Customers: They Are Your Monkeys

Serve Your Customers Socially, Even in Messy Situations

TL;DR (Too Long; Didn’t Read) Post Highlights

Brands should see social customer service not just as a responsibility and a privilege, but for the opportunity it represents.

4 brand opportunities for customer service on social media:

  • Resolve and Defuse
  • Answer Questions and Comments
  • Monitor and Thank
  • Active Listening and Outreach

Recently we talked about how to deal with FOMO and the feeling of being overwhelmed by social media. You don’t have to do it all. You don’t have to see it all or amplify it all.

But, You Do Have to Respond.

You have to respond promptly, politely, and properly to all comments, questions, concerns, complaints.

Yes, even to the trolls.

Social Media Customer Service: Trolls Gotta Eat Too

Remember that story from a few years ago, which resulted in the hit viral video and song “United Breaks Guitars“?

I’d skipped the video until I was preparing this post. It’s worth the watch, you guys, especially the chalk outline and the funeral for that poor lost Taylor guitar.

More to the point, it turned out to be worth more than 15 million watches. This incident is now codified in “Social Media History” and has been cited in HBR case studies and trade lore ever since.

Here’s Upwork with the takeaway lesson:

This PR snafu could have been avoided with a bit more delicate care and a quicker response on United’s part, but it underscores just how important it is for companies to take social media, and the power these platforms give customers, very seriously.

In another time and place, a celebrated German-language poet gave us almost exactly this same model for dealing with trolls:

Perhaps all the dragons in our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us act, just once, with beauty and courage. Perhaps everything that frightens us is, in its deepest essence, something helpless that wants our love.

~ Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet

Let me tell you about a time where I played the troll.

I was the fire-breathing dragon. I was mad as heck at American Airlines and I wasn’t going to take it anymore.

With prompt TLC from their social media desk, my hangry troll-dragon-self got fed and I became a princess once more. Er um, a brand advocate for American Airlines.

(With regard to feeding of trolls, it reminds me of those those Snickers commercials, “You’re not you when you’re hungry.”)

First Opportunity: Resolve and Defuse

Why ever was I mad at American Airlines, you ask?

Here’s the backstory.

I was going to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, to figure out what was wrong with me. (I’m fine. Don’t worry. Stay with the story.) I had been told that most carriers offer discounted flights for Mayo patients.

I’ll let my tweet stream take it from there. (You’ll note from the timestamps that I type real fast.)

To recap, while I was still on hold with the 1-800 number, American Airlines interactive voice response (IVR) system, I was able to purchase discounted tickets to Rochester.

All thanks to the Twitterer at @AmericanAir. Saved me time. Saved me hundreds of dollars. Saved me energy for all the other chores I had left.

As you can see, ten days later, I was still singing their praises publicly on the social channels and to any Mayo administrator who asked anything conversational, like, “Where are you visiting from? Did you have a good flight?”

I told anybody who would listen. And, now I’m telling you.

That is an example of social customer service par excellence.

And, why it pays off.

Let’s look at some other companies who serve their customers well on social media. And how!

Second Opportunity: Answer Questions, Mentions, and Comments

You know who’s really good at this?

HootSuite and LinkedIn. After all, they’re in the social space. All day e’ryday.

Here are a few of my personal favorite interchanges I’ve had with them over the years.

From HootSuite, in the last days of 2012:

HootSuite Responds Well to Social Mentions

One user posted a question to her public and didn’t tag HootSuite, just mentioned them.

I thought I knew the answer — apparently, that’s a thing with me. Plus, I tagged them because I knew how Johnny-on-the-spot their social help desk is.

Bingo bango, they popped into our “private” conversation, excused themselves for intruding, answered the question to hand, and wished us a Happy New Year! How on the ball are they!

From LinkedIn, a couple of summers ago:

LinkedInHelp Does a Great Job of Social Service

Sometimes social media channels and other software-as-a-service (SaaS) goes down. If it’s really down, you’ll usually see a flurry on the social channel of your choice with users asking if anybody else has noticed an outage. The above is a fun exchange with the crew at LinkedInHelp, giving a clinic on social customer service.

Third Opportunity: Monitor and Thank

The previous examples show users asking questions, directly or indirectly, of a brand.

