How can I help? The mini-guide to social customer service from


Today, social media is turning customer service and support on its head. It is fundamentally changing how, where and to whom people look for help. And it presents both significant challenges and major opportunities for companies looking to succeed in business today.

One thing is for sure, doing nothing is not an option.

If we get this right, not only will customers continue to buy from us (and buy more and more often) they’ll become advocates for our brand. More than this, we’ll achieve this while actually spending less on service & support.

Get things wrong and customers have more ways than ever to tell everyone they know about it (as well as several thousand people they’ve never met). Sadly, today, too many businesses are getting it wrong.

In this mini-guide, we’re going to give you an overview of this new business landscape. We’ll highlight what’s happening and what it means for your business. And we’ll give you practical suggestions about what you should do next.


The guide is split into 6 key areas:


1. The big picture: Taking the broader view of social customer service

Almost every company is at a different stage of their social business journey. Some are already active and thriving across the board. Others are taking their first tentative steps. Wherever you are, there are four broad areas you will need to focus on in order to realise its full potential:

  • Listen – set your listening objectives; get to know your customers better; identify influencers, advocates and detractors; and learn to spot a crisis when it’s brewing
  • Engage – set your engagement goals; determine the types of conversation that are relevant to you; respond in real-time when customers need you to; and be consistent
  • Measure– determine what’s important to measure; extract insights from your activity; relate what you learn to business goals; and adjust your strategy and tactics to what you discover
  • Scale – build cross-functional social media teams; map customer relationships to relevant social activity; establish comprehensive (but workable) social media guidelines; and automate appropriate processes where possible

(These points were taken from a presentation by Marcel Lebrun of Radian6. The full presentation goes into much more detail – see it here.) 

Each of the big picture areas has its own set of objectives and requires that you focus on what will deliver most value to your business. Having a clear view of the bigger picture and what success looks like for your social customer service will ensure you devote your efforts to where you can make a real, tangible difference.


2. Listening to customers: You can’t serve customers you don’t know about

As with so many areas of social media, the key is: listen first. The temptation – especially when you see the first tweet complaining about your product – is to dive straight in. If your customer service team is already active on social media you might decide that there’s no time like the present. But for most companies, spending some time listening to what customers are saying online almost always pays dividends.

The first task is to get an accurate picture of where to go to find your customers. Are they asking for help on Twitter or Facebook? Are they in specific LinkedIn groups? Or are they on niche special-interest forums?

Start by searching. Enter the kinds of phrases a customer looking for help might use, such as:

  • [your brand name] + problem
  • [your brand name] + why can’t
  • [your brand name] + #FAIL
  • [your brand name] + does anyone know how

You can make this more current by specifying responses from the last month only (or the last day if you think you have a crisis brewing right now). You can, of course, also get more granular by making the searches about individual products.


This process will not only give you a better idea of what’s happening with your customers but also precisely where they’re going for help. From here you can begin to create a map of the places your customer service team will need to go to engage with customers and provide help.



Action points: Three ways to start listening right now

  • Create Google Alerts for your company name and all your product names and service offerings – this will keep you up to date when anyone posts about you
  • Join key industry groups on LinkedIn – in the settings, choose to receive an email for each new discussion
  • Create (and save) a search on Twitter (Tweetdeck is good for this) – focus on key brand and product names

(Alternatively, if you want to get more serious about listening, take a look at our Radian6 social media monitoring platform.)


3. Engaging with customers

Real-time social customer service


Twitter has emerged as one of the prime locations for social customer service. It has been the arena for explosive episodes featuring companies who ‘don’t get it’ as well as providing some of the best examples of engagement by those that do. While examples of failure are legion, here we’ll focus on what you can do to get it right.

In an article on Huffington Post, Mark Hillary describes his experience with BT broadband in the UK that provides a good template for a great social customer experience:

“If you write a comment on Twitter complaining about your BT broadband speed, a few minutes later @btcare will get in touch and ask how they can help. Super agents with a wide variety of skills are out there monitoring the social networks and jumping in to help customers when they are seen or heard complaining about BT services. And it works. I didn't find out about the BT customer service model from a textbook, I complained about my broadband online and received immediate service from a knowledgeable agent.”

Compare this with the typical call centre experience. It’s responsive and individualised. It shows a big company being human (as Chris Brogan puts it in his book Trust Agents, “becoming one of us”). Importantly, it’s fast.

Most of the customer service issues that have blown up on Twitter are the result of companies taking too long to respond. Twitter is a near real-time medium (closer to texting than email). As such, customers expect you to reply quickly.

Importantly, you don’t have to solve the customer’s problem in under 140 characters. You simply need to acknowledge their issue and begin the process of addressing it. This might be to point them at more information on your site or to give them a number they can call for help. But do it quick.

Marcel Lebrun of’s Radian6 advises businesses to think of all these communications as a social phone that’s ringing. Someone needs to pick up before they ring off and go elsewhere. Time is of the essence.

