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Covering Your Bases with an Integrated Approach to Social Media Marketing and Customer Service

Submitted by on April 12, 2011 – 6:33 am2 Comments

Whether your business is prepared to handle customer service questions via your social networking sites or not, the day will come probably sooner than later—when people will start reaching out to you there—expecting timely responses. If you haven’t started to integrate social media and customer service you might be surprised to learn that for the most part you already have the tools you need right at your disposal. You may just need to be thinking about using them a little differently.

Heidi Cohen writes in the post, How to Integrate Customer Service into Social Media Marketing,  “Social media has changed customer service from being a support function to being an extension of marketing. In the social media ecosystem, customers want to know that you’re listening and responding.”

Heidi identifies 12 Ways that Social Media Enhances Customer Service and extends your marketing efforts:

  1. Gives business a human face
  2. Listens to what customers are saying
  3. Proactively engages with prospects and customers
  4. Provides additional product-related content
  5. Answers product-related questions
  6. Supplies alternative contact channel
  7. Gives customers a channel to talk to each other
  8. Shares customer feedback
  9. Celebrates your customers
  10. Shows customers behind the scenes
  11. Makes special offers
  12. Create new purchase options

Tools for Listening and Responding
How are businesses going about listening and responding? Through recent conversations with representatives from over twenty businesses, Twitter and Facebook were mentioned repeatedly as reliable tools for both listening and responding. Other tools referred to included LinkedIn groups, blog comments, community forums, Google alerts, Social Mention, BackType and Disqus. Several businesses were using dedicated social CRM products–Nimble, Get Satisfaction and MeasuredUp.

Types of Problems and Queries
Businesses are also finding that the types of problems and queries being made through social media runs a wide spectrum from broken web links, service requests, pricing and location questions, customer feedback, general FAQ about services to dissatisfied customers who don’t know where else to turn to communicate with the company and are looking for an immediate response.

Importance of Responses
Listening and responding is one part of the equation but certainly not the whole picture. Businesses need to have processes in place for everyone who speaks on behalf of the brand–even the CEO!  Take for example the recent fiasco with Kenneth Cole on Twitter where he used the #Cairo hashtag that had been employed by Twitter users to denote discussion of current events in Egypt to advertise Cole’s spring collection. Not only was the tweet considered insensitive and in extremely poor taste, “it also went against an unofficial but generally observed policy for the use of hashtags on Twitter. The site’s help center page about hashtags notes that they should be used only on Tweets relevant to the topic.”  Business leaders and their company representatives should make sure they know the difference between acceptable and unacceptable communications because everything today is not only public but also permanent. What happens on Twitter stays on Twitter.

Human Resources
Businesses are finding too that they need to have dedicated resources to staff their social media presences to field questions and comments. Here’s how businesses are approaching staffing solutions:

Jon Stein, CEO of Betterment.com, says “Everyone in our office, all the way up to the CEO, is monitoring our social media channels. Its that important because if someone posts a message on our Facebook wall and we don’t respond–we not only miss an opportunity with that customer, but we also send an implicit message to all of our customers that we are not responsive to their needs.”

Michelle Judd at Ergotron says, “Right now we have two people from our Technical services team monitoring the forum and three people monitoring Twitter. One person monitors Facebook, although we have seen very few customer questions through Facebook. Our CSRs manage email, chat and phone calls.”

Lindsey Olsen at Evil Controllers says, “We have one person logged on Facebook at all times during the day ready to respond, as well as another person monitoring Twitter at all times as well. Both specialists spend the entirety of their day focusing on response, and reaching out via social media.”

Stephanie Bullis at Grasshopper.com says, “We have a social media coordinator that monitors all our social platforms and alerts the appropriate people within the company when action needs to be taken in reaching out to specific customers.”

Community Managers

click to enlarge

An important new job function at businesses too is the role of the Community Manager. According to GetSatisfaction the Community Manager is a “jack of all trades and master of many…the only way to accurately reflect their contribution would be to understand that they work at the very edge of your organization, the place where the line between company and customer is blurriest and their job is to understand, manage and stimulate the collective passions of your customers in a way that creates value for both company and customer.” Marc Karasu, CEO at MeasuredUp says “Businesses should consider a blended approach to digital customer service and online reputation management.” Jon Ferrara, CEO at Nimble says, “With the advent of social media, the way we communicate with each other has changed, yet business needs stay the same.  Now more than ever before, community managers are driving business success—traditional relationship building models need to expand to include social channels.”

Jeremiah Owyang of the Altimeter Group describes the Community Manager as the backbone of customer service in today’s modern online marketplace. He says, “As the Community Manager role continues to grow into a key piece of the customer experience lifecycle, remember to approach this space with humility and patience to teach internal stakeholders the value of the role.”

Advice for Businesses who are looking to integrate customer service with their social media presences:

“Create a team (and chain of command, rules) for social media engagement and problem solving. A social media policy is important for an organization that has multiple people representing the brand on social media–anything said in the public online sphere lives forever, even if it is deleted.  Take examples of the tweets from Kenneth Cole, Marc Jacobs and Chrysler Detroit for example–the wrong usage of social media by a brand can be disastrous for its reputation.”
Stacey Acevero, Vocus/PR Web

“Two things are critical to making this work: preparation and management. Prior to kicking off this type of customer service you need to have a clear idea of how much manpower it is going to to take to do it effectively.  That’s going to be different for ever industry.  If you don’t have the resources to cover all of the incoming tweets, mentions and wall posts you’ll find things will quickly get out of hand and could potentially make things worse.  It’s also critical to make sure everyone knows what their role is and to have a system/tool in place to help you manage this process. The more organized you are, the smoother the process will be.”
Taylor Pratt, Raven Internet Marketing Tools

“It is common knowledge that certain companies (I won’t name names) have beefed up their Twitter customer service to the extent that it’s best to complain about them on Twitter even before going through their main channels of communication.  That’s a sad thing.  Twitter should work in concert with offline customer service, and it should all aim to fix problems.  One of the reasons I am on my work Twitter account during non-work hours is that I think that our community, particularly students, deserve to hear from us. If they take time to identify with the GW (George Washington University) brand, they deserve a response.  I would hope that other companies would feel the same way.  We don’t need to think too hard to remember the last time we were getting dead air when we tried to fix an issue in our own personal lives, so I think it’s important we bring that mindset to work, too.”
Menachem Wecker, George Washington University

“Watch and listen first. The biggest mistake a company can make is to over promise and under deliver.  If you’re not going to do it properly–or try to do it properly–you could end up causing yourself more headaches than not doing it at all.”
Michel Neylon, Blacknight Solutions

Have you integrated your social media and customer service functions? How has the integration enhanced communication with customers?

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