More and more companies offer their customers flexible contact options in social media channels. But are these businesses actually up to the new challenges?
Flexible Access to Customer Service
Can you remember yourself trying to explain your problem to somebody across the counter, dropping a letter in the postbox or making a phone call to the call centre in the "predigital age"? Now, thanks to the advancing digitisation, consumers can use various communication means to ask questions, get opinions, report problems or file complaints.
Changed Service Understanding in Web 2.0
For many years, Web 2.0 technologies and social media have permeated our private and professional sphere. According to an online survey conducted by ARD/ZDF, some 63 million people in Germany used the Internet in 2018. Of this figure, 54 million even used it on a daily basis. The search for information on goods and services was the most popular activity.
Purchasing and information behaviour is not the only area that is strongly focused on online media. The cross-channel presence of businesses also provides customers with flexible contact options. Though e-mail or hotlines remain widely used contact options, customers do not hesitate to talk about their problems in the company's publicly visible social media channels as well as numerous blogs and forums.
Both negative and positive experiences are shared with the community. As a company, you should therefore …
Open Your Eyes and Duly React – But How?
Complaints must be addressed and assistance must be offered – this too needs to be done publicly. Companies that do not take enquiries or complaints posted in the social web seriously can expect their customers to drift away or even precipitate a veritable shitstorm.
Just as negative feedback can trigger a barrage of hate comments and ruin a company's reputation in no time, positive feedback can generate trust and credibility with existing and new customers alike. Satisfied customers will recommend the company. Moreover, public dialogue can be used as a platform for demonstrating one's competencies to the community.
Constructive customer criticism and requests can also provide added value. Through the customer dialogue, the company directly learns what the target group wants and can translate this insight into product enhancements and innovation ideas.
Customer service requirements have changed drastically. Therefore, professional customer service needs to be strategically positioned and controlled.
Effective Use of Social Media for the Business
To meet customer needs and concerns, many companies make use of social monitoring and social listening. Back in 2013, some 80 percent of the companies interviewed already stated that they engaged in active social media monitoring of their company and their brand in the social web. Service insights are prepared on the basis of the data gained about what is written about the company in the network. Apart from supporting the management, the sales staff and the market research team, such insights also assist the service staff who need to react to postings in a target-group-oriented manner on a daily basis and interlink customer enquiries.
1. What Is the Right Platform?
Companies that have the needed resources and expertise often want to be present on all platforms from the outset. However, there is a danger of getting lost in the maze, as customers also want to be able to contact the company via channels such as Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn. If they do not receive any answers in the social media, they will feel neglected and, in the worst case, turn their back on your brand.
Accordingly, it would be wiser to move forward step by step, taking into consideration how much time and money will be needed to maintain the individual channels.
Examine which channels your target group uses: Where do the customers interact with your company, where do your competitors contact users? If, for example, you notice that you receive most contact requests via Facebook Messenger, you should deploy your human resources accordingly and expand your customer service to cater for this need.
Excursus: WhatsApp in Customer Service
In the context of their community management, businesses that are present in large social media channels such as Twitter and Facebook nevertheless make reference to their hotlines. Thus, you will often read something like: "Unfortunately we are unable to provide you with assistance here on Facebook. Please call our hotline."
Usually, an answer like this will do little to appease disgruntled customers who have already been stuck in the loop for hours.
In the ranking of Germany's most popular communication platform, WhatsApp ranked second in 2018, with 75 percent of the users. WhatsApp is the most popular communication means especially among the group of 12 to 19-year-olds.
A survey conducted by MessengerPeople in collaboration with YouGov revealed that one in four people feel that it should be possible to contact companies via WhatsApp. Nevertheless, many companies have privacy concerns. To address this issue, WhatsApp has introduced two new solutions for businesses to the market: the WhatsApp Business app for SME and the WhatsApp Business API for larger companies. However, you should be careful even with the business variant. Especially the data transfer via US servers – which are regarded as insecure from the perspective of German and European data protection – is an issue whose legal clarification is still pending.
2. Be Observant and Listen
When they are upset, most customers do not turn directly to the company, but use the social media arena to vent their anger, ask other users for their experiences and look for brothers-in-arms. Therefore, be observant and listen – not only on your own social media channels, but wherever your brand is mentioned. Once you know where your target group talks about you and where your brand is mentioned, you can answer in a constructive manner.
Keep calm, listen and show understanding.
3. Take Problems Seriously and Find Solutions
Take your customers' problems seriously and offer them competent, professional and custom-tailored solutions. Your answer will also be read by other users who might be struggling with the same issue. In 2017, some 76 percent of the people interviewed stated that they used the Internet to read product/service ratings. A good explanation will go a long way to calm them down. By contrast, automated replies are seldom appreciated. Therefore, make it a point to address your customers individually instead of sending them hackneyed replies.
In some cases, it might even be helpful to respond with some humour, as the Facebook page of the "Die Welt" newspaper shows. Another important aspect is not to wait too long with the reply. React speedily and transparently. In this age of digital impatience, customers expect quick replies to their posts, though this does not necessarily mean that answers have to be given immediately. Usually, a reaction time of 30 to 45 minutes is considered to be reasonable.
When it comes to offering convincing customer service, the social web has become an indispensable factor. Identify where your target group is active in the social web, react speedily and transparently, and handle customer concerns professionally and with due care. To be prepared for your customers' requests, it would be beneficial to lay out a customer service strategy. Depending on the size, it might be advisable to introduce a social media dashboard for use by your team.
By means of good customer service in the social web, you can strengthen existing customer relationships and – in view of the fact that prospective customers will endeavour to get a comprehensive picture on various websites before closing a deal – initiate new ones.