4 Tips for Using Social Media to Improve Customer Service
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Social media is often regarded as a marketing tool, but it can also be used to help resolve customer issues--and earn their loyalty.

Odds are good that your customers are already big users of social media, and that can be good for your business. Social media isn't just a convenient way to build your brand and strengthen your reputation—it can also become a key touch-point in addressing customer issues. Assuming you have the resources to monitor and respond to social media inquiries quickly and consistently, follow these tips to effectively leverage this powerful service tool.

1. Establish clear guidelines

The platform(s) on which your customers are most active should dictate where you offer customer service support. Create detailed guidelines for each network on how to respond to queries. These responses should be written in accordance with your brand voice and reflect the ethos of your company. Stay consistent without sacrificing authenticity. Create templates for addressing common issues, but also teach your team how to personalize these interactions. Customers want to feel like they’re engaging with a human being rather than being fed canned responses. Be sure to respond to positive messages as well, not just to questions and complaints.

2. Timeliness matters

If you're slow to respond via social media you risk doing more harm than good. “Customers expect a speedy response via these channels, much faster than they expect it from contact forms or emails,” says Adi Bittan, co-founder & CEO of OwnerListens, which has helped nearly 10,000 SMBs use social media and instant messaging for customer communications. “Our data shows that for customers to score your service an 8 [out of 10] or higher, you have to respond within 90 minutes or less," she says. "To receive a 9 or higher, you have to respond in 20 minutes or less.”

Bittan recommends setting expectations upfront so customers know how long it typically takes you to reply. Additionally, create and continually update FAQs to address the most common inquiries you receive. Making this information visible on your social media pages and your website may help reduce the volume of inquiries you field, allowing you to devote more staff time to less common issues.

3. Be mindful of privacy

Businesses such as healthcare providers and financial services must be particularly sensitive about discussing customer information on unsecure channels, cautions Bittan. “It’s okay to answer general questions on social media (e.g., “Do you take XY insurance?”), but it’s not okay--and it’s potentially illegal--to discuss personal medical or financial matters,” she says.

Respect confidentiality and customer preference. There’s some information one may simply prefer to keep private, such as clothing size. “Tread carefully, and ask customers to move to a more private and secure channel where appropriate,” recommends Bittan.

4. Keep your cool

“There is a lot of debate about whether or not you should hash out an entire issue in the public space," says Jessica Klimczak, senior manager of social channels at Blurb, which receives a constant stream of questions from its users. "In my nine years of social customer service, I cannot emphasize how important it is to make the first touch in the place the customer contacts you and then gently guide them to a private message or alternate correspondence method. It never turns out well to have a public, lengthy back and forth.”

Always be polite and empathetic, and take pains to avoid saying anything you might come to regret. “You cannot make everyone happy,” cautions Klimczak. “Despite your best efforts, there will be some customers who just want to be angry. Don't let those people discourage you. Keep a list of happy-customer compliments that you can refer to on days when you are struggling with the tougher customer complaints.”

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This information is general in nature and is provided for educational purposes only. Information provided should not be relied on or interpreted as accounting, financial planning, investment, legal, or tax advice. Regions encourages you to consult a professional for advice applicable to your specific situation. Information provided and statements made by individuals who are not employees of Regions are the views, opinions, or positions of the individual who made the statement and do not necessarily reflect the policies, views, opinions, and positions of Regions. Regions makes no representations as to the accuracy, completeness, timeliness, suitability, or validity of any information presented.