messages – Best Buy, Tesco, M&S and Boots customer care staff sign their Facebook responses, Kiddicare and Next don’t. There are arguments against doing so, but it’s undeniable that when an agent signs their message it personalises the service. Sensing the person behind the message can deflate anger; it increases engagement and is always useful for the customer to know when they are ‘talking’ to the same or a different care agent.

Social media customer service: the beginners guide


Customer care on Twitter

30% of the Interbrand top 100 brands already have a dedicated customer service feed on Twitter. Keeping customer service separate avoids the awkwardness of pushing out positive brand messages through the same door as apologies for poor performance and product issues. So, how do our chosen retailers approach Twitter?

Social media customer service: the beginners guide



Of the brands we looked at, only Boots didn’t run a Twitter service at all, but @BootsUKOfficial instead redirected to email, phone or Facebook via autoresponses: could this possibly be a resource issue?

Best Buy

In contrast, Best Buy has three customer service channels, @BestBuySupport (retail support) and @ Twelpforce /@geeksquad (technical support), which are clearly signposted. As well as having agents sign the @BestBuySupport

tweets with their initials, Best Buy goes one step further in @Twelpforce and @Geeksquad – the agents on these accounts have their own Twitter profiles. John Bernier, who co-created the Twelpforce account, Social media customer service: the beginners guide


said in a 2010 interview with Fast Company, “Because the system was designed to tie each response to an individual employee, each Twelpforce rep could feel a personal sense of pride in their participation.” Best Buy was an early adopter of social customer service, launching a presence on Twitter and Facebook in 2008 and starting up Best Buy Unboxed, the retailer’s online community. Later in 2009, Best Buy enabled its BlueShirts and Geek Squad Agents to join the conversation and tweet through the single @ Twelpforce Twitter handle.   Best Buy prides itself on involving so many of its 180,000+ employees in customer service. The “Be smart. Be respectful. Be human” from the title of this article comes from Best Buy’s social media policy. Their community connectors must have a minimum of six months internal customer service experience first, and the core requirement is strong writing skills. The agents receive four weeks consumer relations training on how to deal with questions and complaints in public (so very different from private email, phone or even face-to-face encounters). This is followed by intensive training on the technical attributes and social norms of the different platforms and finally a period on ‘training wheels’, where all posts go through an approval process prior to posting. By and large, it shows. Once the overnight backlog is dealt with, Best Buy responses are speedy and helpful, with a good mix of efficiency and friendliness. Agents search for keywords on Twitter and respond in a flash:

Social media customer service: the beginners guide


Social media customer service: the beginners guide



The UK-owned clothes retailer Next runs @ NextOfficial as its brand marketing account, which directs through to @NextHelp for customer service issues, primarily tracking orders for NextOnline. @ NextHelp delivers a fast, friendly and efficient service, collecting customer details via private DM (PM in Facebook) and taking the occasional opportunity to reach out with off-script messages…

Social media customer service: the beginners guide



Tesco runs Tesco Customer Care with @UKTesco at the vanguard of Twitter care as it cheerily announces the opening hours each day …

…and responds to customers’ tweets with a human face. Twitter is about speed, directness, personality,

Social media customer service: the beginners guide


efficiency and humour. Twitter customer care is about catching the balls as they come flying past and making a save.Â

Marks & Spencer

Marks and Spencer is really impressive: it strikes a great balance between being informal and disrespectful (pay attention, Cineworld!), is caring and thorough, and unafraid of going off-script, as with this consumer’s complaint about an errant M&S lorry.

Social media customer service: the beginners guide


Lessons to learn

Coping with an issue

Boots was recently hit by a targeted campaign from Let Toys Be Toys – For Girls and Boys, protesting against the brand’s segregation of toys into boy vs girl, (pink and blue, science vs dolls – you get the idea). Twenty-four hours into the protest, with outrage mounting exponentially on its page, Boots seemed to have difficulty in coping with the volume and finding a message which would placate its angry fans.

At the time we checked, most of the more recent messages hadn’t had responses at all, suggesting that the agents have simply given up trying to stem the tide. Boots really should have had a more constructive Social media customer service: the beginners guide


response – maybe even an action plan – from the Toys & Games department by this stage.

Scalability and tools

It’s essential that your customer service teams have the scalability to cope with sudden peaks in volume and that they are linked to the departments from whom they need answers quickly. Choosing an appropriate management tool will help. Zendesk, for example, connects with Facebook and Twitter, and HootSuite is great for team organisation and message assignments.

Making connections

Customers expect recognition – even across different social networks. Using a good tool keeps track of the interactions with a customer and – as Zendesk does – can link a contacts’ email, Google, Twitter, Facebook and phone number.

Being human

Social customer service offers more than efficient resolution – it allows for real human interaction between the agent and the customer, and that is its trump card (and occasional downfall). You have to wonder though, whether the accessibility and responsiveness of social customer care means that, for some, reaching out to a social customer care agent just fills an empty minute or provides some company on a lonely day? Either way, it’s all part of effective relationship-building.

Social media customer service: the beginners guide


Tia Fisher is the marketing manager at eModeration and chief voice of the @eModeration Twitter account. This chapter was adapted from an eModeration blog.   Social media customer service: the beginners guide


Chapter 7.

