Courtney Eckerle

Why Social Media is the New Customer Service Hotline

October 15th, 2013

Buying your first house is a big milestone in American life.

There are two entire HGTV shows, “My First Place” and “Property Virgins” centered around the experience.

Every episode follows basically the same trajectory:

Overly anxious buyers, with expectations that far exceed their budgets, hoping to find the “perfect” dream home to live happily ever after with no problems.

“Oh honey,” current homeowners say pityingly, as they shake their heads knowingly.

Good luck to whoever has those expectations. The really difficult (and least interesting) stuff happens once you move into that glorious, shining home.

Take a friend of mine for example – she recently made that big step into adulthood and bought her first home. Closing went fairly well, so she was feeling good when she finally moved in.

Then, like most first-time homeowners, she looked around and realized how much needed to be done, and how much stuff she didn’t have.

All at once the chaos of happily ever after began to unravel in a series of rescheduled deliveries and insanely long waits on the customer service lines. The real breaking point came when she was trying to schedule the delivery of her washer and dryer.

The company-that-shall-not-be-named rescheduled her delivery four times, and upped her backorder wait time from two weeks to six weeks. After being stressed out by multiple phone reps and receiving no responses to her emails to customer service (she’s still waiting for a reply, in fact), she decided to take the fight to social media.

She was shocked to see the company’s Facebook page promoting the backordered machine that had caused her so much trouble five weeks after purchasing. Not only that, but the website was making the dubious promise that people ordering five weeks after her would receive their washers only three days after her machine was scheduled for delivery.

In spite of posting her concerns, the only interaction she had was with other customers – the brand never commented or attempted to help.

The truth is, many large companies are still not placing enough importance on social media as a customer service channel that more customers have come to expect.

But, there is hope as some big brands are starting to use social media to truly enhance the customer service experience.


Social media is the ultimate opportunity to connect with customers

For example, Cisco is a large company that focuses on meeting customers in the social media sphere. Kathleen Mudge, Social Media Marketing Manager and consultant, Cisco, has previously spoken with MarketingSherpa about her views on different social media platforms.

Kathleen consistently embraces social media as the ultimate opportunity to connect with customers.

“Providing customer service can be an entry point to an ongoing relationship,” she said, adding customer service is a great opportunity for conversation and connection with the brand.

Because Cisco is such a large company, Kathleen said it can be “daunting and confusing for customers when an issue arises.  I love delighting customers with quick replies to questions, issues or concerns they post through their social media channels,” she said.


Make customers feel heard

Cisco’s social media channels are monitored year-round, Kathleen said, and her goal is to consistently be “extremely responsive to our communities.”

During off-peak times, when one of Cisco’s events isn’t ramping up or in progress, she said customers may expect a response within 12 hours, “but normally within the hour during the week.”

During events however, social media is in overdrive, and customers receive a response time that local emergency crews would envy – within three minutes or sooner.

Kathleen credits proper staffing to this feat, a necessity when “event conversations explode, as they did last June [during the Cisco Live event] with 46,000 total social mentions.”


Use complaints as an opportunity

Responsiveness is especially key when dealing with a complaint or upset customers, and addressing the issue immediately will keep the issue in check, Kathleen said.

“I may not have the answer, but I want to let them know I am aware of their issue and I am seeking an answer or solution or whatever it is they may need,” she said.

The same principles of customer service via phone, email or in-person are true in social media (perhaps especially important since it’s available for other customers to see) and making sure a customer feels seen and heard is paramount.

If there isn’t a timely response, “they will most likely continue to get more frustrated and their complaints may multiply, causing a very negative situation for the brand,” Kathleen said.

A complaint handled properly is an opportunity to solve the same problem for other customers who may be following the conversation.

“We can’t always provide a resolution that is what the customer is requesting. No brand can be all things to all people,” she said. But letting a customer know you are aware of their situation and troubleshooting it, “that does a lot to ease the aggravation.”


