As social media has evolved into a pervasive way of doing business across multiple departments, a growing number of companies are starting to realize that they have to be where their customers are in order to deliver great support. This means maintaining an active presence on Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, etc, as well as having their own customer community dedicated to supporting their customers.

No matter where you’re meeting your customers to hear feedback, answer questions, and address issues, there are some best practices that will help steer you and your social media and support team in the right direction. Keep reading to learn how you can maximize your effectiveness and leverage the collaborative nature of social to deliver great customer service at a lower cost.

1. THE IMPORTANCE OF LISTENING.

This may seem like an obvious one, but you can’t provide good social support if you’re not really aware of the issues. Sometimes your customers will come to your official support channels or social presences, but often they’ll just be in the great big world of social—on Facebook, Twitter, blogs, forums, and yes, your customer community—talking about your brand. If you’re not there to hear what they’re saying, you’re missing invaluable insight into pain points.

The good news for your company is that there are a number of listening tools out there that will help you get the pulse of your market, no matter what your budget or company size. Don’t forget to do keyword searches for your company, product names, as well as common misspellings, so you’re hearing what is being said about you, not just to you. From socialmention and Google Alerts, which are free and easy to set up, to Radian6, which is costly but robust, to HootSuite, which is a nice, middle-of-the-road alternative, there is a solution that will meet your budget and needs.

Listening is an essential first step in providing great social support. As an added bonus, it also can be a great way to pick up on customer advocates who are giving you praise in social networks, which can be repurposed for marketing content and internal mood boosting.

2. MANAGE EXPECTATIONS.

Setting the right expectations (both internally and externally) is vital to providing great social support. Internally, you want to be very clear with your employees about how you’re expecting them to engage on these networks, if at all. It’s a good idea to have a negativity plan in place for when they encounter unhappy customers, as well as an escalation plan so they know when and who to turn messy issues over to. You should also have one clear, concise place where they can look up hashtags, messaging, and company best practices.

Externally, you want to make sure you’re up front about how responsive you’ll be to customers. For example, you should post the hours your customers can expect you to engage, all the channels they can use to reach you, and how quickly they’re likely to wait before getting a response. Once you set the expectations, you have to deliver on them. It’s better to tell your audience that you’re only available from 10 am to 3 pm (although this is not ideal for the 24/7 world of social) than to say you’re always available and respond within an hour, if it’s blatantly not the case.

3. BUY YOURSELF TIME.

Social media has undeniably shifted consumers’ expectations. It has sped up the customer lifecycle, as well as how long they expect to wait before hearing from you after they ask a question or report a problem. In fact, 42% of people who reach out to you on social media expect a first response within 60 minutes. That’s not a lot of time to see a question, find the answer, and close the loop. Succinctly. In 140 characters or less. On top of all the other work you have. The Get Satisfaction HootSuite integration is designed to help find and send the right community answer to a customer question in Twitter or Facebook, but we’ll get to that in our next tip.

While people expect a response almost immediately on social, that doesn’t mean you have to provide a definitive answer that quickly if one isn’t at your fingertips. A quick, “Great question, we wonder that too. We’ll look into it & get back to you,” will buy you the time to find the appropriate answer, work your social media magic to shrink it down to appropriate Tweet or Wall post size, and respond. Which bring us to our next tip…

4. IMPORT SOCIAL MENTIONS INTO YOUR COMMUNITY.

This has so many benefits it’s hard to know where to start. When you bring content from a Tweet or Facebook post into your Get Satisfaction community via our HootSuite integration, you get rid of pesky character limits, turn the fleeting comment into content that is persistent and searchable, and drive participation into your community.

With the click of a button, you’ll create a new topic in your community based on content from a Tweet or Facebook Wall post, fully answer the question in the community topic, then automatically send a Tweet or post back to the user with a link to the answer in the community. This preserves the content in a persistent way that’s easy for the next person who has a similar question (as well as Google) to find. An added benefit is the fact the tool helps you to automatically close the loop with your customers, creating all-around happiness (and effectiveness) for you and your customers.

5. IDENTIFY ADVOCATES AND CHAMPIONS.<

We know that you can address the questions, needs, and concerns of your customers all on your own… but with a strong social support strategy, you don’t have to! One of the biggest perks of social support is it allows you to leverage your most engaged customers to help each other out on your behalf.

In fact, consumers prefer the opinions of your customers to canned, company-sponsored responses, so the organic praise of brand advocates is the holy grail of social media marketing. Your champions are also a great resource to support you when people have questions or complaints about you on social networks. But first you have to identify and activate them.

Incentivize these critical customers with Champs programs, web badges, public thanks, insider information, deals, and coupons. To learn more about the demographics of specific market segments who are likely to use customer communities and the best ways you can nurture a relationship with them.

It will be extremely valuable to take the time to identify and empower your brand advocates. Even a few great brand advocates can drive customer acquisition and dramatically reduce your need to respond to support issues (especially after hours when you’ve called it a day, but your customers are still on social media expecting a response quickly).

