PR Insider: Best Practices for Customer Support via Social Media

Social media offers an ideal opportunity for companies to directly connect to their customers and potential customers. And many companies have been using social media as a major part of their marketing strategy for years.

Abby Perkins
Abby Perkins

But marketing isn’t the only reason companies interact with customers. How effective is social media when it comes to customer support? Encouraging people to become customers through social media is one thing. But, as many companies are starting to realize, social outlets can be used to answer questions and concerns and resolve issues – while improving customers' confidence in the brand.

More and more companies are investing resources in social support, but it’s still a relatively new game. Wondering if your business should start providing customer support via social media? Below are a few reasons you should, and a few best practices for doing it – plus a few big blunders to avoid.

Why should you implement social support?
You’re probably wondering about the value of social support as an avenue for customer service. Is social support really worth the effort? In a word, yes. Why?

  • It’s fast. Customers today want a fast, personal response when they have an issue with a company or brand. Social media makes that easier.
  • It’s public. Social is a public platform. And people who receive effective responses to their issues via social media are more likely to relay that experience to others.
  • It’s good PR. Companies that are proactive about social media are seen as more high-tech, more responsive, more transparent and more personal.

Best practices for social support
Keep these 5 best practices in mind when providing customer support via social media – they’ll allow your company to reap the benefits of social support without damaging your image.

1. Be clear. Be sure that customers are aware of the hours that support is available via social media. American Express, for example, makes it a point to post when they are signing off for the night. This keeps customers informed, making sure that they are not upset when support is not immediately available.

2. Be personal. No one wants to get customer support from a computer program or a chat bot. Give online customer support a personal touch by ensuring that employees who are providing support use their names when posting or answering questions.

3. Gather information. Social media is a great way to gather information about common customer complaints. Companies can efficiently pinpoint and solve problems by determining what customers are unhappy about. Whether this relates to service time, shipping speeds or product quality, staying involved in social media gives companies the opportunity to find solutions to their most pressing and most common problems.

4. Keep it separate. Create a separate social profile that is specifically intended for customer service. This has a few benefits. First, it prevents companies from having to sort through dozens of comments in order to determine which customers need support. Second, it shows customers that social support is a priority – not just an afterthought. Microsoft has been able to achieve an average response time of 30 minutes using this method.

5. Be proactive. Don’t just respond to mentions and direct messages. Seek out customers who are talking about your products or services, even if they’re not talking to you. Search your company’s name and related hashtags to find out what people are talking about, and proactively respond to issues or complaints when they come up.

Blunders to avoid
Social media is like a megaphone for your company’s actions – both good and bad. Mistakes made on social media are incredibly public, and that can be damaging to brand and reputation. Avoid these blunders to ensure that social support remains an effective tool.

1. Allowing widespread employee access. Allowing many (or even all) employees to access social media profiles can be a recipe for disaster. Consider what might happen when an employee who has access to a company’s social media profile gets fired or laid off. It’s not unheard of for angry employees to post damaging content through the company's social media profile. An example? An employee in charge of music chain HMV’s social media account live-tweeted a mass firing that occurred last year.

2. Mixing up the personal and the professional. In recent years, many companies have found themselves scrambling to explain (and apologize) after employees who have access to professional social media profiles accidentally post personal messages. Inaccurate grammar, personal details, inappropriate language and even complaints about the company have all been accidentally relayed via social media. While it’s usually immediately apparent what happened, this error still makes the business look foolish and unprofessional. An example? One unlucky KitchenAid employee, who accidentally tweeted an offensive political message from a corporate account.

3. Sending automated posts. Whenever you can, avoid using services that automate social media posts. Though it is easier, it takes the personal touch out of social media use and makes you seem less relevant and informed. Even more dangerous? Forgotten automated posts may not end up being appropriate in light of unforeseeable events – like when the NRA had an ill-timed tweet go live after the Aurora, Colorado shootings.

Abby Perkins is Managing Editor at Talent Tribune, a blog dedicated to all things HR. Follow her @_abbytweets, and follow Talent Tribune @Talent_Tribune.