How Retailers Can Use Social Media for Better Customer Support

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When shoppers want to discover products, they go to social media. When they want to research products, they go to social media. And when they want to complain about the products they’ve purchased, they go to social media. If brands and retailers want to be a part of these conversations, they need to get involved on social media, too.

Unfortunately, a new survey by the marketing agency Rational Interaction found that 92.5% of brands are failing to meet their customers’ social customer care expectations. On Twitter, for example, 67% of users have tweeted at a brand for customer service help, but 58% have never received a response. Customer support is even rarer on platforms like Snapchat and Instagram, where many companies have yet to devote resources for tracking and responding to inquiries.

Here are seven strategies for how brands and retailers can offer better customer support across all the social channels that their customers use.

1. Create a local presence. “Most chains and franchises have understood that they need to have a Facebook Page and an Instagram account to communicate through— but what most chains have yet to understand is the power of local on those platforms. And the power of local is two-fold. The customers are already there; they are acting local, as in searching for local deals, local information, sharing their visits on their locations and sharing their opinions about the place. The thing the chains and franchises have to do is to leverage that existing behavior by actually responding to ratings, reviews, photos taken and comments written on the local pages and venues.” (Petter Palander, PinMeTo)

2. Offer proactive support. “Brands should be using social channels not just for reactive, but also proactive support. Engaging people on a platform like Snapchat, and asking for product feedback and opinions, will uncover concerns before they ever spread to become widespread problems. Each social channel has its place in a customer service and support strategy. Twitter is ideal for rapid question and response. The user expects responses on Twitter in a relatively short period of time, no more than a few hours. Instagram works better for showcasing how customers are using your product, along with best practices. YouTube is where you would publish tutorials and helpful guides. Lately, Facebook Live has been popping up as a channel for ‘live’ shows from the brand, answering questioning and providing tips.” (Jonathan Davids, Influicity)

3. Aim to replicate the in-store experience. “Ideally, social media channels should replicate the experience of shopping in a store. Your immediate feedback to a tweet or post takes the place of a helpful sales rep. And if customers can’t usually buy a product via a social platform literally, they can at least buy into the brand by liking, following, and clicking links. Of course, literal purchases are sometimes feasible on Facebook, Pinterest, and Instagram, for example.” (Manpreet Singh, TalkLocal)

4. Choose speed over formality. “Customers expect near real-time responses from chains today. And you have to catch them while they’re in their ‘moment’. There’s a clear intent when a customer reaches out to you. They’re likely to make a purchase, but might wonder about a size or a color or availability. Whatever it might be, it’s something that holds them back from making the purchase and it’s important to respond as quickly as possible, no matter the platform. I also think that people prefer speed over formality these days and the platforms are moving to a more informal and speedy conversation rather than slow and formal, like email.” (Petter Palander, PinMeTo)

5. Engage customers through comments and reviews. “Social gives you an ideal outlet to have a casual conversation with your customers and potential customers and answer any questions or concerns they may have. Consumers are increasingly looking to social media to find information about a business and report any customer service issues. It’s also important to have a multi-platform strategy in place so your business is consistent across different social pages, but is still optimized for that platform and audience.” (Kris Barton, ReachLocal)

6. Let the method of outreach dictate the response. “The nature of your response should be influenced mostly by the nature of the customer’s outreach and the content of the message. For example, a general question made via a public message, mention, or posts should get a response that can become content—maybe with a snap that can then be downloaded and shared elsewhere on social media. However, you wouldn’t respond via video to a customer complaint. A negative interaction can easily go viral. Instead, you want to respond through messaging or—even better—by phone, because you want the correspondence to be as unshareable as possible.” (Manpreet Singh, TalkLocal)

7. Consider how people are using the platform. “The No. 1 consideration is: how are people already using this platform? For example, a local merchant could use Snapchat to introduce their new daily/weekly product highlights. That would be quick, highly-visual content which is how people are already using Snapchat Stories. On the other hand, Pinterest would be a good place to share a full seasonal collection, because customers want to take time to browse and discover these items. Sharing an entire collection on Snapchat would not work.” (Jonathan Davids, Influicity)

Stephanie Miles is a senior editor at Street Fight.


Stephanie Miles is a journalist who covers personal finance, technology, and real estate. As Street Fight’s senior editor, she is particularly interested in how local merchants and national brands are utilizing hyperlocal technology to reach consumers. She has written for FHM, the Daily News, Working World, Gawker, Cityfile, and Recessionwire.