For brands, having a presence on social media has become expected and necessary to thrive. Setting up that Twitter handle or Facebook page is relatively easy, and then you put out some content and do some paid media and try hard to stay relevant for your customers, which gets harder, and then there’s this content calendar and yayy, … now people are responding to you! Wait.. uh oh.. they’re asking questions. Am I supposed to answer all these?
Yes, this feeling can be overwhelming. And to be honest, the answer really is different for every brand and every budget. But let me share a scenario with you.
Close your eyes. Imagine a retail store. It’s bright, shiny and clean. Employees are smiling and all dressed in crisp polo shirts with the company’s logo and they look all well-polished. A customer walks up to the counter and says to the man behind the counter “Hey, I’ve got a question about this here. Can you help me?” The employee, still smiling, sporting logo, stares silently, blinking at the customer. (ummm, awkward.) So, the customer tries again, “Sorry, maybe you didn’t hear me. Can you help me?” More blinking. Another customer walks up next to the first customer and says “I need to pay my bill.” The employee behind the counter turns to the second customer and says, “Certainly, I’m happy to help you with that, follow me.”
What just happened? Well, if you’re the first customer, what just happened was you lost all faith in that expensive, shiny store front and that logo that was attached to the chest of the employee who completely ignored you, that’s what just happened. If you’re the second customer, what just happened is an increased uncertainty about whether you will or will not be able to have your needs met at the store, because though you were helped, clearly the first customer was not. And, if you’re the employee, you probably felt slightly embarrassed that your face is attached to the logo that helped one person but not another. Wow, that’s a lot of feelings we just talked about.
How does this translate to social media customer support? Imagine you’re on Twitter, tweeting merrily, and you realize that your new tablet case has a defect and the fabric cover is peeling away from the plastic shell. “Dang, I just bought this!” you think. Then, realizing you’re already on Twitter, put faith in the universe and tweet out to the company, “help! my tablet case is defective.” You wait for a little bird to bring you a reply. Instead, crickets. You wait more. Nothing. So, you go to the company’s twitter page and you see that tweets after yours are being answered, tweets about “love this new pattern!” and “thanks for sponsoring our fun run!” receive “glad you like it!” and “hey, we love to help the community!” Well, what about you? You are a paying customer, you know, and… and well nobody’s listening to you! There’s the translation.
Both scenarios have to do with a lack of clarity around what the customer can expect from your company. The original intent of social media was to provide a space where people could interact socially. Businesses saw this as an opportunity to connect with consumers and convert them to customers, and many have had marked success. Customers have found this a convenient space to transact business. But not answering customers or answering only occasionally trains them that, though you have a presence on social, you are not fully able to transact business on social. It’s like a false storefront. So, what do you do? Set clear expectations with your customers. Decide whether you want to only be present on social, or whether you want to transact business on social media and make that your strategy. If you are a large business, you probably have the resources to staff people to answer inquiries either during certain hours or 24×7, whichever your audience demands. If you’re a small business and can’t afford staff but still want to transact socially, there are companies out there that will offer support services to you where they answer customers. It’s not a one-size-fits-all approach by any means. The important thing is to develop a strategy and clearly set customer expectations, so they are sure of what they can and can’t do. Can’t afford to respond on social media? No problem. Just let your customers know what they can expect from you on social, and show them where they can go to get their needs met.