But users don’t always ask questions. They certainly don’t always take the time to ferret out your brand’s social handle so as to make you aware of their commentary.

That’s why brands use all manner of monitoring and listening tools, from highly-trained personnel (not interns) to Google Alerts to enterprise-level SaaS that finds, tracks, stacks, and deciphers all the mentions that a brand gets on the interwebs.

It slices, it dices, and it never loses its sharp edge! Wow!

Here’s my favorite example of a brand “monitoring and thanking,” or as we used to call it, “just a good pick up.”

From Zillow, this fall:

I don’t know what systems Zillow’s got running on the back end or what their social media department’s “dashboard” looks like, but one fine day I shared this gorgeous house to my Twitter feed.

They must get pinged every time somebody shares one of their houses (links). I was tickled to receive their quick response:

Having worked for so many years on their side of the social media desk — and we’ll get to that shortly — I thanked them right away.

And, as they say, one thing led to another…

I’ll spare you the subsequent tweets where I get alternately weepy and Whovian. It’s not germane here.

Anyway, we’re like besties now.

As promised, the last brand opportunity within social customer service comes from my time behind the Twitter desk.

Fourth Opportunity: Active Listening and Outreach

For a time in the early 20-teens, I was the social media department at the Himalayan Institute. You may have heard of them as the publisher of print and online magazine, Yoga International.

You may have heard of them from Oprah. After all, they’re the originators of the ceramic neti pot here in the States.

When her audience all got a neti pot to take home that day, the Oprah bump generated substantial funds for the Institute’s Humanitarian Projects. Yay!

One of My Favorite Things

Actively listening to the public and reaching out — with gifts! — just like Oprah!

It’s a powerful way to develop relationships with your existing community and grow your sphere of influence.

That sounds frilly and nice, but what does it mean?

Okay, here’s how it works.

You snoop a little.

I had neti pots to sell.
You have widgets.
Or services.
Or whatever.

I looked for people who need neti pots.
You look for people who need your stuff.

How did I know they needed neti pots?
I searched on allergies, sinus infections, headaches, rhinitis, coughing, sniffling, sneezing, you know.

When I found people complaining about these, I checked them out. Yup, I creeped. I looked at how many followers they had, how active they were, if they were anywhere near our target demographic.

If they looked “promising,” I’d reach out as the brand, much like Zillow did with me, and, well, chat ’em up.

If that went well, I’d ask in a private message for their address so we could send them a little get-well gift.

Then I’d clear it with my boss, run down to shipping, wrap it up with pretty paper, include a handwritten note on branded stationery, and make like Santa.

Unboxing the Pink Neti

All with the hopes that they’d “like” us, like it, tell their friends, “unbox” it on a social channel, and think fondly of us ever after.

Your Turn: How Do You Do Social Customer Service?

And, if you’re not yet doing it, how can you start?

Here are some ideas:

  • When someone asks your brand a question on a social channel, do you answer right away? Even if you don’t know the answer, give them a quick reply to that effect. “That’s a great question. We’re tracking down an answer for you right now.”
  • Have you set up alerts or recurring searches in your brand’s social accounts so that you will be aware when your brand is invoked? If someone is complaining about a service they received or a defective product, reply and resolve their issues ASAP. If someone is bragging about what a nice time they had at your place of business, amplify that. Share it with your audience, if appropriate. Or simply say how glad you are to hear it and can’t wait to see them next time.
  • Do you actively engage in the communities online where people talk about the things you talk about? Not to sell, but to listen, participate, give advice, share know-how, become a trusted resource.

These are just a few examples and ideas of how you can grow your brand meaningfully and fruitfully by being of service on social media. We’d love it if you shared your favorites in the comments below. Then we can all grow our practice.


Image credits

Featured image: Flickr user, Chris Makarsky, License: Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

Trolls Gotta Eat, Too: Flickr user, Eirik Solheim, License: Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

Pink Neti Pot: Suzanne M. Hoenig

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Suzanne Hoenig is a strategist and writer helping small businesses, nonprofits, and private practitioners craft their marketing copy, grow their online and offline community, and navigate the changing tides of social media and digital content marketing.
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