Why you need to take customer service online

By Kathleen Aoki

With the growth of social media, customers are using posts not just to interact with a business, but also to complain. Here's how to improve your online customer service.

As more businesses invest in social media to promote their business and brand, many are discovering it's not just a place to post updates and collect likes, but also a forum where customers go to post their comments, questions, and complaints, along with expectations for a high level of customer care.

And the statistics back up this assumption. According to a report by Nielsen, one in three consumers prefer to contact a business via social media, with 42 per cent of consumers saying they expect a response within one hour, even after hours and on weekends, significantly raising the bar for online customer service standards.

The importance of online service

Some of the ways consumers are using social media as a customer service platform include:

  • To resolve a customer service issue.
  • To complain about a poor experience with the company.
  • To praise the company and let others know about their experiences.

Indeed, as the shift towards social media as a primary customer service communication channel continues to grow, today's companies must look at social care as an equally important leg in the customer service triangle: email, phone and social media. For companies that fail to grasp the importance of this shift in expectations, the fallout will be a loss of customer satisfaction and sales.

Good customer service = loyalty and sales

But the good news is that while consumers are expecting a higher standard of service than ever before, companies that have risen to the online customer service challenge are being richly rewarded with customer loyalty, increased sales and free word-of-mouth advertising from happy customers turned brand ambassadors.

According to a statement by Jim Bush, Executive Vice President at American Express, "Consumers who have used social media for service in the last year are willing to pay a 21 per cent premium at companies that provide great service. They also tell three times as many people about positive service experiences compared to the general population. Ultimately, getting service right with these social media savvy consumers can help a business grow."

How to improve your online customer service

While no one is suggesting that you strap yourself to your computer 24/7 meeting customer enquiries on your social media channels (although a few companies may do this), there are steps you can take to increase the overall level of customer satisfaction:

  • Communicate your policy: To manage expectations, let your customers know what your hours of social media care are and how soon they can expect a response.
  • Respond quickly: That being said, response time is critical to customer satisfaction, so aim for the fastest response times possible.
  • Empower employees: Your employees are your frontline brand ambassadors, so empower them to provide the best social customer service experience possible.
  • Be honest: Transparency is critical in today's business climate. Keep expectations real and don't make promises you can't keep.
  • Be genuinely helpful: Do what you say you will do, when you say you will do it.
  • Be human: Avoid canned, automated responses whenever possible.

Clearly the challenge for businesses who embrace the online care concept will be to strike a balance of service that meets or exceeds consumer expectations with the staffing and resources necessary to meet those needs. But whatever approach you ultimately take and the level of service you choose provide, the key is to let your customers know you are really listening online.


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