Social Customer Service Rules

John Krautzel
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Social media can be a godsend for a customer service department. Each conversation is fast, informal and visible to other customers who might be having a similar problem. Like any communication channel, however, social networking websites have their own etiquette and best practices. When you understand the unwritten rules, you can create a powerful and effective online service setup.

Dedicate Adequate Time and Resources

Social media is free and easy to use, but it requires a significant amount of time for setup and operation. Before you start, ensure that your staff has time to monitor each account and respond quickly. Larger companies might need to hire dedicated social customer service professionals, while a small business might be able to get by with part-time participation by existing workers.

Keep in mind that customers may submit questions at any hour of the day or night; if you don't have the resources for round-the-clock monitoring, let your customers know immediately. Use the "about" or "description" section of each profile to set time frame expectations and specify the hours during which customers can expect replies. A simple statement such as, "We respond within 60 minutes to inquiries submitted during the hours of 8 AM to 5 PM EST" can head off problems and frustrations.

Handle Negativity With Grace

When you use Facebook, Twitter or another website for customer service, it puts all of your company's mistakes on display for everyone to see. Negative reviews and angry accusations — valid and otherwise — are visible to all users, so your responses can shape public perception of your brand.

Resist the temptation to delete or hide defamatory posts, even when they are false. If archived versions of the posts show up online, you may be accused of hiding something. Instead, respond calmly and politely to each question or accusation. Apologize and take responsibility where it's appropriate, and provide a clear explanation when your business is not in the wrong. No matter who's at fault, aim to help resolve the situation.

Know When to go Offline

Social customer service is convenient, but only to a point. General inquiries and discussions that affect multiple users have value for other customers; when the conversation gets too detailed to be of use to anyone else, however, it's time to move to email, private messaging or a phone call. The same goes for customers who are unable to provide adequate detail in writing or customers who need emergency assistance.

You should also take the conversation offline when you require account numbers, tracking numbers or other personal information to move forward. Keep in mind that the tipping point is different for each situation, and train your customer service staff to recognize key signs.

Social websites make excellent customer service channels, but only when used appropriately. By developing and sticking to a set of best practices, you can keep customers and service professionals happy.

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