Blog post

Social customer service – key trend for 2017

Annmarie Hanlon, Senior Lecturer in Digital Marketing, explores how customer service via social media will evolve in 2017.

By Annmarie Hanlon - 6 February 2017

2017 will see an increase in all things social. Social customer service will increase and, while businesses use social media to gain more likes, shares and views, customers often use social media when something goes wrong.

Businesses wonder why customers take to social media, but it's often easier to get a response via Twitter or Facebook than via email, in store or on the phone.

Twitter and Facebook now illustrate whether the company will respond and, if yes, how quickly (or slowly) a company's typical response time is likely to be.

Facebook is a popular place to vent steam and there are different approaches to managing complaints. Let's explore these examples to understand why some companies succeed at managing social customer service and others add more fuel to the fire, as well as the future of social customer service via chatbots.

How to manage complaints via social media

The UK retailer M&S has had a lot of experience managing complaints online. A few years ago, when they spent £150 million on a new website, they forgot to tell customers that they needed new passwords and a firestorm occurred.

Masses of customers took to social media to complain about the website and this resulted in business losses with the senior team attributing this directly to the website.

Today they've changed their approach. M&S's three methods of managing their social customer service are:

Make it personal

It's so easy to get more annoyed with 'the team', whereas when a real person's name is added, such as Matt or Jeanette, it is harder to become angry at an individual. Adding names takes away some of the irritation as it becomes personal. Not all companies do this, for example, Benefit Cosmetics simply sign off with kisses.

Demonstrate sympathy in social customer complaints

The most powerful words required in a complaint: "I'm sorry". As soon as these words are published, there is often less anger as the company have apologised, which is often the key factor in a complaint.

Provide a resolution to the social customer complaint

You could request a private message to provide the resolution: "I can get a refund out to you". At this stage the issue is closed.

How not to manage social customer service

Not all companies manage social media customer service so well.

Top mistakes can include:

Getting angry with the customer

Getting angry never works and adding comments like "we're all humans here!" might make the staff feel better, but it fails to help the customer and it's in a very public space.

Failing to provide a resolution

Comments like "I'm about to get in touch" or "I'm working through the messages" makes the company seem incompetent. It would be better to say: "So sorry to hear this, I'll personally sort this out today for you."

Not using the profanity filter

Facebook company pages have a profanity filter. Set it to strong and add in other offensive or inappropriate words customers might use. This will get them to re-word their posts so they are suitable for the rest of the customer base.

The future is Chatbots

Many brands are managing their social customer service well and this is set to increase in 2017 with the rise of chatbots.

We are all used to simulated human voices. Whether it's asking Siri or listening to instructions from your sat nav, what's changed is the rise of the conversational chatbots.

When you send a chat or text message to a company, there's a good chance the response is formulated via artificial intelligence. Facebook Messenger has opened the doors to companies seeking ways to deliver relevant information to customers at a time that suits them.

For example, CNN will deliver daily news, based on your interests. Just add a few words, it will predict what you're seeking, refine the offer and, hey presto, regular information when wanted.

While Facebook Messenger is one platform, sales of Amazon's Echo peaked over Christmas and many use their Echo to play music or change TV channels. However, the killer application is the ability to shop via voice.

All the big players are on board and Google is building a new chatbot system. Microsoft has announced the future of search is "conversation as a platform".

These types of robots can harness artificial intelligence based on semantic search to provide faster results for customers. They will also feature in the next wave of social customer service, as I instruct my Echo to "complain to ASOS about the delivery not arriving on Monday as promised".

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About the author

Annmarie Hanlon
Senior Lecturer in Digital Marketing

Annmarie Hanlon is a consultant and lecturer in digital marketing and social media. Starting in 1999, when she worked in ‘internet marketing’, she has worked on digital marketing strategy and planning projects in sectors including legal and financial services, software and IT, communications, advertising, media, health and leisure.