Use and promote positive interactions

Sometimes customers are using social media as an outlet to voice their excitement for an event or their overall experience with the company, and those positive updates, “truly make my day and are the favorite part of my job,” Kathleen said.


When Cisco customers post positive updates on Twitter, for example, Kathleen retweets it from the brand in addition to responding to them.

“When I see that I can make a positive difference for someone online through communication with the brand, I am absolutely thrilled and I want to amplify their update by a retweet on Twitter or a ‘like’ and response on Facebook or another channel,” she said.

Cisco’s events are also provide a great opportunity to  flaunt those positive customer interactions – as updates may appear on the big screen during a keynote in front of 20,000 attendees, as well as being available for their virtual audience.

Singling those comments out works for both parties: “They love being recognized and we love highlighting their comments,” she said.


Scale your brand’s social media to your customers

How much emphasis you put on social media customer service should be based on your customers. If they’re on social media, you should be, too.

Cisco customers and event attendees, for example, can reach out through email or a toll-free number, but since they are so tech savvy, social media is a place for both sides to hear and be heard.

“So many [customers] are active on channels all the time and it’s easier for them to send out a tweet or post a question on our Facebook page or within our LinkedIn group. They don’t want to bother with a phone call or scripting an email … providing solutions through channels that are easiest for them just makes sense,” Kathleen said.


Know when to hand the problem over to a solution provider

Sometimes using social media for customer service can be problematic, Kathleen said, when there is a lot of back and forth with the customer, as well as the service center or person addressing the issue.

“I have gotten into some heavy time sinks when I am adding no value as a middleman, but the customer does not want to jump over to email or phone and directly work with the solution provider. You need to know when to step out and hand the issue over to a solution provider,” she said.

In spite of any difficulties that arise using social media for customer service over more traditional outlets, Kathleen sees it as both a necessary and enjoyable part of her duties.

“My favorite part of my job is the interaction and engagement I have with our online communities,” she said.

“Helping people have a positive experience with the brand is my top priority. Social media provides the personal engagement with our customers that are not available through any other means,” she concluded.


Related Resources:        

B2B Social Media: Cisco’s Kathleen Mudge shares her perspective on different networks

5 Social Media Career Killers Panel

B2B Social Media: SAP Latin America boosts followers 900% [Part II]

More Alike than Different: Why email is Madonna, and Facebook is Lady Gaga

Social Media Marketing: Travel company uses Facebook as a tool for generating testimonials

Social Media Marketing: How to use Facebook for customer engagement

 Social Media Marketing: Can you compete with your customer’s mom?

Courtney Eckerle

About Courtney Eckerle

With a focus on aspirational, customer-first marketing, Courtney’s goal has been to produce clear, interesting and actionable external content for MarketingSherpa readers. This has included writing over 300 case studies, moderating live event interviews, and producing video content. She earned her Bachelor of Arts in English Literature, Mass Communications and Film Studies from Saint Mary’s College in Notre Dame, Ind., and was a correspondent for USA Today College prior to joining MECLABS Institute.

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  1. October 17th, 2013 at 03:19 | #1

    Firms must strive to provide high level of customer care and triage customer service issues in a timely and effective manner now that we have this so called “Social Media” because the actual threat of losing customers is no longer just a possibility, but a reality.

  2. October 21st, 2013 at 10:49 | #2

    Social media is an economical customer support channel. Your customers expect to find you there, ready to listen to them and offer assistance.

    I recommend hiring staff rather than contracting a social media “call center”, so you’ll have people who are 100% focused on supporting your brand. If you’ve seen the emails sent from these places you’ll know you don’t want them to be your public face.

    To work in the space effectively, customer service representatives need PR instincts on top of exceptional customer service skills. They’re your public face and brand advocates, so I suggest offering higher wages to attract the superstars.

  3. October 29th, 2013 at 09:52 | #3

    Social media is the modern form of communication. It is the most convenient way to interact with people of same interests. No wonder it can be an asset for any successful organizations.

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