It’s no a secret that customer service is what keeps people engaged and connected to brands. With social media, customer services reaches beyond the counter tops and into the hands of consumers. Tapping into this well stream of possibilities is essential for brands to put their absolute best foot forward to their audiences.

Despite this reality, however, there’s still a significant gap between what customers want from brands on social media and what many brands are actually delivering. Exceeding expectations may be easier than many think, though. When customers are treated like real people and see brands genuinely caring about their issues (and about fixing them), businesses win their hearts and their loyalty – take brands like Coke and Denny’s for example.

Customer service matters on social media because customers want, expect and are prepared to reward great social media customer service. Unfortunately, many brands are not living up to these expectations, even if they think they are doing a decent job.

On the bright side, that means there is a huge opportunity for brands to stand out and really wow the customer or open the door for competitors to do so. Looking at the numbers, that means:

  • Only 36 percent of consumers that make customer service enquiries via social media report having their issue solved quickly and effectively
  • When companies engage and respond to customer service requests over social media, those customers end up spending 20 to 40 percent more with the company
  • 71 percent of those who experience quick and effective brand response are likely to recommend that brand to others, in comparison to a mere 19 percent of customers that do not receive any response
  • 43 percent of consumers say that a direct response to their questions is most important at a social media site; 31 percent of which expect the social media site to provide direct access to customer service representatives or product experts
  • 86 percent of social media customers would like or love to hear from a company regarding a complaint

Furthermore, social media customers stand out from other customers in terms of expectations and these responses produce more reward for exceeding customers expectations, but also present more risk for failing them. 

Unfortunately, every interaction being open for public view on social media can be a negative for brands. Roughly 80 percent of customer service related tweets are critical or negative and one bad interaction can outweigh the positive ones.

What Consumers Want

Understanding exactly what customers expect and want is the easiest way to turn these statistics in the favor of a brand.

Quick Responses

Ultimately, customers want fast responses. According to an Edison study, 42 percent of consumers expect a response on social media within one hour, and 32 percent think it should be within 30 minutes.

While quick and effective responses are obviously valued above all (71 percent), more consumers would recommend a brand that provides a quick but ineffective response (33 percent) than would recommend a brand that provides a slow but effective solution (17 percent). And nearly three times as likely to recommend a brand that responded to their problem in a quick and effective manner than not responding at all.

In other words, speed is more important than accuracy to many customers on social media. Brand representatives should not rush to give speedy, useless answers, but they should understand the importance of speed for social media customers. The vast majority of Twitter and Facebook users – 83 percent and 71 percent respectively – want a response within the same day of posting. And yet, lots of brands aren’t picking up on the urgency customers have.

Care and Honesty

With 70 percent of the buying experience being based on how a person thinks they’re being treated, care is just as important as speed in dealing with real-time responses with customers.

In the vast ocean that is social media, it’s easy to feel like an insignificant speck among the masses, but it’s important for brands to show customers that not only do their opinions matter, but they matter as people as well. Audiences need to know that their issue is as important to brands as it is to them.

Simple phrases like “I hear you” or “I’m sorry” can quickly transform a conversation and lay the foundation for a real relationship. Admitting failure or inability to answer a question right away is better than ignoring the problem as it surfaces. A simple “I’m sorry. Can I get back to you about that when I know more information?” changes the entire tone of a social media complaint (so long as you actually follow-up with the customer about their concern).

Making a conversation personal can help establish these relationships too. Adding first names to customer replies and/or comments make people immediately feel that they are talking to an actual person and not just a machine generating automated responses. As Dale Carnegie says, “a person’s name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language.”

Help Them Where They Ask

Generally, people want help in the same place they ask for it. If a customer asks for help on Twitter, they want their answer in the form of a tweet, not an email. If they post a question on Facebook, they don’t want to be told to call an 800 number. Rerouting customers to various locations to get the help they need is just another source of frustration.

Twitter is where you’re most likely to hear from a customer, according to a report from SocialBakers.

Customers might also reach out on a blog or another social media site where the brand is active. They may even post comments on forums or message boards specific to that industry.

When to Monitor and How to Respond

Knowing where customers are reaching out to brands is half of the battle. Approaching the situation is the second half of the equation for effective social media customer service.

Brand Monitoring

Making sure you know everything that’s being said about you online so you can listen in for issues and respond when needed is the first step to customer service on social media. There are plenty of online monitoring tools to do just that, including Google Alerts.

Using Discretion

Not every mention or complaint is an invitation to enter a conversation. A Netbase survey that asked consumers how they feel about social listening from brands revealed that more than half want to be able to talk about companies on social media without them paying attention and many believe brand listening is a direct invasion of their privacy. Knowing the difference between reaching out for help and having social media as a venting outlet is make or break for brands managing customer service through these outlets.

Be Empathetic

Understanding the difference between when to step in and when to just listen can be tricky. It helps to work on cultivating a strong sense of empathy.

Looking at each message from the customer’s point of view can help you understand muddy territory, identify problem areas and figure out the right tone in responding to an issue. Here are four rules of things to consider in these situations:

  1. There’s a difference between listening and understanding. Try to understand the real meaning behind the comment or question.
  2. Consider the context of the message.
  3. Only engage when you can truly deliver value.
  4. Focus on listening that builds insights and relationships, rather than intruding.

Bottom Line

Most companies view social media as a marketing medium, but customers expect more and are willing to reward brands that go the extra mile. Using social media as a customer service channel allows brands an additional way to impress customers and expand their reach.