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8 Rules When Using Social Media as a Support Channel

This past week, we published a guest post on Social Times about how B2B customers were turning to social media channels to express complaints and seek support. This week offer 8 rules for organizations looking to use social media as a support channel.

In-person meetings, telephone conversations and e-mail correspondence once sufficed for maintaining wholesome client relationships. Then came Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. And Focus. And Quora. And most recently, our very own Topliners.

The surge in the sheer number social media channels has given customers even more of a voice and has challenged companies to re-define these relationships.

As Joe  Chernov and Andrew Moravick highlight in 5 Ways to Turn Critics into Advocates and 3 Tips on How to Turn Negative Comments into Positive Results, customers are finding a voice through social media and, increasingly, using it as a support channel too, largely due to its ease of access. Tweeting a help request can take 3 less steps (loosely speaking) than sending an e-mail or dialling a support line. For a company as customer-centric as we are, this knowledge is invaluable. If that’s where our customers are, then that’s where we want to be.

If you’re thinking of using social media as a support channel, then there are some guidelines that emerge from speaking with startups and researching larger enterprises in the SaaS space.

Evaluate Your Demographic
If most of your customers are, for example, SMB’s with a conspicuous social media presence, then, as their vendor, adopting SM for support is likely already an unvoiced expectation. Companies who service  a clientele of larger and older organizations employing more traditional PR channels for public interactions, may have more wiggle room. A thorough evaluation of your target market and where they are will also provide insight into which social media channels you need to be on.

Always Close In Public
Go ahead and try describing a highly technical issue in 140 characters.

Exactly.

Not all social media channels lend themselves to technical support. Migrate conversations to more appropriate media when necessary. Remember, social media channels supplement, not replace, regular support channels. Once the issue has been resolved, return to the medium of origin and provide public closure. Bonus if you can insert a customer satisfaction plug here!

Flaunt it!
Once you have made the decision to join ‘em, flaunt it! Add links to all the channels you have adopted to your support page, other high traffic pages and email signatures. If you’re going to commit, you might as well be there in a big way.

Update That Status
Once social media has been established and accepted as a communication channel, leverage it to keep your customers in-the-know. Think like Twitter. Whether it’s temporary down-time or a company-wide meeting, let them know what you are up to.

Be Human
Brand’s can quickly lose credibility and loyalty when communication appears to be coming from a robot. People react to people. So, keep social interactions personable as well.

Pandora’s Box
The cost of starting a new support SM channel is minimal, so you don’t have to put all your eggs in one basket.  But once you make the decision to adopt, there’s no looking back. The social media-savvy population, by nature, are a passionate people. They may not demand you support through social media, but once you commit, retracting that commitment could ignite some fires.

Spell it Out in SLAs
The organic nature of social media and its applications can make this a slippery-when-wet situation. There are more grey areas than black or white. To protect your brand, provide full disclosure in Service Level Agreements – services provided through social media, timelines, response times, resolution times, exceptions, etc. If necessary, involve a lawyer in articulating SLA language.

Defining Roles
It’s not a Support Representative’s job to defend your brand. That responsibility remains vested with Marketing and/or Public Relations. Establish a healthy relationship and workflow between these departments so as to prevent duplicity of effort.

There are almost as many social monitoring platforms (Hootsuite, Co-Tweet, Xobni to name but a few) as there are social media channels. CRM systems like Salesforce.com already provide integration between Twitter and Call Center Support cases. This allows a Support department to measure volume and monetize investment in these platforms. Be sure to monitor, listen and respond.

Are you using social media as a support channel? What are the benefits and pitfalls you see in doing so? How have you educated your support team about social media?

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