Good Social Customer Conversations: Start by Listening
"Whatever the customer says, never hit delete," said Mark Mitchell, the social media director for My Social Agency. "A negative situation can be turned into a much more powerful positive outcome by listening to customer concerns and addressing and resolving [them] live on the page." Handling customer complaints well, in other words, can actually transform complaining customers into loyal ones.
Social media sites are all about having conversations, and that's true for businesses as well as individuals. The trick for businesses is knowing how and when to engage in these conversations -- and how to keep up with them.
Like any conversation, listening is important, and it's one way that businesses can begin to engage their customers.
"A good overall strategy for any business online, especially when it comes to social media sites, is to begin with listening," Roy Morejon, president of Command Partners, told CRM Buyer. "I've seen it many times where companies use social media as just another place to push their agenda."
Not Just a Brand
The unique thing about social media is that it gives people an opportunity to engage with companies on a personal level.
"People want to talk to people, not a brand," social media consultant Deborah Smith told CRM Buyer.
And a large part of responding like a person means keeping the conversation flowing.
"Responses on social media channels need to be answered promptly. No one wants to be replied back to months or even weeks later," said Morejon.
"This means hours, not days," said Smith.
Putting Out Fires
Sometimes, social media conversations turn to customer complaints and problems, which can be tricky to handle. Businesses must have a strategy in place so they know how to respond to them effectively.
"Each customer complaint is different, including the social media channel it's on, so your actions will vary," said Morejon. "Many times a response isn't needed, [and] other times it's best to take it offline. When it is appropriate to respond to the complaint, make sure you empower them to become a 'brand cheerleader.'"
Sometimes, it's a good idea to solve problems where they're presented, in order to show others how it was handled.
"Put the fire out quickly before it catches on to other participants in the forum," said Smith. "Offer an apology and a solution. Try to stay on the channel that the customer has contacted you. If it is a complex issue, suggest a phone call. But if not, try to resolve the problem where it was presented."
Perhaps the worst thing to do is to try to edit any negativity out of the discussion.
"Whatever the customer says, never hit delete," Mark Mitchell, the social media director for My Social Agency, told CRM Buyer. "A negative situation can be turned into a much more powerful positive outcome by listening to customer concerns and addressing and resolving [them] live on the page."
Handling customer complaints well, in other words, can actually transform those complaining customers into loyal ones.
"It's about building champions, [developing] new revenues, and delighting the customers," Jan Ryan, president of Social Dynamx, told CRM Buyer.
Social media sites vary greatly, and conversations on Twitter are altogether different from those on Facebook or other platforms.
"All of the social media channels have their own culture, and companies are expected to act accordingly depending on the channel they are using," said Smith.
"Facebook is a very casual environment. For the most part, people are there to have fun and to stay in touch with friends. A company needs to understand this and make their page a place that is entertaining," she noted.
"Twitter's unique feature is the ability to monitor real-time conversations about your brand, your competition, and to uncover people who may need your services. It is a very powerful listening and monitoring tool," Smith said.
"LinkedIn is by far the most business-focused social media channel," she observed. "It is easy to annoy LinkedIn users with too much chatter."
For all platforms, however, companies must keep it personal, avoiding as much as possible any whiff of PR-speak.
"I think the biggest mistake I see companies making is using social media as just another push marketing tactic," said Smith.
"They don't understand the importance of a conversation with customers. Companies need to look at what conversations get the most comments, what gets people talking, and do more of it," she recommended. "A Facebook page or Twitter account with no conversations going on makes a company look like [it doesn't] know what [it's] doing with social media."