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Social customer service matters

- Katie Patterson is the CEO | Founder at Happy Medium.

Social media is often blamed for the end of interpersonal relationships. It’s too easy for us to stay online and away from each other. I was not particularly shocked to read about a study that found that regardless of how many Facebook “friends” you have, you can only really rely on 4 actual friends during tough times. When friendship is boiled down to clicking on a request, and some people can’t even be bothered to do that, what does that mean for the state of friendship?

At Happy Medium, we tend to be optimists. Yes, social media has the capacity to separate us from each other but it also has the ability to create more meaningful connections and the smart brands using social understand this.

An interesting post came across my Facebook feed a few days ago. A friend (both online and IRL) posted that she received a call from the surgeon who was going to operate on her knee, asking if she had any questions or concerns. She was impressed that the surgeon himself, not a staff member, took the time to call and make sure she was feeling confident about her upcoming operation.

That’s good customer service. And, because we live in a world where we don’t expect that, not only did the surgeon impress his patient, he probably impressed a number of people who saw my friend’s genuine post. So now, because of social media, that good deed committed by the doctor becomes a walking billboard for his brand of compassion and care. That’s a prescription any business could use.

As individuals, we may only have four friends we can count on, but businesses have to count on a lot more to feed their bottom line so they can ill-afford to mistreat their online acquaintances. And yet, time and again, brands forget basic customer service when it comes to social. 80% of the top 500 retailers ignore questions sent to them via Twitter and only a little more than half respond on Facebook. And the average response is longer than a day. Try sending my company a request that might turn into money and see if you don’t hear from us for a full day. If that happens, it’s the zombie apocalypse and you should find a place to hole up for awhile.

The story about my friend’s surgery proves that social media can be a tool in an overall customer service strategy. I’ll bet that surgeon didn’t call my friend expecting a laudatory Facebook post but he understands that good customer services results in happy customers and happy customers are apt to share their happiness. And just as you wouldn’t ignore a customer who called you on the phone or walked into your shop, you can’t simply avoid conversations online.

Luckily, just as platforms are making it easier to buy products through social, they are making it easier for brands to interact with their customers.

Facebook has launched a beta version of Messenger Business, a modification of their popular Messenger app (800 million users and counting) that allows real-time conversations between customers and businesses.

Twitter has dropped its “mutual follow” rule for direct messages, meaning that brands can reach out to customers directly, even if they don’t follow each other. And those direct messages don’t come with a character limit. We’ll see if brands use these new tools to improve their miserable online customer service numbers but for now, there’s a tremendous opportunity to be ahead of your competitors.

And who knows, when you do something good in real life, you might just find an extra bump for yourself online. People don’t always value their online friends, but brands can’t afford not to.

Katie Patterson is the CEO | Founder of Happy Medium, a full service interactive advertising agency based in Des Moines. Follow her on Twitter - @_klpatterson


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