Social self-service: helping customers to help themselves

Effective self-service is often viewed as the Holy Grail of customer service. Customers are happy because they no longer have an issue. You’re happy because you’ve kept costs down and have a satisfied customer. Everybody wins.

Ideally, customers should be able to self-serve from your site. This means you’ll become the place they’ll turn to first (which is exactly as it should be). To succeed, however, delivering a great user experience is key. Too many in-house knowledge bases fail because it is only in-house people who can get what they need from them. To work in the real world, these resources must be 100% focused on the customer – their expectations, their level of knowledge, their terminology.

Again, social media can help. By watching and listening (and asking customers directly) you can adapt, evolve and improve your self-service capabilities. The result is a self-service knowledge base that delivers great service at low cost.

Reaching out – helping customers on third-party forums

As with other areas of social customer service, people will get information from a number of sources. Specialist forums are the most popular (including those that are part of wider communities – e.g. LinkedIn groups – and those delivered as a service by publishers). There are also branded third-party support communities such as Get Satisfaction that fulfil this role on behalf of individual businesses. Finally, don’t ignore ratings and reviews sites – they’re home to a surprising amount of service and support requests masquerading as reviews.

Of course, if you’ve successfully listened to customers, you’ll know which forums are the most popular and have your own people actively engaged in helping out. Some companies choose to actively engage with every comment while others step in only if a question goes unanswered for a set amount of time. Having clear rules of engagement will help your service teams decide when and how to take part.

Finally, in addition to forums, having a robust, easily searchable knowledge-bank is becoming ever more important (especially if your products are more technical). Importantly, this should be searchable using the terms your customers actually use (rather than those that only your tech team understand). And, critically, it should be a living resource – growing with the knowledge you gain from your other customer service activity.


Action points: Delivering a better customer self-service portal

  • Make it searchable by humans (not just engineers)
  • Keep it active, add new content regularly
  • Don’t be a spectator, take part
  • Put a time-limit on any unanswered query (after which, step in and offer help)
  • Nip escalating problems in the bud

4. Great service = great marketing: Turning customer service into marketing for your business


People like to tell others when they get good or bad service. Take this finding from the Harvard Business Review: “23% of customers who had a positive service interaction told 10 or more people about it...[however] 48% of customers who had negative experiences told 10 or more others.” Over twice as many are ready to spread the bad than are willing to share the good.

And today, of course, broadcasting these opinions is easier than ever before. So how do you ensure your customer support is making the grade for the 23% of people who’ll tell the world?

The key is to move from passive customer service (waiting for customers to come to you with their problems) to active customer service (reaching out to them where they are with an offer of help).


Master this and you’ll find customers have plenty of ways of showing their appreciation to the world – likes, tweets, blog posts, forum comments. Plus, because all of this is happening out in the open on the internet, the solutions your provide will be searchable. This allows other customers to solve their own problems (saving you money) and demonstrates what a great company you are to do business with (making you money).

josh-bernoff-xs Josh Berboff

"Create marketing metrics alongside your service metrics. Unlike traditional service staff, don’t measure your groundswell customer service efforts solely on the number of people served. Instead, look at long-term measures like shift in buzz sentiment from negative to positive, leads generated from Twitter and blogs, traffic to marketing pages, and positive customer stories."


How does social customer service

With so many different sources of information and places to share it, keeping track of what customers are saying, acting upon it and ensuring they’re happy can seem a daunting task. That’s why we automate the process as much as possible. It means we can use our most valuable resource, our people, when and where they can deliver the most value to customers.

Using our own Service Cloud product, we’ve fully integrated social into the rest of our customer service. So, to give an example, say someone posts a comment on our Facebook page. We can use Service Cloud to track that conversation, automatically open a case and assign it to one of our team. They can quickly and easily see what the issue is and bring in other experts if necessary using our Chatter service.

As soon as we have an answer (and we’re pretty fast), we can use Service Cloud to post it directly back to our Facebook page. And because Service Cloud also works with search engines, any other customer with a similar problem will be able to find an answer fast.

This is, of course, just a small part of what Service Cloud offers. You can see a short video that goes into a little more detail here.

Finally, we also use Chatter to connect all the people who can help with a customer support issue until it’s resolved. Chatter lets us ‘socialise’ a specific case, so the right people can follow it, receiving status updates on their Chatter desktop widget. (There’s more about this in the next section.)


5. Collaboration: Building a more agile customer service team

Some customer issues are easily resolved while others are more complex. For these more challenging problems, your customer service people will often need to speak to other experts within the organisation. But finding the right expert can be a challenge in its own right.

Imagine this…

You sell ground water pumps used by farms across the world. In more arid places, these are essential pieces of equipment and any failure can be devastating. So when a customer in Australia contacts you about an intermittent fault on one of your high-end pumps, you know it could be one of those make or break moments.

The problem of course is that you cannot simply send an engineer out to resolve the issue, you need to help the customer solve it themselves (at least in the short-term). But to diagnose the problem, you need experts familiar with the equipment and the environment it is being used in.

