Customer Service for Social Media

Part of: Customer Service Skills

Whether you like it or not, your customers are on social media. Maybe not all of them, but a reasonable proportion. Are they talking about you? Are they talking to you? If you don’t know, and you are not there ready to respond, you may be setting yourself up for a problem.

Like it or not, social media is now a customer service channel. Customers expect to be able to communicate with businesses or organisations using social media, and that means that they expect to get a response to their comment or complaint. This page explains what this means for businesses, and how you can develop an effective strategy for customer service via social media.


Understanding The Situation

How Big is Social Media for Customer Service?


In a study by J.D. Power of over 63,000 online shoppers, 67% reported having used social media to make a complaint.

The Q2 2016 Sprout Social Index found that 90% of customers surveyed had used social media to communicate with a brand.

Social media is huge for customer service.

It is perhaps less surprising that so many people use social media for complaints when you discover that Twitter has over 300 million active users. It is fair to say that an awful lot of people use social media, and they see it as a way to publicly shame companies into responding to problems and complaints.

Of course, the opposite is also true: problems solved on social media are also very visible. Customers can see when you get it right as well as when you get it wrong.


Delivering Customer Service via Social Media

There are a few things you can do that will hugely improve your ability to deliver customer service via social media.

1. Monitor the conversation

Using social media for customer service is not a one-off.

You need to be monitoring social media constantly to see what people are saying about you—and if you are sensible, also about your competitors (see our page on Gathering Information for Competitive Intelligence for more). You should be joining in the conversation, if not actively starting conversations with your customers, to build your relationship with them.

TOP TIP! Take advantage of technology


There is a range of tools available to help you to monitor social media for mentions of your organisation and your competitors. These include both free and paid-for options, so shop around and see which ones do what you need.

Some are better than others at detecting misspellings of your product or your company name, for example—which could be important because few, if any, customers will use your ‘handle’ to contact you.


The first step is to know where (most of) your customers are, so that you are focusing your time and energy in the right places. You don’t necessarily need to be involved in starting conversations on all possible social media channels—but you do need to be aware if someone is asking you questions.

2. Respond rapidly—and move complaints off-line

Social media moves quickly. A post can go viral in a matter of hours, and woe betide if it is a negative post about your organisation.

You therefore need to respond rapidly to any complaint, and —and this is crucial—move it off social media, and into a more private messaging domain.

Almost half of all customers expect a response to social media within an hour, even outside working hours, and the figure becomes higher for some platforms. You don’t have much time. Respond to your customer by saying something like:

“I’m so sorry you’ve had that experience. Please message me on xxxx with more details, and we will see what we can do to sort it out.”

If you are a relatively small company, you may need to use a response bot to deliver an automated message asking the customer to let you know what is happening via private message, especially outside working hours.

This has two main effects: it gets a potentially negative situation out of the public eye, and it also shows your customers that you are prepared to deal with the situation.

3. Respond whether the comment is positive or negative

Your customers and potential customers like to know that they have been heard, whether they are making a complaint, asking you a question, or giving you a compliment. You wouldn’t ignore a customer in your store if they told you they were delighted with your product, so don’t do it online.

Every post or mention on social media should get a response, even if it’s only ‘Thank you’ or a simple ‘Like’. Businesses often retweet positive messages, both to spread the word, and to thank the user.

It is, however, worth remembering that there should be a level of priority to responding.

  • Respond first and fast to technical problems, complaints, major issues affecting large numbers of people, and urgent service or product requests.
  • You can afford to take a bit more time to respond to positive feedback, casual mentions of your products or services, and other comments that do not necessarily require a response.

Having said that, though, don’t leave it too long. Social media posts very definitely have a sell-by date.

The Exception that Proves the Rule


There is one exception to the need to respond individually to every comment. If there is a major issue affecting large numbers of customers, it is best not to try to respond individually. Instead, provide public service updates via social media channels and your website—but make clear that this is what you are doing, and you won’t be able to respond to everyone individually.

4. Stay positive, don’t get defensive

If you or your organisation are being criticised, it is easy to get defensive. On social media, you can’t afford to do that. Instead, try to stay positive.

This does not mean being relentlessly upbeat and ignoring the face that your customer has a problem.

It means acknowledging their issue, apologising if necessary, and explaining what you can do to put it right. This may be as simple as ‘Please call us on xxxx and we can help to sort this out’.

5. Remember that social media is a part of your overall customer service strategy

You cannot afford to have a ‘social media strategy’ which is separate from the rest of your customer service strategy.

Your customers do not distinguish between a contact by email, phone or social media. Nor, therefore, should you. When a customer contacts you, by whatever means, they should receive the same (broad) reply within the same time period. What’s more, their history of conversations and interactions with you should be available to whoever is responding, by whatever channel. This requires good records, and an ability to bring together data across channels.


Just another channel—or not?

Ultimately, social media is just another customer service channel. It is, however, also not quite the same as others, because it is so public. Companies should therefore ensure that they consider how to manage social media and ensure that it is a good part of the customer experience.


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