A few years ago, pitching national brands on why they should go online to assist customers was a tough sell. In the present, social media customer service has become a mainstay for nearly every major company. This is, of course, a victory for all those who have worked in social media for the past 5+ years as it demonstrates legitimacy has finally permeated the arena. However, while definitive best practices still remain to be determined, they will likely rely heavily on a team’s ability to maintain consistency and transparency.
Allowing customers a controlled view into how companies do business is becoming increasingly popular as social responsibility is an increasing demand of consumers. Previously, assistance between a brand and a customer was a 1-to-1 interaction on the phone or in the store, where people in line may have overheard the exchange. Now, online, thousands of users can witness the assistance offered, as well as step in and voice their opinion if they are unhappy with the company’s efforts.
Though consistency and effective responses are two staples of successful brands that assist customers via social media, the reality is that they still only provide a mere fraction of the full engagement effective service provides. Within traditional channels, consistency and effectiveness simply amount to a call center representative answering the phone quickly every time but wouldn’t guarantee how the process was handled or ensure effective assistance. As a result, the transparency component helps close the loop of what level of assistance is truly provided and, in turn, defines the impact this engagement makes upon the individual with the concern and all of those who witness the digital exchange.
So what can brands do to boost their authenticity and provide transparent assistance?
Define what success looks like… and stick to it
The idea of a “dedication to quality” has been repurposed so much in company rhetoric that it’s lost any sort of genuine meaning to consumers. Reintroduce it by explaining what a success for your department is to the public and sticking to it. While such vulnerability may be wince-inducing to some, specifically stating your goal as a program is core to explaining what buy-in entails internally, and also to earning the respect of your customers. Success is not defined with statements like “your happiness is priority number one,” it’s defined with principles such as “making each customer heard and ensuring their interests are properly documented and escalated when possible.” Make sure your internal processes allow for these goals to have a purpose so that you’re not only walking the walk, but that you’re also retaining valuable customer insight and feedback for future products and endeavors.
Set rules and post them
Too many companies are approaching customer service and consumer engagement online as a daily learning process. Defining engagement practices and making assistance consistent – no matter which agent is behind the keyboard – is an absolute must. By remaining consistent in messaging and resolution, your brand will not be faced with explaining why customers received different resolutions and avoid “agent shopping,” where customers simply resubmit complaints hoping someone else handles their complaint, reducing volume and allowing your reps to help even more people.
Explain limitations and allow consumers to champion them
While defined rules are important, explaining why those rules exist is key. Brands that simply say they are “unable to help” face scrutiny over why they chose to do so, and more often than not the unhappy public will not give the company the benefit of the doubt on why the choice was made. By clearly defining why limits have to exist, companies not only treat consumers like adults who can “handle” the truth, they also create room for their base to champion their cause. In my previous work, I saw brand advocates almost every day stepping into engagements and deriding peers who were incredulous or rude about the resolution they expected or wanted. When the resolution offered by the brand is presented in a rational way, the irrational consumer loses their voice and ability to effectively derail your customer service efforts.
Limit where necessary in order to succeed
24/7 support is simply not an option for the vast majority of brands online. It drives me crazy to see a company managing inconsistent hours of operation for their social media efforts because it creates inconsistent expectations. If a customer asks a question at 9 p.m., and sees that the brand has been active in responding that late on other days, an expectation for a response is created that may not be met. As a result, the company has already handicapped the overall impact.
Create sustainable hours of operation with a defined response time expectation and stick to it, no matter what. Anyone with kids will tell you that it’s a bad idea to bend the rules “just this once” because of the implications it has the next time around; while the public is not a massive pool of children, the limited window of engagement a brand has shouldn’t be hindered by flexibility, no matter how good the intentions may be. Your store’s doors don’t open at 6 a.m. or 11 p.m. for people who happen to walk by – don’t let your social media team do so without remaining open at the same time the other four days of the work week.
The common elements of the items mentioned above are two-fold: consistency and transparency. While it is a plus that brands are choosing to engage more on social media, a lack of structure in business operations can prevent the success and trajectory of the program significantly. By implementing clearly defined rules and procedures, brands can define customer expectations and open the door for clean discussion on those expectations. Developing a small amount of parameters today can save your social media program an avalanche of headaches in the coming years.