First step in your social media strategy: Empower your customer

How should brands tackle the myriad of social media options to improve their customer service? That was the topic of a Yomego report which has been uploaded on to the Marketing Industry Network website for the benefit of members.

Through less official mediums such as online communities, forums, Facebook and Twitter, it seems that customers are much more willing to tell a brand exactly what they think about them. These raw, unedited, unrestrained opinions garnered from social media sources mean that customers effectively become an extension of marketing departments – their feedback now pivotal to the provision of customer services.

Social media specialist Yomego has accordingly put together a whitepaper examining the phenomenon of the empowered consumer, urging brands to embrace criticism, engage with their detractors, set up and manage their own social communities, and track the impact these communities can have on their reputation.

The report points to the influential social customer that has emerged as social media platforms further strengthen an already powerful presence in the marketer’s landscape: the personal recommendation. Costing nothing and carrying more kudos than a barrow-load of banner ads, these trusted referrals have been made easier by social media tools and consumers are now able to share experiences with extended friends’ networks, as well as ask for and offer help, advice and tips with regards to purchasing decisions.

It is inevitable that someone somewhere will be using social media to talk about your brand, so it makes sense therefore to create a social media strategy to address customer service issues.

The first step in this social media strategy should be the empowering of your customer. While creating a customer community may well be a bold move, it can lead to customers helping each other with common problems as well as supply the brand with a wealth of feedback and ideas, all the while creating a sense of honesty which will be rewarded with customer loyalty.

Yomego describes the customer community as “a way of communicating a single message to multiple customers (a service announcement, for example), and if any questions can’t be answered straight away, a live chat function accessible from the site, or a ‘direct message’ function means the customer gets their problem resolved straight away.”

The main benefit however is the insight afforded to brands into what their customers think. The brand can watch discussions about products and services unfold, or even involve customers in product development.

In creating a culture of openness, however, the fear of criticism has to be overcome and all feedback embraced. The same negative sentiments will be expressed regardless, so it is always best to have this happen in a controlled environment where you are primed to respond and learn from the experience.

The main tools identified for building a customer service community are: an open customer forum, where customers can exchange ideas, discuss issues and help each other with common problems (this should be moderated, but uncensored); a chat function, to provide instant one-to-one support for specific issues; FAQs where most common issues can be resolved from (checking the customer forum for common issues, and updating the FAQs regularly); the option to connect with a customer service rep over another platform, direct from the site, such as DM on Twitter, email and ‘call me’ options; and incentive schemes to stimulate the community and reward positive contributors, such as voucher schemes, loyalty cards or product / service upgrades.

Take the social media challenge

Have you got an easy-to-use and well designed site?

You don’t want to end up with the online equivalent of the ‘for customer service, press one… your call is important to us’ automated voice message.

Do you have the resource to manage a customer service community?It takes time and effort, so you need to be committed to the community if they’re to commit to you.

Are you ready to hear what your customers are going to say?

Don’t censor negative comments: it will cancel out any warm feeling of trust you’ve gone to so much effort to create.

Can you Listen and respond, quickly?

Make sure that the people running the customer service on the community have the authority to make decisions. Don’t give this role to the intern.

Will you Reward valuable contributors?

Grant VIP status, or vouchers or reward points to those who most help the community and contributing regularly.

If you get it wrong will you admit it, apologise and move on?

We all make mistakes – it’s how we deal with them that sticks.

Are you prepared for the long haul?

This is not a marketing gimmick, nor a straightforward promotional activity.

Do you expect the community to replace all other customer service functions?

Give customers a choice about how they communicate with you.

Will you Integrate your community with other social media tools?

Monitor conversations about your brand across other channels, and let your customers choose over which channel they want to communicate with you.

Will you track the impact your community has had on your brand’s reputation online?

Measure the impact of the community by carrying out a social media reputation audit.

Will you Personalise your responses?

Personalising suggestions, recommendations and responses to customers within the community can go a long way to driving loyalty.

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