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Social Media and Customer Service
Increasingly customers are utilizing social media to lodge customer service enquiries

There is something easy about emails. Emails give you time; time to confer, time to double-check, time to weigh up the pros and cons – time to respond. While fewer and fewer of us are picking up the phone to contact customer services, an increasing number are using public social media profiles to make complaints or enquiries. These days everybody is a publisher, each with their own personal channel giving them the ability to vent their frustrations, criticize products, services, companies and brands publicly.

Have no doubt, social media can be incredibly powerful. Twitter particularly has influenced news headlines, breaking the Trafigura scandal and outing Ryan Giggs despite a superinjunction in place to prevent the information entering into the public domain. When Stephen Fry tweets a link to a website, it usually crashes because it can’t handle the volume of traffic he sends. When social media goes viral, there’s little you can do to stop it.

Dell's image

Image: Dell’s Official Flickr Page

Of course it makes a lot of sense for customers to get loud on social media when they are unhappy. Emails can be filed, ignored and forgotten, while telephone calls can be left on hold, directed to voicemail services or ignored altogether.  Brands and companies find it much harder to ignore a criticism or complaint when it is public, especially when they are attempting to use the social network in question as a sales or brand engagement tool.

According to a CSnotepad survey, 93% of customer service communications in the UK are still made via email or telephone. It’s surprising considering the amplified impact that complaints can have on social media. Failing to deal with direct customer service communication will almost inevitably lead to unfavourable social media activity. Customers tend to go social when they have exhausted all the traditional communication channels, and want to name and shame the company in question to their network of followers or friends.

For some companies, a Facebook page or Twitter profile can be a significant source of business or enquiries, sometimes an even bigger source than their website or physical location. This is why customer service complaints which go social are usually resolved more quickly than a telephone call or email. Businesses need to minimise the damage to their reputation or brand, which is why those who use social media to complain tend to get more timely responses from companies who want to please them.

The worst mistake that businesses make on social media is failing to respond. People use social media when they have exhausted all the other options, so ignoring their communications is likely to infuriate them even more. Silence is a lot louder on social media, and it’s there for everyone to hear. Bad sentiment can snowball over time, to make your replies speedy and ensure that you offer good social media customer service.

Recently 02 turned a PR disaster into a win, by simply tweeting sympathetic and mildly amusing tweets while their mobile network was down. Angry tweeters were met with rational, well-meaning responses which seemed to win them some friends at a time when a significant proportion of their customers were unhappy with the service they were receiving.

About Alan Cairns
Alan Cairns is a journalist and copywriter based in Brighton, UK.

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