In online terms, social media customer service is a low hanging business fruit and an area where you can steal a march on your competitors. Usually around this time of year, I write about What is Social Customer Service? Social customer service can be defined simply as social media/business meets customer care. It has emerged as a result of businesses and brands discovering the benefits to be derived from proactively managing customer service and support through social media channels. Why Social Customer Service? Social customer service has rapidly become a must rather than a choice for businesses. “By 2014, organizations that refuse to communicate with customers by social media will face the same level of wrath from customers as those that ignore today’s basic expectation that they will respond to emails and phone calls.” – Gartner Inc. The conversation around brand now takes place outside the control of the company. Millions of digital natives are using online platforms to voice their opinions, both positive and negative on their customer experiences and they expect engagement. Of those 45% of people that expect to receive customer support from social networks, 61% have expressed a view that brands do not effectively communicate with them on social media. The Evolution of Customer Service [INFOGRAPHIC] | Parature The social customer expects: To be heard and respected Obtain support via any channel Customer centric interfaces To collaborate with companies There are many reasons why a business should develop a social customer service strategy: To develop loyalty between a brand and its customer Protect the reputation and integrity of a brand Convert the online consumer from non-customer to brand advocate by providing an enhanced customer experience Manage a potential crisis situation effectively That positive customer experience leads to recommendation which importantly leads to a natural increase in ROI. The following are 10 social customer service tactics that I recommend all businesses must implement during 2015: #1. Listen to and monitor online conversations As with all great social media strategies, the first step is to listen. You need to be proactive as many of the conversations about your brand and your industry will not be directed to you. You will have to find them: Identify “Influencers” in your industry. Monitor brand sentiment. Find new customers. Identify and engage with unhappy customers (yours and your competitors, see P7) Find out what customers want. Benchmark with your competition. #2. Identify the correct tools There are a wide range of software tools available to track conversations online. Some companies, like BT Retail, have developed their own whilst Dell5 created a social media listening command centre using Radian 6 to gather insight and respond to opinion on their brand. Radian 6 The important point is that whatever tools you use, they can integrate into your organisation’s ecosystem and CRM in order to be managed effectively. The tools are the support, it is how their capabilities are used to execute on effective social customer care service that is the driving factor in the impact on brand sentiment. #3. Develop a cross channel strategy The digital consumer does not expect to have to seek out a company online to initiate conversation but rather expects that the company to find them and converse, no matter what online channel they use. This could be in the form of blogs, microblogs, community forums, general forums, social media and/or video. #4. Develop clear guidelines KLM on Twitter Customers will post an opinion or query when and where it suits them but your business may not be in a position to man all channels at all times. Therefore you need to create and communicate an operational policy across all channels that clearly states: The times, which the company will be available to respond The time within which the customer should expect a response. Contact details outside of these operating hours Details of customer service team for personalisation purposes. #5. Develop self-service content “Configuring your wireless modem” from UPC Ireland. [youtube width=”640″ height=”360″]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fx33S08LVYA[/youtube] In the digital age a comprehensive company website can house a wealth of self service information, which a customer can access This can be in the form of: A FAQ section A blog A series of DIY videos A consumer-driven community forum All these resources can minimise the resource of expertise needed in providing responses online. An agent will be able to respond with a link directing the consumer to the correct resource(s). #6. Define response targets Response targets should be set and incorporated into your social customer service strategy. Response maps work well as a guide for agents when communicating through social channels. They form a guide that defines the nature of the conversation and how it should proceed. #7. Monitor your competitors and industry Back in 2012, the host of Fox Televisions Shelly Palmer Digital Living had written a damming blog detailing an encounter he had with Californian tollbooths. Palmer was driving a rental car from Hertz at the time and while not implicated in any way, they responded by offering him a $50 discount on his next car rental. As Palmer said at the time: “If you’re interested in building brand ambassadors for your business, learn to set up social listening posts and use them. It is literally a requirement for success in a connected world. Wondering about the ROI? Just ask Hertz or me. Remember, if you don’t take care of your customers… someone else will” #8. Understand message and manage conversations The social channel can dictate the format of conversation. For instance, it can prove difficult for a consumer to articulate their message in 140 characters or less. If unsure, ask open-ended questions to establish the true meaning. Questions like “Can you tell me more?” Or “How can I help you exactly?” will show that the agent is interested in trying to solve a query. Once the meaning of an interaction has been established, the response should be clear and concise. The consumer should know exactly what the brand is going to do. Customers like to know who they are dealing with on a personal level rather than be presented with conversing with just a brand name. #9. Create a social customer service handbook Comprehensive training in all aspects of engagement should be applied to social customer service agents in order for them to assimilate the interactive skills required for successful engagement. This should also include training in how to incorporate the brand profile and ethos into this service. For continuous improvement, a social customer service handbook should be provided so that it can be referred to as needed. The handbook should include: Company online goals and objectives A basic outline of social media use Guidelines for engagement Example engagement scripts Process guidelines for managing online conversation Support resource, escalation and information contacts #10. Analyse the data The benefits of implementing an effective social customer service plan and team go well beyond the day-to-day management of social customer service. Online monitoring of conversation around a brand has significant benefits for gauging online sentiment including:. Trends in sentiment around particular components of a product or service. a business can assess if there is a default in a product or service by ‘volume of mention’ on a particular aspect. The need for self-service information online. Duplication of queries online can highlight the need for this information to be published so that it is easily accessible for the consumer to follow. Perhaps a DIY video or blog embedded on a company website is an ideal way to minimise the volume of queries and the time to respond. Thank you for reading. Merry Xmas and Happy New Year. Images: ”communication concept/ Shutterstock.com“ __________________________________________________________________________________ Connect with Tweak Your Biz: Would you like to write for Tweak Your Biz? Tweak Your Biz is an international, business advice community and online publication. Today it is read by over 140,000 business people each month (unique visitors, Google Analytics, December, 2013). See our review of 2013 for more information. An outstanding title can increase tweets, Facebook Likes, and visitor traffic by 50% or more. Generate great titles for your articles and blog posts with the Tweak Your Biz Title Generator.