Traditionally, you might simply have gone to the one person everybody always asks (this will differ by company but every business has one). Of course, they may not actually be the best person and might not be available. This often leads to some frantic rushing around trying to find someone else who can help.

Compare this with a social customer service model. Here, as soon as the customer notifies you of the problem (eg via your support forum) you can open a case and, using something like Chatter, immediately notify all your in-house experts of the issue. They can then quickly and easily collaborate to offer the best solution. And you can advise the customer on what to do next.


Of course, it doesn’t stop there. Because the solution is then published back to the forum, anyone with a similar issue can then find the answer either via the forum itself or using Google.

Action points: 5 ways to bring collaboration to life

  • Identify your in-house experts and document their areas of expertise
  • Have clear ways to contact them and ensure you know their availability
  • Enable cross-functional teams to work on customer problems
  • Publish the latest solutions in a fully searchable resource
  • Make collaboration part of employee appraisals to embed it into the culture

6. Measuring success: Collect metrics that really matter

With few exceptions (First Direct in the UK, Zappos in the US) few people like phoning call centres. It’s not surprising that today’s customers are turning to social media for a better alternative.

Let’s be clear, there are some really good call centres. Call centres filled with helpful, knowledgeable people who want to help. But all too often, the business metrics themselves count against giving the very best customer service (the kind people want to like, tweet and blog about).

The move to social customer service is bringing a new set of metrics that deliver a tangible advantage to today’s forward-thinking businesses:

Before social media


After social media

Call time – how quickly did we get the customer off the call?   Contact engagement – how much can we empathise with what customers need?
Call volume – how can we reduce the number of calls we receive?   Searchable self-service – can we give customers a great service even if they never speak to anyone?
Time in queue – how long did a customer have to wait to speak to someone?   Speed to connect – how quickly can we react to a customer issue (both those communicated directly and problems highlighted on third-party sites and
Abandonment rate – how many people weren't prepared to wait?   Defection rate – how many people are leaving us for the competition?
First call resolution – how often did we solve the customer's problem in a single call?   Net Promoter Score – how many customers will recommend, like or tweet us as a result of our service?

Ultimately, customers don’t want their call to be completed so much as they want their problem solved. It doesn’t matter how cheaply a call can be dealt with (or how easily it can be avoided). If it doesn’t solve the problem, it’s more likely to be costing you money than saving it. Conversely, social customer service focuses on solving customer issues in such a way that they become evangelists for the brand. This in turn drives tangible benefits to the bottom line.

Action points: 4 ways to make measurement work harder

  • Tie what you measure to hard business metrics
  • But don’t ignore the soft benefits too
  • Focus on quality over quantity
  • Measure what will make your business remarkable (ie customers remarking on it via social media and word of mouth)

Next steps: Changing customer service for good

Far from simply being a cost that today’s companies must bear, social customer service offers much, much more. In some ways, social customer service is not so different from (good) traditional customer service. It’s still about solving customers’ problems efficiently and giving them a good experience of your brand.

Social customer service, however, gives you the opportunity to deliver great service in a way that everyone can see. It’s hooked in to all the mechanisms people use to tell others when they like what you’ve done. It gives you a direct, open channel to customers at all stages of the buying cycle (not just post-sales). And it can create well-connected evangelists who will help you market you brand, products and services.


Action points: 6 ways to raise your social customer service game

  • Have some of your people 100% dedicated to social customer service (this might be just one person to begin with)
  • Give them the latitude to make decisions and act to rectify customer problems fast
  • Automate as much of the listening as possible so your people get early notice of any issues
  • Run as close to 24/7 as you can – the internet doesn’t close at 5pm and many customers will post their issues in the evening when they are most active on social media
  • Link social tightly with your other customer service systems – people aren’t interested in corporate silos and why that should stop them getting a solution to the issue (shameless plug – Chatter is excellent for doing this)
  • Follow up after you’ve helped the customer – are they happy, do they need anything else?

Next steps: Social customer service checklist

Ready to get started with social customer service? Here’s a summary of the first steps we recommend you take:

  • Start monitoring what your customers are saying across Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook
  • Search out and join relevant specialist forums
  • Set up Google Alerts and Twitter searches to ensure you’re one of the first to hear about new issues
  • Have a policy for how your people should engage over social media (being helpful and human is a good start)
  • Decide what you will measure – consider doing some baseline measurement before you start so you have something to compare your results to
  • Dedicate resource to your social customer service (start small but prepare to scale)
  • Find ways to ensure your people have access to the right internal expertise to answer customer queries fast (did we mention Chatter?)

These should give you a solid foundation on which you can grow your social customer service. From there, it’s a process of listening carefully to customers and responding quickly to whatever they need, wherever they are.


We hope you’ve found this mini-guide useful. If you have any thoughts or questions, we’d love to hear them in our comments below

You can, of course, find more information and resources at our Social Success portal


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