Businesses who haven’t yet embraced social media channels as an opportunity (if not a requirement) for addressing customer support inquiries ought to start now. Research by JD Power and Associates has found that 67% of consumers use their social accounts to contact brands for customer support – and that number is increasing.
Social media is easier for customers
Of course, it behooves brands to be diligent in addressing these assistance requests that are made in a much more public setting than traditional brand-consumer communication pathways. Customers are clearly aware of the advantages of leveraging their own social circles to command a brand’s attention. It’s not uncommon for service requests in social posts to double as a means of broadcasting frustration when other support channels (like phone and email) aren’t responsive enough. However, most of the credit for the rise in customers seeking support through social media belongs to the simple fact that it’s become the most convenient method available to them.
The evolution of customer support on social media
To capitalise on the opportunity to communicate with customers via social, brands have needed to hire teams and develop processes for this purpose. As social has grown in popularity, brands have gone down a common path from first listening for social mentions, to posting content for all to see (sometimes with a personality, sometimes without), to selectively engaging with customers whose needs are clear. Some brands entrench deeper, using surprise-and-delight tactics that deliver results far beyond what is necessary, trading on the fact that such attention from the brand is rare.
However, once the precedent of delivering customer support over social is established, a brand is soon compelled to provide one-on-one engagement to any and all customers that raise issues on those channels. The subsequent step is to then offer proactive engagement and service, monitoring brand mentions so ably as to address customers with issues even when they’re not directly asking for help.
The final stage in this evolution is for brands to achieve the capabilities for fully social-based support, such that a customer can report an issue on social media and see that issue through to its resolution without shifting to another channel.
End-to-end customer support via social
The unfortunate reality is that, too often, brands will use their social media communications simply to direct customers to other support channels. However, while it might be more convenient for some companies to deflect issues to phone or email because their support team and infrastructure is built that way, that likely isn’t what’s most convenient for the customer – and their needs should come first if the brand intends to win them over.
Rather than practicing this “tweet it and beat it” approach, brands should establish customer support teams empowered to fully own issues discovered via social channels, and see them through until they are resolved. No matter what stage an issue might be in or which internal teams must be communicated with for resolution, it’s critical that the customer not feel that they’re being passed around, but instead have seamless support through a single point of contact that stays with an issue from start to finish.
Addressing social media’s security challenge
Providing customer support via social does come with a fundamental challenge: it’s necessary to communicate private information in a public space.
When a customer posts a message on social media that signals a need for support, that message may not contain enough detail to address the issue, and may cover sensitive topics such as billing or other specifics that must be kept private. Security is also an important concern – there are people out there who will attempt to access accounts that aren’t theirs, and may impersonate others to do so.
Customers need to share information to confirm their identities and express their issues. However, customers are wise to avoid sharing confirming details such as email addresses over the public space of social media, and asking the customer to move to direct message still includes a great deal of risk. Social platforms simply don’t have the built-in security to serve this use case.
The inelegant solution is to ask the customer for contact through another channel like phone or email for privacy’s sake, but this is the exact clunky, wasteful step that brands should strive to avoid – to the customer it feels like being given the run around, and it takes up time that could ideal be spent actually solving the issue.
Many brands allow this security challenge to prevent them from implementing end-to-end issue resolution via social media but, in reality, it’s a problem that’s solved by available secure authentication technology. With secure authentication, a brand’s social media-based customer support team can provide a customer with a link to a secure form, which they fill out to confirm their credentials and provide the details of their issue (we use Sparkcentral’s platform to deliver this capability on Facebook and Twitter). The support team can then address the issue with no sensitive information being exposed. And, because the entire interaction is handled by the same support point of contact, customers will often reply on social media with their positive feedback for all to see.
Social-based support capable of resolving customer issues from start to finish offers brands many powerful advantages that are borne out by data:
- Analysis by McKinsey and Company finds that customer support can be delivered on social channels at just 16% the cost of equivalent phone-based support. This is largely due to the fact that the support team can handle more conversations more quickly on social media than over the phone. It’s also the case that brands pushing service from social media to phone-based support are paying two people to do work that one person could.
- Research from Ambassador discovered that 70% of those helped via social customer service will return as a customer in the future.
- Harvard Business Review has determined that customers who experience positive social media interactions are nearly three times more likely to recommend that brand.