This article by Mari Smith is part of our Blogtober event, which features blog posts written by industry influencers in support of Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

Customer service through social media is definitely on the rise. It’s often much quicker, more effective, and certainly more user-friendly for customers and prospects to contact a business via their social channels than it is to send an email or jump through all manner of hoops to speak to a representative by phone.

One of the most powerful ways to use Facebook is to provide exceptional service to your current and potential customers through the platform. To get the best results, make sure your Facebook page is customer-service friendly. Also, put a plan in place so your response time is minimal and your customers feel you genuinely care.

Social Customer Service Makes a BIG Difference

While most companies recognize the value of social media, it seems many are missing the opportunity to connect with their customers. According to NewVoiceMedia, poor customer service in the US costs companies $41 billion each year.

The Q1 2015 Socially Devoted report from Socialbakers found that the United States ranks worst in social customer care on both Facebook—23rd out of 24 countries—and Twitter—33rd out of 37 countries. While Canada ranked a little better, there’s still plenty room for improvement in North America.

According to the Sprout Social Index, in the first half of 2015 messages sent to brands on social channels increased by 21 per cent. While the response time increased by 4 per cent, the response rate decreased by 2.5 per cent. Furthermore, 7 in 8 messages to brands go unanswered within 72 hours. That’s 88 per cent. Can you imagine what would happen if you didn’t answer your phone 88 per cent of the time?

By responding to customer concerns in a timely manner, your business potentially keeps frustrated customers from becoming angry ones. It also prevents you from losing customers, and it gives you the chance to turn potential haters into loyal fans. Give your customers a quality experience, and they will feel heard and valued by your business.

According a Lithium Technologies-commissioned study by Millward Brown Digital, when brands provide customers with timely responses:

  • 34 per cent are likely to buy more from that company
  • 43 per cent are likely to encourage friends and family to buy their products
  • 38 per cent are more receptive to their advertisements
  • 42 per cent are willing to praise or recommend the brand through social media

As a bonus, fans and customers who see your company responding to others will also be encouraged to do business with you. On the other hand, when fans see a company ignore complaints (and even positive comments) on their Facebook page, it makes a bad impression and could deter potential customers. According to Zendesk, 40 per cent of customers switch loyalty because a competitor offers better customer service.

Prompt, courteous response on Facebook is essentially money in the bank. Show your loyal fans that your company understands how important it is to be available and responsive.

Provide Prompt, Excellent Customer Service on Facebook

If your company has an active and professional Facebook page, it’s likely that’s the first place customers will turn to reach out. I strongly recommend that you leave your wall open for fans and visitors to be able to initiate their own post.

When a Page shuts off its wall, it’s as if the brand is saying, “We only care about what you have to say when you are responding to our posts.” Granted, it does take more resources to manage and respond to Posts by Visitors. However, it truly goes a long way when a visitor comes to your Page and finds that inviting “Write something…” text box. I suggest you also leave the setting enabled to allow others to share photos and videos on your wall, too. For example, Canada-based company LUSH Cosmetics has close to 1 million likes and still has its wall enabled for visitor posts.

The exception here is if you get a lot of spam or junk posts. Or, perhaps you’re in an industry or business that, unfortunately, receives a lot of negative posts, in which case you may decide to disable your wall. You could also select the setting to review posts by other people before they are published to the Page. Be sure to check your Visitor Posts settings and edit them to your liking.

Either way, you cannot turn off the ability for visitors to comment on your Page posts. Therefore, you need a well-trained social customer care team. A few simple tactics can go a long way to increasing your “Socially Devoted” quotient, as our friends at Socialbakers call it. If your brand responds to at least 65 per cent of audience questions on Facebook and/or Twitter, you qualify as Socially Devoted. LUSH Cosmetics is a top Socially Devoted company in Canada. They even include a helpful notice in the company’s About tab letting visitors know the days and times they are available to respond to posts.

By responding promptly to as many posts, comments, and private messages as possible—using the person’s first name and signing off with the Admin’s name—you should see a measurable difference. As Socialbakers states, “The benefits of Social Devotion are clear—Socially Devoted brands get 3.5 times more Interactions than their less-responsive counterparts.”

Maximize the Messaging Feature

Although it is optional, I recommend enabling the Message feature on your Page. When visitors pull up your Page on the Facebook app, they may have questions they prefer to write in private and not post publicly on the wall. By deploying proper resources for prompt, professional support, your company can totally leapfrog the competition.

In addition to enabling Messages, be sure to include helpful information on your company’s Facebook Page, like FAQs, so fans can easily find answers. Another option is include a link to your website’s FAQs in your Company Overview in the About section.

Facebook recently made several improvements to the Page Messaging feature, especially in the admin functionality, which helps companies provide better social customer service.

Here’s how to make the most of these new Facebook Page Messaging features:

1. Embrace Basic Tools. Page admins have more tools at their disposal to handle incoming messages. When there are unread messages, pages receive a reminder to respond. Admins can also apply bulk actions when marking messages as spam, deleting, or archiving them. Select individual or all messages, then click the Actions button for options.

2. Saved Replies. In the Messages tab, when replying to incoming messages, Admins can save and use common replies to fan messages. Facebook created template responses; however, you can also write and save your own. This tool is a major time-saver, especially if you receive the same questions often.

