The world has evolved in the last couple of decades, with business, communication, television, and even retail changing dramatically. The latter of these in particular has the potential to affect everyone, especially those involved in the business world, from the top of the chain, to retail employees, and finally to customers themselves. Perhaps the most decisive factor in this shift is the recent emergence of social media: First rising to popularity within the last decade, this popular and powerful medium has become one of the most important aspects of a company’s brand. This trend has given rise to a new era of social media customer service, blending communication channels to better serve customers.

A New Form of Customer Service

One of the most interesting things about social media in regards to retail is the way in which it’s affected customer service. More people than ever before are turning to social media—rather than traditional customer service routes such as phone lines, mail and email—to voice their complaints, questions, and even praises for the products and services they use. In fact, over the next 12–18 months, inbound service requests will increase more than 24 percent across social networks.

Customer Service Goals

Why is social media customer service rising so quickly in popularity? Social media has many benefits for customers. Being able to contact or “tag” a company gives clients the ability to communicate with a brand directly rather than through low-authority employees—even if they are only actually talking to the same customer service representatives they would normally encounter. Furthermore, if their comment is negative or an issue that needs to be corrected, the public forum gives a company a much greater incentive to act quickly to rectify it before other customers take note. Sometimes customers will even use social media to vent publicly, which makes it essential that organisations keep track of what is being said by searching their name on social media and employing a good customer relationship management (CRM) system.

When Social Media Backfires

One of the most important things this social media culture presents, however, is a good customer experience. It therefore only makes sense that businesses would want to use social media to give clients a chance to share those positive experiences with one another. But what businesses need to be aware of is that negative experiences can be shared just as easily. While an organisation in question may have control over their own social media pages, they have almost no control over what their customers choose to post. Some companies have been unpleasantly surprised to discover that their well thought-out social media campaigns (designed to inspire and spread good feelings) were quickly hijacked and transformed into something to damage their brand’s reputation. Before you begin any social media campaign, look at it from every angle and be prepared well in advance to handle any damage control that may be needed.

Despite the dangers of social media campaigns backfiring, when done correctly a well-designed campaign can quickly and easily go beyond the scope of your original expectations. As clients and potential clients encounter and share your campaign with their own contacts, it can grow exponentially. Never before has a medium offered so much potential return for so little investment---all it takes is something sharable and an understanding of customer interests.

Customer Service Goals

Over the next 12–18 months, inbound service requests will increase more than 24% across social networks

Social Media Done Right

Proper social media usage can improve a company’s brand by allowing employees to quickly solve problems for disgruntled customers, directly connect with new customers and discover potential customers as they share and post across the various social media platforms. But in order to get the most out of this new medium, you need to understand it. New tools are being developed all of the time to assist organisations in tracking and quantifying their social media returns. For instance, the use of social media monitoring technologies will increase nearly two-fold in the next 12–18 months.

One thing seems obvious: Social media is here to stay. If you’re in charge of a company’s social media, make sure you take that task very seriously. Respond to your followers, let them give you their opinions and actually listen to them. Most important, don’t lose your focus. Social media is a service for connecting people, and when you connect with people online there’s a good chance they’ll connect with your brand in-store as well. After all, social media is about the customer. If you fail to remember that one simple truth, there’s a good chance the next post or hashtag will end up coming back to bite you.

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