Getaround, a peer-to-peer car-sharing company, uses Facebook as an authentication checkpoint to verify the identity of each new member and promote community safety. Energy provider SDG&E taps into Twitter to advise customers and troubleshoot technical problems.
But you don’t have to be a two-year-old tech-heavy company or a large corporation to use social media for customer service. In fact, if your business has a Twitter account and Facebook page, you're probably already using these tools for such purposes. When you link to expert advice on Twitter or answer questions posed on your Facebook wall, you're helping customers by responding to or anticipating their needs.
By ramping up your social media engagement, you can reduce your customer service expenses or hold them steady as you reach more people. Your staff and phone lines may be taxed less and the hours you dedicate to customer service may decline, as service levels improve.
Here's how to use Twitter and Facebook to provide great service at minimal cost.
Interact with multiple customers at the same time
Social media lets customer service reps converse with multiple customers in the same amount of time that it takes to talk with one customer on the phone, in live chat or face-to-face. Getaround uses social media to serve hundreds of customers each week. Team members on Twitter and Facebook explain policies and procedures, assist customers with specific concerns, respond to complaints and compliments, and follow up with customers.
Customers want personalized conversations in their interactions with your company, whether they are visiting a brick-and-mortar store or interacting online, according to Richard Shapiro, founder and president of The Center for Client Retention. Because these social media discussions are public, however, they can also help other customers who are lurking, hesitant to ask a question or unable to articulate their needs.
Keep conversations brief
With a limit of 140 characters, tweets must be short. Facebook posts can be longer but are usually shorter than an e-mail with similar information, because niceties such as introductions are unnecessary.
As a result, customers tend to distill key points rather than provide lengthy explanations. Responses can follow a similar pattern with brief conversations delivering the same value as longer, time-consuming ones.
Reach multiple customers with relevant information
Facilitating personalized interaction is a strength of social media, but Twitter and Facebook can be excellent vehicles for announcements to a broad audience.
Power company SDG&E communicated with customers on Twitter during a widespread power outage in Southern California. The company advised customers about the sequence of power restoration. It dispensed tips on keeping refrigerated foods safe during power outages. And it linked to school websites for information on school closings.
A store selling running apparel in my area posted an alert on its Facebook page about registration for a popular race that was still open. This status update didn't tie up phone lines and it allowed retail associates to spend more time with customers in the store.
Let customers help each other
“The best way for customer service to scale online” is to enable customers to help each other through Facebook, Twitter or a similar community forum, according to Becky Carroll, and author of The Hidden Power of Your Customers.
Reps do not have to serve customers directly but can monitor interactions to make sure that they are accurate and useful, so reps use time more efficiently. Even the customers who are helping others are happier, Carroll says, because they get to be evangelists and feel a stronger connection to your business.
However you approach customer service using social media, assign a knowledgeable, polite, friendly and helpful person who understands your brand message to represent your company. They can take discussions to a private area when they need to address account-specific or sensitive information.
Julie Rains is a senior writer at Wise Bread, a personal-finance community dedicated to helping people get the most out of their money. Get daily money tips by following Wise Bread on Facebook or Twitter.
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