Social Media Customer Service: was that a bot or just bad service?

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Social Media Customer Service: was that a bot or just bad service?

social media customer service

I’ve had the opportunity to see customer service from the POV of one of the most hated industries – insurance.

Naturally, business owners will ask me how to respond to unhappy customers via social media. Here’s the thing, it’s simple. When a customer takes the time to reach out to you online, chances are that they’re annoyed so you should just assume that they’re a ticking time bomb. They want you to know that they’re annoyed, they want you to acknowledge it and they also want a sincere apology.

Step-by-step guide for responding to unhappy customers online:

  • Reply as promptly as you can. Our attention spans are much shorter now, we expect customer service to come with speed. (42% of customers complaining online expect a reply within 60 mins!)
  • Make sure to acknowledge the specific issue (leave canned responses on the shelf.)
  • Apologize if it’s appropriate. Now is not the time for egos or to debate the details of whatever caused the issue. Remember: you’re on the world stage under a microscope right now and you don’t want to wind up on the end of a viral story about how crappy your customer service is or how you ‘blame‘ the customer.
  • Try to take the conversation offline immediately. There’s a couple of reasons for this, but mainly so that you can add value (e.g.: a solution) for the customer rather than fluff online. Make sure to ask the customer what’s convenient in terms of communications (e.g.: ask them to DM you the best method of contacting them directly; don’t throw a 1-800 number out there for them to navigate, waste more time & become more irritated.)
  • Have a social media triage team ready. This means that when you say ‘go’ a customer service rep, leader or someone from your company is at the ready to contact the customer with a solution. I understand that this can be costly, but so can losing customers.
  • Make sure that there’s follow up. What I’ve learned is that your social media team can be awesome online; they can follow every step, do everything right and can even get a customer turned around so that they’re happy again.  But if the internal process is fractured, you’re hooped. Make sure that your CSRs, leaders, executive team and employees understand that it’s important to have follow up with online conversations. (a) you want your customers to be happy and (b) you want to learn from their feedback and change things if necessary.

For an example of what not to do, keep reading.

I was perplexed to see how a major Canadian retailer handled multiple complaints online.Was it a bot, a social media manager who wasn’t empowered to do what was right or an agency who had no skin in the game? In complete transparency, I know one of the six who complained. In fact, when he asked me how to complain constructively using social media, I recommended that he respectfully ask them to privately DM (rather than publicly calling them out.)

What ensued left me entirely puzzled.

  • They didn’t take the conversation offline {despite being asked to send a direct message so the issue could be discussed privately.}
  • They directed the already irritated customer to a 1-800 number that wasn’t ‘open’ {And he couldn’t get through to anyone.}
  • Multiple tweets. After back-and-forth tweets (in front of the world) they advised him that if he still wanted someone to respond, he needed to send an email.

Nuggets for leaders:

  • Optically, it’s a poor reflection on the company when your social media engagement is mostly made up of canned responses to negative reviews/conversation; “sorry you had this experience, please call their 1-800 number.” (For example, the entire feed for CT was canned responses. Consider a separate Twitter account focused on only customer service, that way it doesn’t take away from regular updates on the page.)
  • If you’re only available via social or offline at certain times, just tell people that and make sure to highlight it on your social channels. (For example, nowhere on the CT twitter page did they call out the hours-of-operation for the number they continually directed angry customers.)
  • Monitor complaints. Have your social team report any insights. (For example, on the CT page most complaints surrounded the auto services department!)

Nuggets for social media managers:

It’s a difficult job to deal with negative engagement & complaints daily. And it’s infinitely more difficult if you’re a social media manager who’s not being empowered.

  • Leaders may push back because it costs too much.
  • They may push back because they have a legal team who only gives certain canned responses that won’t get them into legal trouble.
  • They may push back with the idea that social media doesn’t matter and it will blow over.
  • If they’re a franchised outfit (like this Canadian retailer) they may push back saying that they don’t want to get involved in things happening at the store level.
  • They may push back and say that the customer isn’t right.

But here’s what you do when you truly believe in using social media for customer service:

  • Remind them that we’re in a recession right now and customers have choices (a lot of them!) It costs a lot to find new customers and one-off negative complaints may not be a big deal, but big picture is whether or not this could affect stock prices. Can you afford that?
  • Show them this.
  • Remind them that you’re also protecting their brand promise. And ultimately, even if they’re a franchised outfit and have no control at a store level, they’ll still be held accountable in the eyes of the customer because of the brand.
  • The customer isn’t always right. But even though you may know that what a customer is claiming happened online is different from what happened offline, those watching don’t know nor do they care. But guess who they typically side with?
  • Go the extra mile. It sounds cliche because it is. But it’s the truth. Work with customers to find a solution, don’t automatically take it personally that they’ve negatively complained about the company. Thank them. They’re doing you a favour by pointing out something that you may be able to change.
  • Don’t use bots unless they’re good. In an online CSR mastermind group, we agreed that if this particular case wasn’t a matter of a terrible bot and just really bad customer service, we’d still claim it was a bot.

Related Blogs:
How to write a social media guideline that your employees will understand
Social Media Training For Employees
Human Resources: addressing negative social media posts online
How To Use Social Media During Real Crisis Situations

Not sure where to start? Get in touch! 🙂

Kat Macaulay, BA ADdPR BnC
Kat Macaulay, BA ADdPR BnC
Kat Macaulay is a Marketing Strategist, Writer + Speaker known for her no-nonsense approach to pretty much everything. Using data and insights, she helps organizations market more effectively to get results that matter. She's also a high-scoring instructor at Mount Royal University, where she teaches Social Media Analytics and Google Analytics + Marketing Measurement. She holds certifications from Google, as well as Facebook and is currently working toward a specialization in Marketing Analytics and a certificate in Data Science from IBM. When she’s not busy juggling kids, volunteering + work, she’s busy planning her retirement to Cape Breton.