Tips and tricks for interacting with customers on social media

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The four social media CRM best practices you should know

As social media begins to play a larger role in customer interactions, social media CRM best practices are an increasing must-have for any organization trying to keep up.

The customer may always be right in a brick-and-mortar business, but in a sea of social media posts and tweets,...

how can a B2B or B2C company ascertain which voice deserves the most immediate attention and deference? How does your business answer and placate virtual customers who, if not satisfied, can embarrass your brand before a larger audience?

There are many social media CRM best practices you can follow. But several experts and business leaders suggest that, before establishing any strategy, organizations should first determine which channels their customers use, and not just simply choose a platform for technology's sake.

1. Narrow it down to a few channels

"There has been an explosion of touch points where companies can interact with customers," said Ian Jacobs, a Forrester analyst. "There's voice, chat, self-service, texts, social media and video. So the question starting out isn't, 'Where should I start?' but rather, 'Where do my customers want me to start?' They'll lead you to the appropriate channel."

This decision is critical because the style and functionality of a social media platform can dictate the types of conversations you'll have, he added. For example, Facebook Messenger has more than a billion users and would seem like an ideal place to reach a lot of customers. But if your company's communications with customers require a high level of trust and need to meet regulatory standards, then Messenger, no matter how popular, won't fit your needs.

Once you've chosen the social media channels that suit your brand, consider that the rules of engagement for social media CRM aren't yet mature or universal. Years' worth of honed and established customer engagement practices from call centers haven't transferred well to social CRM, according to Gartner analyst Jenny Sussin.

That's largely because, for many organizations, the customer service team is not the one handling social engagement. The social marketing team is actually on the front lines.

2. Routing customer complaints is crucial

"Marketing will get a customer complaint and do a screenshot, for example, and send it to the customer support team," Sussin said. Meanwhile, customers wait for informative responses, which may not be quick enough for customers. "Best practices fell by the wayside in the early years of social CRM."

But some companies are starting to realize social media needs to be front and center with other CRM responsibilities, Jacobs said. They have moved the customer service and social marketing teams closer together. With this setup, customer service representatives get the first glimpse at customers' social output and decide which matters warrant their attention. They'll send outright marketing messages, such as a customer's proclaimed love for a product, to marketing employees.

Best practices fell by the wayside in the early years of social CRM.
Jenny Sussinanalyst, Gartner

Jacobs recommends that companies facing a high volume of customer social output should leave responses to customer service specialists who can offer solutions with confidence and company backing. Social media generalists aren't equipped or empowered to speak specifically about issues, so their backlog of unresolved posts from unsatisfied customers can grow fast.

Technology can help, especially for companies faced with monitoring and responding to a large number of posts. Social media listening tools can establish rules to search for terms that accompany references to the brand and make those posts a priority, Sussin said. Companies with a large number of social media mentions can assign as many as three people to categorize flagged posts and move them to queues that correspond to whichever actions have been mapped out.

This prioritization is like an "old-school flow chart of governance," Sussin added.

Companies looking to streamline the process should prioritize based on staffing, customer engagement expectations and whatever threshold they have for being mentioned in a public forum.

3. Crafting a response strategy

The size of a company often shapes the prioritization of responses. A midsize restaurant with food delivery service will probably want to offer a quick apology and a coupon to a customer who uses social media to complain about his dinner arriving two hours late, Sussin said.

A list of examples of social CRM

But if a traveler tweets "Delta, you're the worst," that kind of venting is not a priority because there's no context, and a company of Delta's size won't live or die by not replying. A tweet about lost luggage, however, should trigger a near-immediate reply from the airline.

Replies can be automated to initially verify acknowledgment of an issue, but a thoughtful and informative follow-up written by a human is always the safest and surest practice, Sussin said.

"It's hard to do social media with automation," she said. "You can look at every response a company has sent, and if it's automated, you'll see the same canned response one out of every three posts. Now that's frustrating for customers who can't get through. You have to be careful with that."

Ultimately, companies have to treat their social media rules the same way they would their business rules, Jacobs said. Many restaurants ensure they have available tables for celebrities. The same holds true for social media. If Beyonce, who has more than 15 million Twitter followers, tweets directly at companies, many of them will reply immediately, treating the singer differently than other customers. Defining your social media rules means determining whether a reply to Beyonce is weighted the same as one to ordinary Joe Flannelshirt from New Hampshire.

4. Next steps for refining social media CRM

Most companies are now in a defined phase of social media CRM, Sussin said. They're measuring social and trying to respond, but they're not yet ready for the next level: social defined by a cohesive multichannel strategy.

Dayglo Ventures believes it has reached that level. The New York-based company owns live music venues such as Brooklyn Bowl and The Capitol Theatre and holds events such as the four-day Lockn' Festival in Virginia. Dayglo has teams of as many as five employees managing social media and email in real-time before, during and after shows and big events.

Those teams try to address all social complaints, either in a public response or private message, and it has a do not delete policy if staff-generated replies fail to hit the mark.

"We won't hide problems," said Jonathan Healey, vice president of Dayglo Ventures' marketing and digital strategy. Just about the only social complaint Dayglo won't address is a music fan's subjective criticism of a show's music lineup.

The company chose not to automate its social media CRM because "we believe in authenticity and a one-on-one touch with our audience, and that means you have to take time for them," he said.

Healey recommends that companies follow suit.

"If it's in the budget, staff up rather than automate," he said. "Social media needs to have someone on that other side, and when there isn't, people know it because of the tone of voice. It doesn't sound authentic."

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