Social media has changed the way customers choose to interact with companies, and they have now come to expect their questions to be answered in real-time.
According to Gartner, by 2014 any organisation that refuses to communicate with customers via social media, will find themselves facing a wrath of angry customers. Responding to customers on social media is becoming the new minimum level of response expected, similar to the way that phone calls and emails were previously a basic expectation.
Some companies have been keeping abreast this new method for communication with 34% using social media tools for customer service for at least two years, according to The Social Customer Engagement Index 2012. The survey of 578 businesses showed that companies are seeing the value in opening up another channel to reach customers.
There are still some issues, as a study from A.T. Kearney found that, of the top 50 brands, 56% did not respond to a single customer comment on their Facebook Page in 2011. Brands ignored 71% of customer’s complaints on Twitter, and 55% of consumers expect a response the same day to an online complaint, while only 29% receive one.
It is critical to keep your customers happy, and also show potential customers that you are responsive and aware. Keeping on top of customer issues through social media channels can tick both these boxes. When working closely together with traditional customer service departments, this can help build a stronger brand identity, better customer relationships and help maintain a competitive advantage.
So, why is Twitter an ideal customer service platform?
Twitter is a lightning-fast social platform, it’s much quicker for the customer to tweet out rather than sit on the phone listening to hold music for 40 minutes (we’ve all been there!). Small issues can be solved in a simple tweet, and for more complex problems you can easily take the conversation to a direct message.
If you’re constantly providing quick and helpful customer service on a public forum, your brand image can consequently bloom. Even though it is a common conception that brand image can be ruined by social media, the opposite is also achievable. Twitter is a very viral platform; excellent and distinctive customer service can soon lead from one happy customer to a great buzz around your brand, even worldwide!
The downside to social media customer service is that there is a lot more pressure to respond, and get it right first time to avoid criticism, however a well handled complaint can create a surge of positive feedback.
How fast are retailers at responding to Twitter customer service queries?
Tracking keywords around your brand is a great way to be a rapid responder, but are the big retail brands bothering to do this? And how long do they take to reply, when time is of the essence in social media – or do they even reply at all?
We did a test to find out who were the quickest to respond to genuine customer queries with:
The Department Stores
So, we found House of Fraser were the quickest responders, with Sainsbury’s lagging behind, needing a second nudge tweet to get our query answered. John Lewis and Marks and Spencer were also some of the slower retailers. A number of factors could influence the response rate, such as volume of tweets received, time of day or what kind of query was asked, but when customers are expecting almost instantaneous replies, some of these response times will inevitably fall short.
Whilst doing this test we noted that a few brands had chosen to create dedicated customer service Twitter hubs, as a side-line to their corporate accounts (see Next, H & M and Tesco). This is a great idea as it can enable your company to quickly identify customer support issues; however it could cause confusion for users trying to search for your brand. Whatever option a brand goes with, steps need to be taken to ensure the strategy flows and is not disjointed.
Consequently, if your brand is on social media, you need to be approachable, transparent and truthful. There are many examples available where this has gone wrong and customer complaints have spiralled out of control. However, there are many more brands where this has been a successful process, and in turn promoted a very positive brand image by solving customer issues, with less cost than phone or email service. This was shown in our test when John Lewis could not help with our query, but Liz Earle beauty stepped in to the rescue – they’re clearly using brand tracking to their advantage!
Twitter and social media are definitely helping redefine how customer service is done. Do you think it is important for brands to maintain customer service through social media? Or do you have any great or terrible examples of companies executing social in this way? Let us know in the comments…