The impact of social media in customer service is inherently social. When you take away all the bells and whistles, it is and always has simply been a conversation between a company and its customers.
Now that social media is a key location for social interaction in general, it follows that customer service inevitably has to have a presence there as well. In this case, what is popular is right, and it’s time to face it. There is a conversation happening about your company somewhere in the social realm (right now!), regardless of whether you have an official presence there. A lot of so-called “social media blunders” have actually been “customer service blunders” that gained traction as they were shared across social media channels. By not having an official social media presence, you’re letting other people lead the conversation about you. And with the unprecedented opportunities available to companies for listening to and interacting with audiences (especially with the added benefit that this can be tracked and measured), it’s hard to think of a reason not to take advantage of it.
That being said, I am a firm believer that a company’s social media presence should be relegated to the areas where it is the most congruent with the brand and its audience, rather than spreading it to every social media platform available just to “be there”. I wouldn’t go so far as to say proceed with caution – but do proceed with a strategy.
Without a solid strategy behind your social media presence, you risk damaging your company’s reputation rather than enhancing your relationships. The following characteristics of social media are those that present great opportunities for customer service – and potential pitfalls to avoid:
- It’s public. Beginning with the most basic level of involvement (all you have to do is watch and learn), there is already a huge opportunity presented here. One of the greatest advantages of social media is that you can now listen to your audience and instantly gather feedback. The world has suddenly become a free-form focus group for any company willing to take advantage of it.
Potential pitfall: Everyone else has the power to listen to you too, so make sure you mean what you say.
- It’s fast. Not only can you hear what is relevant now, but it grants the opportunity to react quickly as well.
Potential pitfall: If you miss an opportunity to act or react, that can also carry a lot of weight.
- It’s also where the action is happening. People are researching and actually purchasing your product in the same place that they are having conversations. Think of how much customer service there is surrounding the point of purchase in a brick-and-mortar store. This is to ensure that customers are getting helpful information that gears them toward a purchase, and so that they have a good experience to pass on. Social media now provides that same guidance to online shoppers.
Potential pitfall: There could be many competing sources of knowledge and opinions about you and your company – you need to make sure that a customer is hearing what you want them to hear, but you can’t control all of it.
- The ripple effect is exponential. Word of mouth has never been so loud. Due to the sheer number of people one individual can reach in a matter of seconds, good news travels fast.
Potential pitfall: Bad news travels faster.
- It’s entertaining. Content that is entertaining will be passed on simply for that factor, so it can transcend the normal niche of your market.
Potential pitfall: There are probably other people out there who are more entertaining than you are. (Even those of us who don’t own guitars know that United Airlines breaks them. And we can sing about it.)
- Social media is young. We’re just getting started, and the boundaries are constantly being pushed – by anyone. Mistakes have been and will continue to be made, but it’s liberating to know we’re not really held to any sort of tradition here. Instead, it’s all about getting out there and seeing what works. It’s exciting, and it’s fun to see the new ways that companies are interacting with their audiences.
Potential pitfall: Mistakes that are made happen in real-time, in front of an audience.
- It’s detached. The irony of social media is that it actually strips out a main component of social interaction – being physically present. This encourages very candid conversation that companies never had access to before.
Potential pitfall: Audiences are fickle and the detachment of social media can increase that because it decreases any consequences (or guilt) for moving on. It can grant the extra courage it might take to speak out negatively about something as well. What that means for a company is that you can quickly grab people’s attention, but you still have to have an overall strategy for customer satisfaction in order to keep them loyal.
Social media has proven to be a convenient and effective medium for interacting with your audience. However, as useful as it is, it should not be thought of as the big picture. The biggest pitfall to avoid is looking at social media as the entire customer service solution.
It’s important not to lose site of the fact that, beyond this, there are still human beings looking for a solution to a problem in a simple, personable way. How you address that overall depends on your personality, philosophy, and what you are willing to offer. Your social media presence should be built around and always be working to enhance that, but it should not be the only piece of the solution.
I encourage you to join the conversation that is happening out there in the social realm and use it to strengthen your customer service principles and your relationships. Just remember to “proceed with a strategy” and don’t risk letting the pitfalls get in the way of what you are trying to accomplish overall.