How To Win At Social Media Customer Service 

7 September 2016  
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Social media customer service shows how we’ve evolved into an online world.

One of the things that excited me the most about social media when it first came about is the way it enabled customers to interact with brands or businesses in a much more accessible way. It took a while; in the early days, you’d often find yourself tweeting into the ether until certain brands took it upon themselves to join the conversation on social.  But now, as the industry has reached a new level of maturity, I think we can safely say that customer service has evolved from the telephone to email, to social.

Social media customer service is a revenue driver and differentiator

There are lots of reasons cited for customer service through social media platforms.  Mainly, when you interact with people on a one-to-one basis, it makes them more loyal. When customers are loyal, they will spend more with you, they will tell their friends about you, and all of this will result in enhanced revenues which makes us all feel good.

The corollary of this is that 89% of customer will stop doing business with you if they experience poor customer service. customer service pic

If you haven’t already embraced social media customer service, now is a good time to think about it.

By 2020, customer service will be more important than price. And already we can see some brands looking to differentiate based on customer service.  Like Telstra, in Australia who invested in its CRM system to enable customers to engage with it through any channel, and to always get the same customer agent looking after them (if the agent is on and is working).  That means you can tweet your query to Telstra on the Monday, email on the Tuesday, and follow up on Twitter on the Friday, and you will always have the same Sheila or Bruce looking after your contact.

customer service

People love to share. And when a customer service interaction is dealt with well, 75% of people will share it on social.  One third of us will even recommend a brand that provides a quick, but ineffective service. (Source: Nielsen McKinsey)

social media customer service

Three types of social media customer service interaction and all deserve responses.

  • Complaints – these are the main reason why many companies are afraid of social.  They have it in their heads that the social media universe is full of nasty trolls all waiting to pounce on them. Complaints can be difficult to deal with alright, but there’s often an element of truth in them, about something that is wrong with your product or service. Consider them an early warning system about something that is going on, that is deeper than what is happening in social media. 

So you must respond to them.  Focus on the positive: if deal with well, they can turn people from nasty to happy, and loyal.

  • Questions – questions are great!  It’s much better to be getting lots of questions, than facing into a wall of silence.  It’s shows that people are engaged.  Remember that when you answer one question in a public forum, it’s really answering for multiple people, which is likely to save you money because it avoids them all having to contact you.

Do try and answer in the forum, but direct to your website for specific information or technical detail that you can’t fit in your customer service interaction.

  • Praise – when somebody praises you, it’s rude to ignore it.  And sure why would you?  A person has taken time out of their busy life to give you an unsolicited high five.

Like the praise at a minimum, but better still is a message saying thanks.
RT if it’s a great piece of praise.


Where To Find Customer Service Interactions

  • Reviews

We’ve written about these much overlooked snippets of goodness before. Whether it’s Facebook, Tripadvisor, Yelp, or Google, reviews must be monitored and managed, and not to be feared.

  • Comments

Responses to your content on social.  We like them because they are a sign of engagement (and will be tracked as this) but sometimes can be negative.  Our advice to clients is to have  a stated code of conduct on your Facebook page (eg. no racism, no sexism, etc.).  If a comment breaks this code, then you may delete or hide.  Otherwise, do not hide or delete because this can cause the commenter to get very angry and cause trouble.  A better strategy is to push negative comments down by encouraging positive ones.  Better not to dwell on negative comments too much, a holding comment to acknowledge can be enough, then move on.

  • Direct Messages (DM’s)

Available on a number of platforms, including Twitter, Instagram, and as Messages on Facebook.  This is where the messaging is taken into a private space, not visible to the general audience.  Use DM’s where you need to get confidential information such as account numbers, etc.  But remember to let others know you’re on top of things and acknowledge the comment that came in before the DM to show that you’re managing the issue and it hasn’t gone unheard.

If you’re new to Twitter, remember that you need to actively switch on the DM notification function.  Here’s how:


3 Golden Rules For Social Media Customer Service

  1. Be polite.  Be nice. And be careful with those Emoji’s.  Responding to a serious comment with an Emoji could damage a situation.  Likewise, being all serious about something said with sarcasm can make you look like a bit of an ass.
  2. Be timely. Your reaction time is the key to your success with social customer service! As we can see from Sprout Social’s August 2016 research below, it’s not as if customers are ultra demanding… they just expect a response in up to 4 hours.  How hard can that be?  The usual response is around 10 hours.


  1. Be there! Wherever the customer chooses to engage with you, that’s where you need to deal with the interaction.  And know that whatever platforms you’re on, people will want to engage with you there.  And on the ones where you aren’t at…so keep an eye on Google reviews. Industry-specific reviews sites and forums. TripAdvisor. Yelp. Snapchat.

