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Keeping up With the Customer: 4 Ways to Make Social Work for You

Social media was born more than a decade ago as a platform for friends and communities to connect with one another. It has evolved to be — among other things — a platform for consumers to share their customer experience, vent about their frustrations, and communicate with brands.

Companies are adapting to this new landscape by using social as a way to respond to and monitor customer sentiment. They are stepping up to the plate to deliver better service, listening to feedback, and in turn gaining loyal customers. Here’s how social is changing the face of the customer experience, and how you can get in on the action:

1. Connection on Their Turf Is Key

The golden rule in psychology and sales is “start where your client/customer is.” This also rings very true for customer service. According to Google research, 82 percent of smartphone users depend on their device to make a product decision. And with the majority of mobile web traffic through apps, this is a no brainer — connect with customers on their turf, which in most cases, is the social media apps they are on all day.

Even phone companies are taking note and connecting with customers on social media. Both Sprint and Verizon have Facebook and Facebook Messenger platforms. Sprint’s response time on Facebook Messenger is within an hour.

All the major carriers have Twitter handles, but only Sprint and Verizon allow customers to Direct Message reps. Sprint has a dedicated Twitter handle for customer support (see below). Sprint and AT&T were tied with the best level of social customer service out of all the big cell phone companies. Clearly, connecting with customers via the channel they prefer is the first step in keeping up with the customer in the changing customer service arena.

Sprint was ahead of the game when they were the first cell phone provider to adopt Facebook Messenger as a service platform. The company found that after instituting a comprehensive social customer service operation, there was a 31 percent increase in Facebook private messages and a subsequent 23 percent decrease in public comments. This highlights the customer preference to utilize Facebook Messenger as a legitimate and preferred channel.

2. Crowdsource It

The new empowered customer uses Facebook and other social media platforms to crowdsource information from their friends and family about brands — including cell phone companies — since this is a big decision that requires a lot of information gathering and research. Verizon uses “CROWDS,” a crowdsourced customer care platform on Twitter (powered by social customer care company Conversocial), taking advantage of the wealth of knowledge out there on social media. Customers use the hashtag #VZWizards to request support from “volunteer experts” in the social media world.

Just as consumers use social media in this way, companies are starting to use it the same. Some companies may be put off to invite customer opinions in a public space; however it’s critical to analyze, then understand what works and what doesn’t. This invaluable information can drive a company’s customer service decisions and marketing strategy. It can be especially useful to monitor and get feedback about new offers and customer policy changes.

As stated, Sprint has both a standard Twitter handle that allows users to Direct Message, with another Twitter handle specifically dedicated to social customer care, Sprint Care. The customer care Twitter handle responds to every single tweet and message, both complaint and praise. See a happy customer who switched to Sprint:

It’s essential to allow customers to both vent and praise on social media. What is also essential is having the manpower and staffing to respond to each message, post or tweet, as Sprint does. It may be intimidating to go head to head with fuming customers, but it’s critical in this new social world. Getting praise and positive feedback on social is not only about gaining a good reputation online, but also allowing customers to recommend your brand to others, either directly or indirectly.

3. Turn Customers Into Brand Ambassadors

Before the complex world of social media existed, recommendations were primarily through word of mouth and online forums. Word-of-mouth recommendations were in person — asking your friend, neighbor or family member where they go for haircuts, which TV brand they purchased, what doctor they go to, etc.

Forums were an original social media channel, foreshadowing the soon-to-come explosion of more traditional social media. Forums (such as Reddit and Quora) are still a relevant digital customer service channel, and companies are using them as a big part of their strategies. When social media came along, consumers expanded their network by not only listening to their immediate community, but a new online community with an arsenal of information that informed their decision-making as consumers.

Happy and satisfied customers naturally become brand ambassadors, promoting your brand through word-of-mouth recommendations, whether in person to their small circle, or on social media channels to a wider audience. Extremely pleased customers have no qualms about going onto social media and evangelizing for the brand. In order for this to happen, however, customers must be wowed. This also means upserving, providing discounts or deals when applicable, and most importantly, staying human and treating the customer with empathy and respect.

Research shows that a customer who has a good experience with a brand has a relationship that’s six times longer than someone who has a poor experience. Another important idea in turning customers into brand ambassadors is focusing on the subscription-based or convenience-based service model, which focuses on building long-term relationships with customers rather than gaining just one transaction. In order to gain and maintain these types of relationships, the customer must see the value and convenience in a long-term relationship with the company.

4. Love Is Your Friend, Indifference Is Your Enemy

Trust, loyalty, and brand evangelism lay the foundation for great relationships with customers. Brand evangelism will only happen when customers feel so strongly about you that they take to social media to do the opposite of what most do, and that is praise. An emotional connection to your brand is also essential for this trust to build. Emotional connections are especially important in subscription-based services such as Cloud software and one-stop-shop services like Amazon.

Andy Lark, the CMO of Xero, a Cloud-based accounting software believes that the opposite of love for your brand is not hate — it’s indifference. “Because when someone else comes along, they’ll take it or leave it. It’s not enough to do service just because you don’t want to be disliked; you’re largely finding collective indifference.”

Lark notes that companies need to pay attention to the language their customers use, as well as monitor the way employees speak about the company. When employees and customers have an emotional connection with the company, brand loyalty and long-term commitment grow naturally.

Be the Change

The old-fashioned customer service era is over. The customer of today is married to mobile, wants lightning-fast service on social, and knows that the competition for their business is fierce.

How can companies keep up with this new empowered customer? To start, connecting on the platform of their choice and using social media to gain insights and feedback are crucial. Allowing customers to become brand ambassadors, focusing on the long-term customer relationship while building a positive emotional connection are the keys to unlocking the treasure in the new world of social and customer care.

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(Image credit: Rawpixel)

Shayna Smilovitz

Shayna Smilovitz is a writer based in Tel Aviv. Born and raised in Silicon Valley, she has tech in her blood and loves writing about the intersection between technology, society and culture. You can follow her on Twitter @shaynaleh.

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