Any business owner who doesn’t think it’s necessary for their business to have a customer service presence on social media need only to witness the $180 million fallout experienced by United Airlines in the wake of the YouTube video “United Breaks Guitars.” In 2008, musician Dave Carroll was traveling on a United Airlines flight when his $3,500 guitar was damaged by United’s baggage handlers. After nine months of going back and forth with the airline, they rejected his claim for damages and denied all responsibility. In response, Carroll wrote “United Breaks Guitars” and posted it on YouTube; the song currently has more than 12 million views. This video quickly became a cautionary tale for companies that are reluctant to acknowledge the impact social media can have on a business and slow to incorporate it into their customer service strategy.
And sometimes it’s your employees who are making your company look bad via social media. A Price Chopper employee, after reading a tweet that criticized the supermarket chain, saw the tweet, tracked down the tweeter, and contacted his employer asking that he be disciplined. The dispute went viral, which resulted in a lot of bad press about Price Chopper.
In order to avoid a social media disaster, the best course of action is to take steps to prevent it from happening in the first place. People use social media channels to make complaints, praise companies, start discussions, or indulge in mudslinging matches. These social media communications have changed the way people seek out services and products and make buying decisions. Companies are faced with the challenge of having everything they say and do be exposed to the online world. Customer interactions used to be one-on-one; now, they are one-on-many.
Your customers are on social media sites and they’re talking about you. What kind of stories are they telling? Treat your customers well and they will encourage others to buy from you. Treat them poorly and they can ruin your business. The choice is yours.
How do you get the stories your customers are telling to be good ones? Here’s what to do to avoid a disaster between customer service and social media:
1. Create customer services standards and communicate them to your employees
This should include how to answer the phone, how to greet customers when they come into your business, how to address inquiries, and how to handle complaints. When it comes to social media, it’s important to use the same professionalism and empathy that you would when dealing with a customer in person or over the phone. To a customer, every interaction they have with your company carries the same weight.
2. Empower your employees to think and act like owners of the company
Give your employees guidelines and responsibility to serve the customer as if they owned the company. Review typical customer service scenarios with your staff and provide them with guidelines on how they should be handled, whether in a face-to-face situation or on social media sites. Tell them that they are representing the brand and that it’s critical that they be professional at all times, even when the customer isn’t.
3. Be where your customers are and monitor what they are saying
Until you know which websites and social media platforms your customers are using, it’s important to have a presence on the most popular ones. Setting up Google Alerts as well as using social media monitoring site Social Mention are good ways to monitor where customers are talking about your company. You can find out what sites your customers are frequenting this way and then establish a presence there. Once you’ve done that, monitor what they are saying about your company. There are many free and paid platforms that you can use, depending on the social media site, such as HubSpot, HootSuite, PageLever, and Twitter Counter.
4. Pay attention to your customers and really listen to what they are writing to you and about your company
Because your responses over social media platforms will not only be viewed by the customer that has a complaint, but also by everyone else that is following that person and your brand, it’s important to publicly take responsibility for a problem, apologize, and then take steps to resolve the problem.
5. Walk in your customer’s shoes
If a customer is contacting you via social media to resolve a problem, chances are they have already tried to contact you using traditional methods and have been unsuccessful. If you were the customer, how would you be feeling? While your employees may not always agree with the customer, your customer’s perspective is what matters. Your employees have been customers before and have probably been in situations where they had a problem with a company. At one point or another, they probably lost their cool and acted poorly when trying to get a problem resolved. Remind your employees how they felt when that happened to them, and recognize that their customer is now feeling that same way. Tell your employees to let the customer vent. When they are done, have the employee tell them what they are going to do to fix the problem.
6. Be proactive in responding to customer’s questions and complaints
Randi Busse is the president of Workforce Development Group, Inc., a training organization focused on improving the customer experience. For more information, visit www.workdevgroup.com.