Sounds like a lot of hard work?  There’s a tool for that!

It can sound daunting to try and keep up with all of the interactions about your brand, your competitors, your industry across all the social platforms, and that’s why there is a whole lot of social media management tools you can choose from.
Most SME’s will start out using the platforms themselves.  Then they’ll move on to Hootsuite.  And when you’re managing multiple pages across languages, with teams of customer service agents, that’s when you need an enterprise level tool.

social media cutomer service tools

Social Media Customer Service: Great Examples

The shining star of customer service has to be Zappos, the online clothing store.

  • Overnighted a pair of shoes to the best man who arrived at a wedding shoeless for FREE
  • Clocked a record breaking phone call at 10 hours and 29 minutes just talking to a customer about living in Vegas
  • Paid all tolls on the Massachusetts Turnpike near Thanksgiving last year
  • Employees don’t read from scripts

zappos social media customer service

While they may not live up to Zappos, here are some other stories of brands doing amazing customer service.

Waterstones, Trafalgar Square – Man Gets Locked In Store

David Wills got locked in Waterstones in 2014 and live tweeted the event.

social media customer service

He was released 80 minutes later thanks to somebody monitoring Waterstone’s tweets. They tweeted this as soon as he was out.

social media customer service

Sainsbury’s: Fishy Exchange

This punderful conversation happened between Marty Lawrence and a Sainsbury’s rep over the course of three hours after Marty tweeted that he’d had trouble buying fish.

social media customer service

Apple: Hide From Your Wife

Man ordered himself an iPad but sent it back almost immediately with a post it saying ‘Wife said no’. Apple VPs sent it back to him with a post it saying ‘Apple said yes’.

Argos: Back to Black

Keeping to the language of its customers.

social media customer service

Jet Blue: Masters Of The Sky

Helped a customer mid air when his TV wasn’t working and its fast response encouraged the customer to tweet some praise about it.

social media customer service

social media customer service

Social Media Customer Service: Your Winning Success Formula

While there’s no such thing as a formula for responses, social customer service is definitely an area where scripts should be thrown out the window. But here are a few simple rules you can follow and adapt for your own business:

  • Listen

Monitor social channels for your brand name.  But listen out for competitor’s names, keywords, and industry specific keywords too.  Remember that people might be talking about you on forums, or places where you haven’t got a presence.  Decide on what actions you want to take when you find interactions of a negative or positive nature.

  • Empathy

Demonstrate empathy and you will be much more successful. Use the person’s name if you have it:

“I understand you’re frustrated John”

“Let me help you with that Julie”

  • Tone of voice

Agree on your brand voice – whether you will respond to interactions with memes, emojis, abbreviations?  Do you want agents to sign their comments with their  initials? It’s quite popular in larger organisations because it adds a human element. I’m not such a huge fan because it takes up valuable characters.

Remember that it’s OK to address complaints in public as it can enhance your image.

Social Media Customer Service: How To Solve Problems

  1. Your primary goal is to solve the problem in the channel where the customer started it, if it’s possible. If they chose to tweet, you tweet.  Don’t get them to phone you.
  2. Take it private where possible. DM now has unlimited characters on Twitter, so this opens a lot of room for good customer service interaction. Remember to respond to the initial comment in public so people can see that you’ve answered them!
  3. Don’t delete comments or DM’s.  Only hide if it’s being abusive.  Otherwise, don’t dwell on the negative, move right on.
  4. Finally, only send them to a different channel if it is not possible to complete the interaction where you are – eg. email, phone, click to chat.  Don’t be too quick to do that, as it’s a bit lazy, and can get people offside.
  5. Try to delight!  If you can, add that little something extra to keep the customer happy.  This is where humour comes in and works really well. Done well, these kind of interactions can go viral for you – like the many examples highlighted above.

Samsung social media customer service

Social Media Customer Service: Resourcing It

  • Empower your team.

Allow them to be human, be personable and have fun! Kill the script and let them have fun with their customers. In other words, be like Jen.

skyscanner social media customer service

skyscanner social media customer service

  • Train your team.

Don’t just leave it all to one person – everyone should know how to utilise social media customer service. Set out guidelines such as whether you use sign off names, when you should respond etc.

social media customer service

  • Use the Traffic Light system.

social media customer service


Customer service is a key driver of revenue – so it stands to reasons that excellent social media customer service will drive excellent revenue. Customers are the most important component of any business, so don’t be afraid to interact with them, start a conversation, show them that your brand is human too and not just a robot working behind a screen.



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