As a business owner, social media and customer service are probably both top of mind. Study after study has shown that good customer service will allow you to get and retain customers, while sub-par customer service will drive people away quickly. Most people also rely heavily on peer reviews and recommendations, largely through social media, when they’re making a decision about what brands to patronize. Your current and potential customers are paying attention to your presence (or lack of presence) on social media, and they’re forming an opinion of your brand based on their observations.
There are many elements to creating a social media strategy, but here we’re going to focus on one specific piece—offering excellent customers support. Why? Because in my opinion, it’s the most important skill for entrepreneurs and founders to learn. You can easily hire someone to manage social media content creation, but you can’t buy the insights you’ll get from talking with your community on a day-to-day basis. In the process of creating and executing a social media support program, you’ll learn about your community (their needs, wants, expectations, frustrations) and your brand (what’s working, what isn’t, and how to improve).
The foundation of these recommendations
Before I dive into the steps you’ll want to take and why, let me tell you a little bit about my experience so you know where my recommendations are coming from.
For the past 6+ years, I’ve managed social media customer service, first at Simple (from its days as a startup through an acquisition and a couple of major migrations) and now at Azlo. At times, I’ve managed the entire program by myself; at others, I’ve trained and managed a small team focused on social media support. I’ve supported communities that ranged from a few hundred people to tens of thousands; I’ve had conversations on topics ranging from questions about product, to criticisms about our partners, to frustrations about our policies, to complaints about what GIFs we shared. I’ve learned how to have valuable, helpful conversations with a community while avoiding potential pitfalls.
Three steps to steller social media support
1. Understand your audience
Who is currently buying your products and talking about your business? Where are they (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, specific message boards)? What do they sound like? What do they care about? Getting a strong understanding of your social audience will help you through all the following steps.
2. Pick your channels
There are many, many social media channels, and it’s likely that you won’t have the time to build a community on each. When you’re just getting started with social media support, I recommend picking just a couple of channels and committing to them. Consistency really counts; maintaining a regular, active, and responsive presence on one channel is much better than replying erratically on several.
When you’re picking a channel, think about your brand and your target market. If you have a really visual product, it’s likely that your potential customers are on Instagram. If your customers are already talking about you on Facebook, go there.
3. Consider your brand of support
The basic tenets of customer support are the same across brands: you’ve got to listen, empathize, sometimes inform, and always connect.
There are certain aspects that can vary from brand to brand, however. Some brands offer customer support that’s matter-of-fact yet proactive, while others are straightforward and a little effusive, while still others offer something above-and-beyond while cracking jokes all the while. Your goal is to create a voice that’s authentic to you and your brand, yet tailored to your audience and the channel.
4. Pick the right tool
A good social media management tool is invaluable: it makes it easy to manage multiple channels at once, and it allows you to constantly search for keywords and brand mentions that aren’t sent directly to your social profiles. Many tools also allow you to tag contact for later analysis, which will help you track trends and gather feedback.
There are lots of options for businesses of all sizes and stages of growth. Some of them offer relatively affordable options for single-owner businesses and small teams, but watch out—they can get expensive really quickly as you add more users or features. I recommend starting with something that’s basic and affordable, since you can always upgrade if you need to.
How do I respond to that?
Okay—once you’ve studied your audience, picked a channel, started to define your voice on social media, and picked a tool. What do you do when you start getting comments in your inbox? Here are some broad categories of contact along with tips on how to handle each.
Complaints from angry customers
The number and type of complaints you’ll get, as well as the way you will want to respond, are highly dependant on your industry and your business model. No matter what, though, you’ll want to do these things:
Be responsive and proactive: This is at the top of the list for a reason. When you’re a customer with a problem, there’s nothing more infuriating than feeling ignored. Conversely, having your complaint acknowledged and being offered a resolution feels great.
