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Social Media Customer Support The Wave Of The Future Is Here Right Now

Social Media Customer Support: The Wave Of The Future Is Here Right Now

You already know that social media is a fantastic marketing tool for your small business. However, social media also has another important application that more and more companies are beginning to use, and that’s utilizing social media for customer support.

I think social media is a great tool for customer service and was happy to see the recent report from Software Advice, the online reviews and comparisons hub for CRM buyers, that stated the number of software vendors offering social media tools for customer support has increased by 150% since 2010. To learn more about why more companies are demanding automated tools for customer service, we asked Craig Borowski, the researcher and author of this report, a few questions.

Your recent report shows an uptick in brands using social media for customer support. Why do you think there’s been such an increase?

Great question! The short reason why brands are increasingly using social media for customer support is that that’s where many of their customers are. Now, a half-glass empty narrative you often hear is that companies only turn to social media customer service after they discover that customers are using it as a platform to publicly complain about a poor experience with a company.

In this context, companies are turning to social mainly for “damage control,” to protect brand reputation. While this is still somewhat accurate, for some companies, it’s really only a small part of the picture. The best companies, those finding the most value in social media, are those that use it to open new dialogues with their customers.

How are customers demanding more advanced social customer service tools?

Social Media Customer Support The Wave Of The Future Is Here Right Now

Customer demand for specific customer service channels can be tricky to gauge. Most often, their demand is only made clear by looking at which companies they spend their money with, and then connecting the dots back to what drives those purchase decisions. When connecting those dots, it’s important to remember that the fewer effort customers need to expend to complete their customer service issue, the more likely they are to consider the service good.

Every small hoop they’re made to jump through — for example, being asked to repeat details, to call instead of email, or to email first then call — increases the effort, measurably degrades their overall satisfaction, and raises the chances they’ll shop elsewhere in the future. Unfortunately, few companies track their customer’s experiences closely enough to accurately pinpoint each and every hoop.

What are some brands you’ve seen doing a great job using social customer service?

While we try to avoid singling out any particular brands, even to pay compliments, I can say that we’re seeing a lot of social customer service success at the small and medium-sized business (SMB) level. Many of the biggest brands, the large enterprises, got off to a rocky start when they began addressing social media customer service in the early 2000s. These were the early pioneers of social customer service, and smart companies now can look back and learn from their mistakes.

(The biggest mistake was using social media as a PR or marketing channel, even in the face of complaining customers. Picture a customer complaint getting posted to the company’s Facebook page, and the company replying with a generic boilerplate response that doesn’t address the specific complaint.)

Social media is all about engagement and fostering two-way dialogues. This is fairly common knowledge nowadays, and a large number of SMBs are doing it very well. While they don’t have the resources of large enterprises, they are able to adapt more quickly. They can learn from the mistakes made by the big brands and, as a special bonus, they often realize much faster SEO gains, especially for local searches, by having active and effective social customer service.

Do you think the 800 number helpline is becoming extinct?

Well, yes and no. Calling charges have plummeted in the last twenty years. Offering a toll-free number to customers is no longer as critical as it once was because calling charges aren’t really an important consideration anymore. That said, 800 numbers do still carry a certain authority and they might help reinforce a brand’s image, albeit by a very small amount and mainly with customers in older age brackets.

So the value that 800 numbers bring to customer service by virtue of being “toll-free” is on the verge of becoming extinct. But voice channel customer service — whether it’s via an 800 number, a regular local phone number, or a VoIP-based online connection — is in no danger of extinction. There are still certain types of customer service transactions, like discussing complex financial information, which customers prefer to have on a voice channel.

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