3. Personalize Messages. Another great feature is the ability to populate certain fields in the saved replies so your message can be personalized. This includes the person’s first name, the Admin’s name, and the company’s URL. Plus, when you sign off with the Admin’s first name, the other person feels like they’re communicating with another fellow human being, and not some faceless brand. Rogers personalizes messages and is among the top Socially Devoted companies in Canada.

4. Earn a Responsive Badge. Companies can now earn a very responsive badge that displays on their Facebook Page. This addition has created a bit of controversy given that, in order to earn it, your company must respond to 90 per cent of messages within five minutes.

For any business not open 24/7, this can be a real challenge. To get around this issue, simply disable the Message feature when you are away from social media, or use the “Show status as away” button. This button lets visitors know that you are currently unable to answer messages for up to 12 hours. Facebook also has a public-facing message when a Page is responsive.

The following two features are currently being rolled out.

5. Respond Privately to Public Messages. In the past, when customers complained by posting on a company’s Facebook page, the only way to turn the conversation private was to ask the customer to send an email to a customer service address. Yet, when they did that, all previous information was lost. With the message feature, a page admin can send a private message to a fan and keep a record of the entire conversation. You can see the option to reply to public comments via private Message, highlighted in yellow on the screenshot below.

6. Have Conversations with Paying Customers in Real Time. With the introduction of Businesses on Messenger, companies can have real-time conversations with their customers. This feature allows businesses to send order confirmations, shipping updates, and other relevant messages. It’s an option that customers need to sign up for, which means they want to hear from your business. Currently it’s only available to select businesses in the United States, but it’s likely to become more available as time goes on.

Take advantage of all the tools at your disposal on Facebook to make things as quick and easy as possible for both your customers and your social customer service team.

Create a Social Customer Care Plan

The first step in good social customer service is to have a plan. If you know what to do in a variety of situations it decreases response time and increases your fans’ confidence in your company.

1. Prepare. Write an information script with responses (and messaging) for multiple scenarios. Create these as Saved Replies in your Page’s messenger and share them with your social media team. Granted, not everything will be by the book. However, you should be able to come up with general guidelines for your most common situations. For example: If a customer requests X, send a message saying Y. If customer is unhappy with Z, respond with a message saying A. Also, write up a procedure for what your team needs to do in case of out-of-the-ordinary requests.

2. Monitor. Have notifications enabled for your company’s Facebook Page so you know when you have a message or a new comment and can respond in a timely manner. Additionally, use social listening tools, so you are aware of and can respond whenever your company gets mentioned on any social platform.

3. Train Your Team. Investing in professional social customer care training for your team is one of the best investments your company can make. Your customer-facing team members need to have the perfect mix of soft skills, such as empathy and compassion, along with adept problem-solving skills. Fundamentally, everyone wants to be seen and heard; simply acknowledging them and working towards understanding their issue can go a long way.

Keep this in mind: When emotions go up, intelligence goes down. Train your team to not respond right away if a customer or fan emotionally triggers them. It could make matters worse. Best to hand off to a fellow team member, or at least wait until emotions settle.

I wrote extensively about soft skills in my book, The New Relationship Marketing. You can download a sample chapter here.

4. Respond. Listening to a complaint and correcting an issue is one of the best ways to earn a loyal customer. Respond to complaints as quickly as possible. If you don’t have the answer, let the person know you are looking into the matter and will stay in touch. A response is better than silence—silence makes someone feel ignored and it seems like you don’t care.

If possible, respond to all positive comments, too. Show your appreciation for visitors who took the time to contact your company. Thank the fans who contact your company, whether it’s through a post, comment, or message. They will feel special to know they are being heard. Plus, they’ll be more likely to tell their friends that had a great experience with your business.

Newsflash! Facebook just released a pilot test (in Ireland and Spain) of Reactions – animated emoticons for users to express emotions other than like. These emoticons can be used anywhere across Facebook: on profiles, Pages, and even ads. That means Pages will be able to glean more emotional insight from their audience.

When the emoticon feature rolls out to more countries, Page Admins can access the range of emotional feedback to their posts under Insights. This goes for both your organic posts and paid posts (ads). Again, investing in proper training of your team will be even more critical when more users have access to these various emoticons.

5. Follow Up. Ideally, you have the time, resources, and a proper system in place to follow up with your fans, especially those who experienced issues. Make sure they’re fully satisfied and there are no remaining hiccups to be resolved.

Since many businesses fail when it comes to social customer care, when you deploy a well-trained social customer care team, armed with a proper plan, it immediately puts your company ahead of the pack.

One More Thing: Effective Social Customer Care is Money in the Bank!

Proper social customer care builds trust and loyalty, and improves customer relations. Fans and customers tend to turn to social channels first when they have something to say to a company. Make sure their engagement is acknowledged and gets an appropriate, timely response, and you will likely have a fan—and paying customer—for life!

Often referred to as “The Queen of Facebook,” Mari Smith is hailed as the premier Facebook marketing expert and one of the most influential and knowledgeable new media thought leaders in the world. Facebook hired Mari to go on tour with the company to teach business owners across the United States how to grow their businesses using Facebook. Mari speaks at major events around the world, and is passionate about training companies on Facebook marketing and social customer care. Find Mari on Twitter at @MariSmith.

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