Empathize: Easy to say, consistently hard to do—even if you’re a naturally empathetic person. When you’re close to a project (like a business you’ve built from the ground up), it’s hard to really pull back and look at it from the perspective of a user. One trick I use, quite regularly, is to actually walk through the steps the customer likely took to get to the point of frustration. For example, if I’m talking to a customer who is trying to sign up and getting stuck in the process, I’ll go through the sign-up flow while looking for points of friction.
Don’t get defensive: It’s easy to take criticism personally, especially if it’s about something you care about deeply (like a product you’ve created). Ultimately, however, a complaint, even an angry one, generally isn’t an attack on you or your business—it’s a request for help. When you feel defensive, you’re subconsciously changing your focus from your customer to yourself. To effectively resolve complaints and turn a conversation around, you need to keep the focus on the customer and their experience.
Take it offline if you can’t solve the problem quickly: If you’re not able to quickly resolve a user’s complaint, it’s a good idea to move the conversation to an email or phone call. Often issues can be handled more thoroughly and quickly on other channels, and it also protects the user’s privacy.
Be thoughtful about hiding and deleting negative comments: If people look at your social profiles (which is the goal, after all) then they’re going to notice if you regularly delete negative comments. That will make them naturally wonder how you’ll respond if they have an issue or complaint. Taking a negative comment and turning the conversation around can be much, much better than simply sweeping the conversation under the rug. That said, it is good to have a policy around deleting or hiding comments that are offensive to others in your community or that contain sensitive information.
Confusion and people sharing incorrect information
It’s likely that your community will have questions about your product, and they may also form an incomplete or incorrect understanding of certain aspects of it. If they say something that could mislead or confuse the rest of your community, the goal is to reply quickly and clear up any confusion without offending the original commenter.
When I’m responding to this type of contact, I go through the following steps:
- Try to understand where the confusion is coming from. Very often this type of confusion means there’s an opportunity for you to clarify your messaging or inform customers proactively.
- Thank them for commenting and respond to all their points The last thing you want is for the gist of your reply to simply be “Wait, you’re wrong.” To avoid that, focus on all of their message rather than just the incorrect portion. I also like to thank people (directly or indirectly) for starting a conversation about an area of potential confusion.
- Clearly state the correct information and share any useful background. It goes without saying that you’ll want to give them the correct information. Adding a little background can help them (and others in the community) wrap their head around potentially confusing topics.
Responding to these is pretty easy—you just answer them! You can learn a lot from the questions your community asks, though. So, once you’ve responded, look for opportunities to go above and beyond by …
- Answering questions before they’re asked. If you keep getting the same questions, think critically about where your users can easily find the answers in their user journey. Maybe you could add a note to your sign-up flow, or refresh the FAQ page
- Analyzing questions for indirect requests and feedback. If your users have questions, it’s often because they’re looking for something they can’t find. Maybe you already offer the thing they’re looking for; if that’s the case, try to figure out why it’s hard for them to find. If you don’t offer it yet, consider offering it in the future.
People who absolutely love your product
This is the best contact. As a founder—someone who has poured their love and energy into building a business—there’s really nothing quite as rewarding as talking with the people who benefit from the work you’re doing.
Just because it’s the best doesn’t mean it’s easy, though. I’ve trained a lot of people to do social support; roughly half of them found this type of contact the easiest to handle, while the other half found it surprisingly challenging. A lot of people have a hard time accepting praise or complements—either the act of being praised makes them uncomfortable, or they simply don’t know how to respond. If you fall into that category (I do), just know that responding to this kind of contact gets easier with practice. I also find it helpful to mentally frame these comments as praise for the company’s mission and vision—if you believe strongly in your company’s mission, it’s a lot of fun to share it with people.
What social media support really means
The idea of starting a social media program can be an intimidating one. After all, on social media is unpredictable and it’s so visible. Once you get past that hurdle, though social media support is usually easy and always rewarding. Ultimately, it’s just talking with your community, really listening to what they have to say, and finding creative ways to make their day a little brighter.
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