Your to-do list Tamara Littleton

In many ways, social media has taken the customer/ brand relationship back to basics. It’s taken it back to the personal, human touch that people used to expect before automated phone systems and ‘you’re being held in a queue, your custom matters to us.’ Thanks to social media, customers now expect you to act quickly and effectively (and publicly) to solve problems and answer questions on whatever channel they choose. And brands are stepping up. The best brands at social customer service use the channels their customers choose. Mostly, that’s Facebook and Twitter, although other channels are starting to emerge in the mix: Google+, Pinterest and Instagram are certainly worth monitoring for customer comments, and could become more important in time; and dispute resolution services (such as Resolver) are springing up. And then of course there are brands’ own channels: websites, review pages, forums and communities. The term social customer service is arguably a bit of a misnomer. Good customer service is good customer service. No matter what the communication platform, you need to respond to issues and revolve them quickly. If a customer talks to you on Twitter, they expect you to be listening. Companies are moving Social media customer service: the beginners guide


closer to being able to provide a seamless customer experience across all channels. Your customer might tweet you in the morning and phone you in the afternoon to see when a problem will be fixed. The day is coming when a customer picks up the phone and expects you to know about the morning’s Twitter exchange.

“The day is coming when a customer picks up the phone and expects you to know about the morning’s Twitter exchange.”

There’s a lot to consider when you move into social customer service:

1. Set the right objectives and measurement

What is the goal of the community or social media page? (Improved customer satisfaction? Reduced overheads? Improved resolution times?) If you set clear objectives at the start, it’ll be much easier to measure success as you go.

2. Monitor what people are saying about you

If you listen, you can catch an issue before it becomes a crisis, and you can resolve customer issues quickly. An error put right can lead to a more loyal customer in the long-run. Social media customer service: the beginners guide


3. Set priorities

Agree what posts need action, and in what timescale. Use a combination of listening technology and human analysis to spot the most important issues, and prioritise posts. Escalate the most urgent ones.

4. Good social media management tools Good social media management tools will help you get that bit closer to achieving a single view of a customer across different channels. They’re also useful for keeping a record of any interactions in case you need them for legal reasons, or for marketing data and insight.

5. Integrate social media

Integrate social media into your existing customer service. Too often, social media is considered a bolton to marketing, but increasingly customer service is an important part of the mix. If your customer service team works together over any channel, your customers’ experiences will be far improved. There is a tendency for people to think ‘I can only get good service by using Twitter’ (BT is often cited for this) and of course the service should be the same standard across the board.

6. Train your team

Train your team, and authorise them to act. There’s no point having a team to talk to people on Twitter if they can’t do anything to put a situation right. That means getting the right team in place at the start. You need interpersonal skills, of course, but also to be able to

Social media customer service: the beginners guide


write, listen and – most importantly – act.

7. Make sure your team can cope

Make sure your team can cope with the volume of posts. If you set up a Twitter handle called ‘wecare’, or ‘heretohelp’, you’d better be prepared to show you care, and can help. In the same way that you’d resource a call centre, think about seasonal fluctuations, busy periods of the day, holiday cover, out-of-hours cover and so on. Good management tools will help you identify patterns in behaviour so you can plan accordingly.

8. Don’t assume your offline response times will cut it online

Best practice now says you have around 15 minutes to acknowledge a serious problem on Twitter, and an hour on Facebook. (Note: that’s not to resolve a problem, which obviously could take longer, but to post an acknowledgement so your customers know you’re working on it.)

9. Accept criticism

Accept criticism and if it’s relevant, act on it. Criticism can be really valuable if it tells you about a problem or issue that many customers might be having. Listen carefully, and never censor genuine criticism. But, sometimes, it’s best to walk away. Customers aren’t always right: sometimes they have a personal agenda, or are aggressive, or just venting at you. Recognise the difference between criticism and abuse, and never put up with abuse. Set clear rules for your community, and enforce them. Tell your social customer care team when they can walk away. Social media customer service: the beginners guide


10. Moderate content

You don’t want your brand to be associated with spam or bad language on your Facebook page, or to expose your customers to inappropriate content.

11. Think about how you want to respond

Think about how you want to respond. For example, if you’re not able to reply to every request individually, you could group common questions together. You could also consider splitting out your feeds so you have a dedicated channel for customer service. That has the advantage of not clogging up your usual feeds with customer information, but be warned: not all your customers will play ball, so be prepared to interact on your normal channel as well. You might consider taking really long complicated discussions onto another, owned, channel, or resolving in a phone call.

12. Talk like a human!

Particularly when things go wrong, a personal touch can really make the difference to a customer who’s having a bad day. It’s much harder to be abusive to a real person than it is to an anonymous, corporatesounding avatar. Show some personality – you’ll be amazed at what a difference it makes. Tamara Littleton is CEO of social media management agency, eModeration. Her advice is based on eModeration’s Guide to social media customer service, available free to download from its website.  Social media customer service: the beginners guide


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Social media customer service: the beginners guide


Social Media Customer Service - MyCustomer Guide  

Welcome to’s dedicated guide to social media customer service, collating insight, expertise and advice from the pages of our...

Social Media Customer Service - MyCustomer Guide  

Welcome to’s dedicated guide to social media customer service, collating insight, expertise and advice from the pages of our...