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7 ways to ensure your social media customer service is first class

Social Media Customer Service - Listening is Key!

Complaining is traditionally thought of as a very British thing to do, and with a 74% increase in complaints in 2014 it seems this trend is on the rise. Technology has played a key role in this increase, with e-commerce removing the need for human interaction but increasing the risk of minor issues occurring (particularly related to deliveries), and the growth of social media gives consumers an opportunity to complain to the organisation directly.

Last year, public transport received over 3.3 million complaints, according to a report released by the Ombudsman Service, an independent, not-for-profit, complaints mediation service. Who hasn’t tweeted their frustration about train delays? Queues at the airport? Overcrowded buses?

Social media allows consumers to engage directly with the brand, but in line with the nature of the channel it has also created an expectation for immediacy of response, making it the perfect environment to complain about our transport woes. In times gone by consumers would dial up the brand’s customer call centre and have to experience a wait from 2 minutes to well over an hour. To make matters worse, complaints are now in the public domain rather than the confines of a private phone call.

Many transport companies are responding to the need for comprehensive customer service channels on social media, with many major train operators now manning their Twitter feeds for 24 hours a day, and 70% of ‘social media teams’ responding to negative tweets that very day, with one in five responding within the hour.

Friends Stephen Brown and Ben O’Neill spent over £180 on their mobile phone bill trying to resolve an issue through the Virgin Atlantic customer service team. After emailing asking for compensation for the call, the pair were left waiting for more than 41 days without a response. Thoroughly fed up, as a last ditch attempt the pair tweeted the account demanding a reply citing ‘Sort it out Branson’, the tweet was responded to immediately and they were called the next day and offered £400 compensation. A prime example where social media has provided an immediate response helping to resolve the issue and ensure the consumer was satisfied.

Case Study: Birmingham Airport utilise social media to drive customer service engagement

Response time is just one consideration when delivering successful social customer service. There are a number of potential risks that can have a profound effect upon your brand’s reputation, such as misinterpretation of the customer’s complaint (140 characters doesn’t give a large amount of space for description), as well as the knowledge and experience of the team replying to your customers in such a public forum. One sarcastic reply can go viral and amplify the crisis within a mere matter of minutes.

An example of this is where one frustrated commuter tweeted about train delays, to which Transport for London replied “”Leave early you will not be late next time. Hope this helps.” What was seen, as a sarcastic swipe at the commuter was retweeted hundreds of times, although Transport for London apologised and the issue investigated, the damage had already been done.

Following a conversation with Virgin Trains (@VirginTrains) last week on Twitter about the importance of customer service on social media, we have pooled together our seven best practice tips for customer service on social media:

  1. LISTEN – In our conversation, @VirginTrains stated ‘being available to listen’ as the single biggest tip for great customer service. Using a social media management platform and ensuring you have your inbound comments visible in a single stream will enhance efficiency of your listening. It is also important to remember that your consumers might not use the official @mention when complaining, many social media management platforms will enable you to proactively listen and search for key phrases like ‘train delays’ ‘frustrated by <company name>’. Being able to proactively search, find and respond to your consumer’s complaints will go a long way to preventing potential issues.
  1. TIMELY RESPONSE – Having a dedicated social media team working round the clock goes a long way to ensure speed of response, however sometimes this resource is not always available. Ensure you pick up responses to customer complaints immediately by setting up notifications direct to your email address so you can access and respond to enquiries twenty four hours a day. A single dashboard for inbound comments will also help to quickly identify complaints and enable timely responses.
  1. RELEVANT – There’s nothing more frustrating than making a complaint and receiving a standardised response. Ensure the right enquiries reach the right departments (ticketing/travel information/customer services) and generate the right response; workflows need to be established in order to operate efficiently. Customer service advisors need to be able to access full interaction history in order to ensure an appropriate response.
  1. MESSAGING – A common challenge with customer service teams responding on social media is to ensure a consistent (and right) tone of voice. Store social media plans and guidelines within a dedicated ‘wiki’ area to ensure all teams are up to speed on the company line.
  1. HUMOUR OR NO HUMOUR? – Humour has often been used successfully in social customer service to diffuse a situation, however there is a very fine line in getting right. For peace of mind, set up validation for your customer services team and put in a two sets of eyes policy to ensure that the reply is appropriate. O2 provided a fantastic masterclass in social customer service with their responses to a network outage in 2012, turning a potential disaster into a positive position.
  1. POSITIVELY PROACTIVE – Prevent potential complaints from proactively communicating with your customers. Let them know in advance if there are going to be a delays or maintenance disruptions – post scheduling tools will help to ensure that you keep up communication 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, keeping your consumers informed. Highlight positive features such as fare offers and promotions, as well as promoting successful stories. Last year, Virgin Trains went above the call of duty looking after one of their customers who had unfortunately run out of toilet roll, preventing the issue from becoming #PooGate!
  1. STAY IN CONTROL – When there are lots of different people requiring access to multiple accounts, ensuring password security is critical. Access to audit trails will ensure that your organisation can operate according to good IT governance and be able to identify training needs across teams and individuals.

Related: The role of social media in the customer service driven age 

Ensure that your social media customer service is first class, protect and maintain your brand reputation by investing in a comprehensive social media risk management platform.

CrowdControlHQ is the UK’s leading social media risk management and compliance platform, accessed online and on the move. We work alongside a multitude of companies to enable them the appropriate tools to manage and deliver effective social media marketing.

Want to find out more – request a demo or contact us today.

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About the author

Lewis Jones