Social media tips for small businesses to connect with customers

As consumers become more and more connected, the onus is on businesses to provide seamless customer service across multiple digital channels – from their shop floor to their Twitter feed. According to research from Vodafone’s Connected Nation report just 13% of consumers want to lodge a complaint or an issue in person, whereas new research from the Institute of Customer service indicates that 1 in 4 will use social media for complaints. While many companies use social to attract new customers – the way you use it to interact with existing customers is arguably even more important. Done right it can provide a faster, more efficient and more personalised service to customers – while building more mentions of your brand and reinforcing your brand’s tone of voice. Done wrong, or not all at, and bad experiences can spread like wildfire and damage your reputation.

Here are seven tips for small businesses thinking of harnessing the power of social media:

1. Understand where your customers are, and what they’re saying

Understand where your customers are talking about you – using social listening tools (find a list of top free ones here) to search for mentions of your brand within popular social sites. For most companies, Facebook and Twitter will be the primary focus for social care, but some brands may find that their customers also frequent Google+, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Instagram, or other social sites. Then, analyse the most common issues being talked about, and when people are talking about them, so you can start planning for appropriate resources and responses.

2. Prioritise when to get involved

Depending on the amount of activity across your social channels, and your available resources, you may not be able to respond to every post mentioning your brand.

Highest priority issues to deal with will be:
• Complaints from dissatisfied customers
• Issues that affect many users or could raise a potential PR crisis
• Direct technical or account-related questions

3. Be proactive – when you can add value

Set up alerts across your key channels so that you’re aware of potential issues as they come up. A sentiment tool such as Trackur can analyse positive and negative mentions. But even as you monitor, know that not every mention – or even every complaint – is an invitation to enter a conversation. Develop a sense of empathy and understanding of the context of the conversation first – is it a conversation with friends? A chance to vent? Only engage when you can truly deliver value.

4. Avoid the funnel – respond in the same channel…

When customers are upset, they want to be heard, and posting to social media is the perfect way for them to do so. There may be occasions where a conversation should remain private. But in most cases, it’s best to respond to issues publicly on the same channel – otherwise, people feel like they are being sent through a mechanical series of hoops, which leaves them with an alienated, impersonal feeling. And, not only does it help other shoppers with similar issues, it also shows the community how well you handle the situation and that you can be trusted.

5. …And make it fast

Close to half of consumers expect a response within an hour of posting an issue on social – so timeliness is critical. Even if you can’t answer right away, it’s important to acknowledge the customer and give him/her a timeframe for your full response.
And, if you can’t provide a 24 hour customer service, make sure your social media profiles state your operating hours clearly.

6. Be real

It’s easy to feel like an insignificant speck in a sea of social media, but your customers need to know that they’re not. They want to know that their issue is as important to you as it is to them. Beyond speed, the key to delivering great customer service on social media is to be personal and empathetic in your response. Social media gives you the ability to think carefully about your reply and speak in a casual and conversational voice that reinforces your brand. Simple phrases like “I hear you” or “I’m sorry” can quickly transform a conversation and begin to build a real relationship. If you’ve made a mistake, then own up to it. You could also let different people in the company sign their tweets and show their human side.

7. Follow up post interaction for added engagement

Following up with your customer is fast and easy. If you managed to resolve the problem with a quick answer, you can immediately ask whether or not the interaction was helpful. If it wasn’t, you have an opportunity to take further action—rather than forcing the customer through another round of calling or emailing. If it was helpful, you have a publicly visible follow-up interaction that ends on a positive note.
You can also make a note to follow up a few days later with a private message to make sure the customer is still satisfied.