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SAN DIEGO -- One of the biggest changes to businesses brought on by social media is the way companies handle customer service.
Prior to social networks like Facebook and Twitter, the ways consumers could provide feedback to businesses were limited to either the powerful, but narrow-in-scope, word of mouth, or making the effort to call or email a company, unsure of whether or not the problem would be solved.
With the growth of social media, consumers discovered the power they now controlled by being able to praise or condemn a business based on their satisfaction. This new tool for consumers led to a new challenge for companies to provide social media customer service to its customers.
"Customers have a voice louder than ever before," said Shep Hyken, a customer service and experience expert and owner of Shepard Presentations LLC in St. Louis.
Speaking at the Social Media Marketing World conference, Hyken explained how customers' voices have been amplified with social media, going from reaching maybe a dozen people with traditional word-of-mouth feedback to now having the ability to reach thousands or potentially millions of people when praising or criticizing a brand.
With this tremendous power that customers have at their fingertips, it's up to companies to be prepared with a social media strategy and not only react to concerns, but also be proactive in providing social media customer service.
"Social media is the only marketing channel where people can talk back," said Dan Gingiss, a marketing and customer experience expert and author of Winning at Social Customer Care, speaking to conference attendees at another session around social media customer service. "Customers can't converse with a TV; they can't talk to a billboard. People want to have a relationship with your company, so have a relationship back."
'Be available to your customers'
According to research from Bain & Company provided by Hyken, when brands respond to customer service requests over social media, those customers spend on average 20% to 40% more. On the flip side of that data, roughly 90% of social media messages to companies go ignored. Additionally, the average response time for a social media post from a company is nine hours, according to Hyken.
Shep Hykencustomer service and experience expert at Shepard Presentations
That's why it's vital to establish a social media strategy to properly deal with social media posts either praising or critiquing a company.
Gingiss outlined a framework to help establish a social media strategy and address comments or concerns from customers on social media.
"No. 1 is to be available to your customers," Gingiss said. "If you're an airline that runs 24 hours, you better be available 24 hours. If you’re a mom-and-pop shop that's open 10 to 4, you don't need to be available 24 hours, but your audience should know when you are available."
Align marketing and customer service
And while there has been a substantial effort for companies to better align marketing and sales departments, the rise of social media marketing calls for the coming together of marketing and service.
"Our marketing is interrupting people's feeds," Gingiss said. "What it's doing is reminding customers we may have a problem with this company. If you're not talking with your customer service team, they don't know what you're marketing, and they may not be ready to deal with an onslaught."
Another valuable component that could arise out of social media criticism is companies can learn from the problems and complaints and improve the customer experience.
"All the complaints you get, use that for feedback," Hyken said. "You can eliminate those moments of misery."
Gingiss, who previously worked for Discover as head of digital customer experience and social media, said the company often found out about problems from customers via Twitter.
"At Discover, we found out more than once that our site was down from Twitter," Gingiss said. "Don't be afraid of complaints. They are not your enemy. The people you need to be afraid of are the people who didn't like your experience and moved on to your competitor without ever telling you. People who come to complain care enough about your company that they want you to fix it."
'Customer service is a spectator sport'
Customers will typically go out of their way to complain about an experience or product more than they will to praise an experience. But in those times that a customer decides their experience was worth telling the world, it's a tremendous opportunity for companies to turn that social media customer service into a good thing.
"I can't believe how many brands ignore people that compliment them," Gingiss said. "Even a simple like or retweet will go a long way if -- for some reason -- you can't respond."
In his session, Hyken echoed that point, quoting fellow customer experience expert Jay Baer about the power of social media interactions between brands and customers.
"Social media customer service is a spectator sport," Hyken said, referring to Baer's session from the previous year's conference. "The best companies aren't just reactive; they are prepared on both sides and are proactive."
By being prepared with a social media strategy and always interacting with customers -- both in praise and criticism -- a company can improve sales, provide better customer service and create superior marketing.
"Everything that happens in our lives can be recorded and shared on social media -- we're not going back to a day where we have offline experiences," Gingiss said. "And we as marketers and service people on social media have to be ready for that."