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Social media customer service: Four key considerations before you start

25th Apr 2016

While the onus is on organisations to dive into social media customer service as quickly and dynamically as possible, if this effort is purely tactical and reactive, rather than strategic, the results can be damaging. Indeed, while consumers increasingly expect to receive support over the social platform of their choice, having a poor experience can be even worse than there being no service offered at all.  And sadly, the rush to provide customer support over social platforms has seen many brands fall into this trap.  

“Many will set up social channels to manage customer service queries but take a ‘reactive’ tactical approach and the social customer service function operates in a silo rather than being connected to other business functions,” notes Lyanna Tsakiris, strategic planner and partner at Station Rd. Marketing.

“Social touches all parts of a business and it is important that all departments are connected and aware of the systems and processes associated with it.  Social allows a different type of accessibility to a business and as well as the strategy it is also very important to ensure that an issues handling policy is in place with thorough training for the team managing it.”

Certainly the process of building a social media support strategy cannot be rushed. Brands need to do their due diligence and ensure they have put in the research hours. As Tsakiris emphasises: “Before you start developing a strategy you need to have as much information as possible at your fingertips.”

So, given that brands need to have more speed and less haste when it comes to social media customer support, what  preparation needs to be carried out so that you can start the process of building a robust strategy?

1. Market research

Your social media service strategy should be built on foundations of detailed research.

“Research into the industry and competitors, an understanding of different customer segments, and full analysis of your brand’s perception should be the first port of call for businesses wanting to create and implement a customer service strategy,” advises Kalli Soteriou, social media & content account manager at 10 Yetis Digital. “Brands need to know what is being said about them online, how their customers interact and engage, and also who is saying what. Listening to audiences will help later down the line when goals and objectives are being formulated.”

But most importantly, brands should investigate their customers, and their behaviour.

“First and foremost you need to assess whether there is an actual need for a social customer service strategy, rather than creating one just for the sake of it or to tick certain boxes within the organisation,” warns Tsakiris. “I tend to start with an audit process and recommend doing some market research as well as mapping out and understanding your audience.  Look at what demographics they fit into and which social channels are most appropriate to engage with them. 

Research into the industry and competitors, an understanding of different customer segments, and full analysis of your brand’s perception should be the first port of call.

“Are conversations already happening on Twitter? Forums? Facebook? Using social media listening/analytics tools can be powerful to help with the decision-making process. Insight and knowledge of how your audience is behaving online will help you to develop the best social strategy for your business. It will allow you to decide whether you need to dedicate one social channel to social customer service or more.”

Simon Robic, social product manager at iAdvize, adds: “Understand where to find your audience and how to reach them. It’s important to identify the right channels. Many brands just stick to more established platforms like Twitter and Instagram. However, with social media evolving at rapid speed, companies are well advised to branch out and look at emerging channels that are experiencing quick growth. Messenger and Whatsapp spring to mind here. This is the key challenge: being wherever your target audience is.”

Social media thought leader Steven Van Bellegham notes that this initial research stage will also give you an idea of the resource levels required. “In order to understand how big or how small everything should be, the best place to start is by observing current online behaviours. It will give you an idea of the amount of conversations you will have to deal with,” he says.

2. Audit your current service capability

It is also important to examine what resources are presently available to tackle social media. Tsakiris says: “A review of what software / tools will be needed to accurately monitor and engage with customer service queries through the various social channels would also be key prior to undertaking any activity.”

But the audit should also assess what current skills you have in-house that would be appropriate for the project. This will ascertain whether you need to recruit or create a specific role within the organisation, and whether training on products and services will need to be factored into the strategy.

Soteriou notes: “It’s hugely important that part of this process includes evaluating current staff’s product and business knowledge; replying to an enquiry with false or incorrect information is just as bad as not replying at all.

3. Ensure you have buy-in for the project

Building a strategy will be futile if you don’t have the backing of both senior management and those that will be tasked with delivering the strategy. Consider what buy-in you need across the business to ensure that a social strategy is delivered effectively, and how you can get these people on-side and enthusiastic about the project. 

“Who will be making the decisions and how can you ensure that those managing the social channels have the right amount of autonomy to respond effectively and in a timely manner?” says Tsakiris. “You cannot possibly approve every tweet or post, particularly in a large organisation that is likely to have many customer service queries. Will there need to be a culture shift? Or some educating internally to pave the way for successful social customer service implementation?”

If you involve your staff at all levels, the strategy will be a lot more robust and will have buy-in from all stakeholders right from the start.

Soteriou adds: “If you involve your staff at all levels – including your marketing team, as they will have the best understanding of your customer base – the strategy will be a lot more robust and will have buy-in from all stakeholders right from the start.

“In my experience, this is a typical issue brands tend to face, so involving stakeholders at the beginning of the process will ensure the strategy gets implemented a lot quicker and more thoroughly (not just because they’re the ones that hold the key to unlocking budget and further support if necessary).”

4. Be clear about what it is you want to achieve

It is impossible to map out a robust strategy unless you are crystal clear about what it is you ultimately want to achieve. At a basic level, this is also a useful sanity check for the organisation to ensure that the project is proceeding for the right reasons, rather as a knee-jerk response, before it starts committing resources. 

Simon Robic explains: “The most important thing brands need to keep in mind for building a social customer service strategy is knowing their goals. What do you want to achieve? Is it more turnover? Is it raising brand awareness? Is it more customer engagement? If it’s all of them, goals need to be prioritised. There is no one-size-fits-all formula with which one can achieve all goals, and brands need to be aware of this.”


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