6. HAVE A PLAN FOR ESCALATION.

No matter how awesome your company, product, and team are, it’s likely that there will be times when you have a customer reaching out to you online with a question your social media manager can’t answer, or a complaint they’re not comfortable addressing. Being transparent in social media means you should always strive to provide as full and complete an answer as you can from whichever department is most relevant to the question.

Often this means reaching out to different areas of your company to get them the full answer they’re looking for. Tricky product questions should be passed along to someone on the product team to provide a complete answer. Messy PR issues should be handed off to marketing or PR teams. Occasionally, when things really call for some special attention, they should be escalated to your executive team.

Before your social media manager is confronted with a sticky situation, have a plan in place so then know when interactions should be escalated, and to whom. It will help them feel comfortable doing their job, and will ensure these questions and issues get dealt with quickly and effectively.

7. TAKE IT TO THE NEXT LEVEL.

Spontaneous gifts for brand advocates, public recognition, truly going above and beyond for your customers — however you choose to step up your social game to delight and wow your customers — social media is a medium that can amplify the excitement created… and it will.

Empower your team to create moments of awesome for your customers by encouraging them to send schwag to brand advocates who show you love on Twitter, give public kudos to especially helpful customers, and otherwise go out of their way to be an awesome community member. Then sit back and watch the social love flood in!

8. BUILD LOTS OF ENTRY POINTS.

Social media means that your customers are no longer in one, insolated place looking for your assistance. Customers will come to you on Facebook and Twitter, from your website, in the comments section of your blog, and in your customer community. Your social support is only as effective as the entry points to it, so make sure it’s open, inviting, and easy-to-find!

Get Satisfaction offers widgets that allows you to place entry points to your community anywhere on your website. Make it easy for your customers to seamlessly bounce from your website, to your social channels, to your community, and your blog. You should also have visible links inviting consumers to share your blog content on social channels. The easier it is for people to find you on social media and share your content there, the more likely they are to do so. The reach this creates will grow exponentially, so make sure you’re investing in this area.

Don’t forget, most consumers still go straight to Google to find the answers they’re looking for, so it’s important to make sure your social support content ranks well! (Not sure how? Go back and review tip 4)

9. ANALYZE, ANALYZE, ANALYZE.

Customer support shouldn’t just be a reaction to a problem. When done well, it can be a first indication of where things are going wrong, whether it’s a person, product, or feature. Without data, you won’t know your major pain points, so be sure to capture as much information as possible about the issues that are vexing your customers.

Good stats to measure: the average customer wait-time for first response and resolution, the platforms they’re using most to contact you to get help, the number of votes or page views a particular community topic has, and the number of support questions answered by Champions.

Here at Get Satisfaction we understand the importance of great data analysis, which is why we’ve teamed up with GoodData to bring you Community Health Analytics 2.0. There are also a number of other online tools that will help you track your various social stats.

10. LET YOUR PERSONALITY SHINE!

Everybody always talks about being authentic on social media. The best way to ensure you sound authentic (like a human—not a robot) is to say your response out loud to your coworker. If it comes out of your mouth feeling natural, it’s probably a safe bet it’ll sound that way to your reader as well.

Depending on your brand, feel free to sprinkle emoticons and words like “yikes,” “oops,” and “yay,” to give it a little extra flavor. You can also sign your tweets or posts with your name or initials to give it a more human touch. And when in doubt, a little empathy and honesty (a la “I am so sorry that’s happening to you. Looks like a bug our engineers are working out right now. Will keep you posted”) can go a long way towards reminding your customers that you’re a human over there, and you’re working to fix their issues as quickly as possible.

CONCLUSION

Social Support is not a passing fad… customers have come to expect that companies will be there for them in a more social and authentic way. And that’s a good thing for you and your brand! At the end of the day, nobody wants to feel like the source of his or her frustration is being handled by a robot, PR team, or (worst of all) a black hole. Social media means that support issues that are handled poorly can attract a lot more negative attention than ever before. But the reverse is also true. Support issues that are tackled proactively, responsibly, and transparently provide great opportunities for your brand to shine.

And don’t forget, a customer community will help you leverage your customers to help each other, transform fleeting social mentions into persistent, discoverable content, and will enable you to place entry points into your community wherever your customers are — on your website, social networks, mobile, and search. Add our integrations with great partners like HootSuite and GoodData to the mix, and you have everything you need for an intelligent, easy to manage, easy to evaluate social support plan.

About Get Satisfaction

Based in San Francisco, Get Satisfaction provides an online community platform connecting companies with customers to foster relationships that unlock new value for both sides. Companies of all sizes and industries—from Kellogg’s, P&G and Intuit to Sonos, and SugarCRM—rely on Get Satisfaction to deliver online communities that modernize customer support, accelerate sales, differentiate their brand and inspire new innovations. Get Satisfaction’s community platform offers the fastest time to value for companies ready to embrace the way today’s customers want to engage.


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