Social media for customer service: do's and don'ts

Chairs against wall of photos

In the past five years social media has changed the way we brand ourselves, we market our products and how we communicate with our customers. 

Before the advent of social media, many experts asserted that customer service was the “new marketing” as, when done well, it fosters loyalty and advocacy. Social media care is its latest and greatest version and companies are paying attention.

The Social Media Marketing World conference 2017 featured for the second time a strand on customer service, with double the attendance from the previous edition. HubSpot just announced in September that in 2018 they will be adding a new product to their platform: the Customer Hub. It includes a one-to-one messaging service, HubSpot Conversations. A timely move as, since 2016, customers are using messenger apps more than social networks. Furthermore, chatbots are becoming increasingly sophisticated, creating more individualised and meaningful experiences for customers via apps such as Facebook’s Messenger, Slack or Whatsapp. 

If you think about it, like everything else digital (or not), it all comes down to customer’s experience: the more pleasant and efficient the experience is, the more satisfied your customers will be.

Nevertheless, Facebook and Twitter are still the main networks in which customers look for immediate service or support when faced with a problem. And how you handle that experience is key to not only retain and make a customer happy but also to convert them in advocates, as well as an opportunity to broadcast your brand. Remember, it is no longer a one-to-one interaction, it is a one-to-many. 

Customer acquisition is five times more costly than customer retention, however, you might kill two birds with one stone when doing social media care right. As we all know, looking for online reviews before buying a product or service is part of the customer journey. Often,  customer service is a crucial factor in their decision making. If your customer care excels it might be the differentiator that not only makes for happy customers but also converts a prospect into a client. 


1. Create a special social handle

Keep matters separate by creating a main handle for your brand and a support or care handle. Assess whether your needs are for customer care or for support. Perhaps you need both? 

2. Always reply… fast!

Jay Baer, author of Hug Your Haters, estimates that one third of customer complaints go unanswered, which might decrease advocacy up to a 50%, while answering might increase it up to 25%. Furthermore, according to Twitter, 71% of its users expect a response within an hour, while on other social media networks customers are happy with a response within 24 hours. 

Depending on your company’s size, you might not have the resources for a dedicated social media care or support team. Facebook Messenger and Twitter DMs, offer an automated response service, in which you can inform your customers to expect a reply within the 24 hours and any other information that might be relevant.

3. Create social media guidelines

You should have one for internal use and one for your customers. The latter should inform on response times, relevant service and support procedures, and information on other channels, networks or handles. For instance, you can steer your clients towards self-serving already-in-place solutions such as FAQ and Support Forums.

Your internal guidelines should address cadence, response time, and a specific protocol on how to approach different care or support issues, types of customers and situations. Besides, have a crisis plan in place. If a problem that affects a considerable number of your clients arises, be ahead of the game and acknowledge the issue on your social media networks as soon as it is detected, reporting on progress if necessary.

4. Be transparent, personal & approachable. And know your customers! 

SproutSocial’s Q3 2017 Index shows that 81% of consumers believe social media has increased accountability for brands. Ignoring a problem is no longer an option, whether a complaint, a rant or a general enquiry. A Twitter report “found that 96% of users who turned to Twitter for customer service and had a friendly experience with a brand would buy from that brand again.”

Different types of customers require different approaches, be personal, friendly, and empathetic. Demographics and psychographics also play a factor, meaning you have to adapt your voice depending on the customer and situation. For instance, younger segments are usually more casual while silver surfers and older generations may like a certain formality. 

You know your customers better than anyone (or you should!) As part of your customer personas delineate how they are likely to react if a problem surfaces and include them in your internal guidelines. 

5. Make the conversation private

This is a no-brainer, however, it might be more difficult depending on your customer base. Companies such as Internet providers can easily bring issues away from the public eye by asking for account details. However, it requires more tact to bring other type of requests offline. This is another case in which the human factor is vital. Make sure your customer care or support team are real experts. It might be a good idea to hire digital natives to manage your social media but when it comes to your customer service you need specific personal assets and experience.

Once the issue is resolved (if) bring the conversation back online for public and brand awareness. Even if customers are not always right, thank them for their patience and state you are glad the problem was sorted. And make sure to remind them that you are always there if another issue arises. The “don’t hesitate to contact us” goes a long way. 


6. Avoid automated responses beyond the strictly necessary

An automated response can be good practice when lacking resources or managing a high volume of customer service queries, but it is important to follow up these queries and stick to your promised response time.

7. Avoid generic responses whenever possible

Address the issue at hand and be personal, that is, listen. Escalate the issue if necessary according to your internal guidelines and always make the customer feel looked after. 

8. Don’t be reactive

Although you need to be reactive in response time, assess the issue and the customer profile before replying with the necessary tact. 

9. Don’t reply with a link

Or if you do when steering a customer to a FAQ, Support Forum or Knowledge-base, make sure to add a personalised message in your answer. 

10. Don’t delete complaints or negative feedback

This is particularly true if the problem has been resolved, so make sure you highlight a successful solution in an appropriate manner. But even if the issue has not been successfully dealt with, it shows transparency and customers appreciate that. If you have made the best of efforts to nurture a customer, it will show even if the customer was still unsatisfied.

Always remember: Your customers are your business. Be there for them. 


Finally, here are two brilliant (and hilarious) examples of customer care done right:

  1. Tesco customer finds a worm in his cucumber and his complaint goes viral

  2. Woman Complains To Sainsbury's About Worm In Lettuce, Ends Up In A Fantasy Exchange With The Supermarket