Between call centres and endless phone menus, it's no surprise more of us turn to social media when we need customer service. Some companies are responsive . . . others, not so much. Getting the best, fastest help over social media is part art and part science. Here are some tips to get the best results, from someone who helps people over social media for a living.
Getting the attention of a company on Twitter or Facebook is usually as easy as sending them a Facebook message, posting to their wall, or using their Twitter handle. Those things work well enough. However, getting good help -- that is, finding someone with the power to actually solve your problem -- takes more than just @-mentions and wall posts.
Raevyn Wallace manages social media for a living, and handles customer service over Twitter, Facebook, and other channels as well. (Full disclosure: she is also my girlfriend.) I talked to her about her experiences, how those companies handle the influx of @-replies, wall posts, comments and messages, and how you can make sure your problem gets addressed quickly.
Remember These Rules
There's more to getting the best customer service than just leaving a complaint asking for help. When I asked Wallace if there were any specific tips that would help everyone get the best possible service over social media, she gave me six simple, concrete rules:
- Be nice
- Be genuine
- Be informed and ready (we can look up your details, but that takes time away from helping you)
- Be prepared to take it offline
- Be persistent
- Use all social platforms
In short, many of the same rules that apply to other avenues of customer service apply here as well. Your tone and approach count for a lot, and it's important to remember there's another person on the other end of that screen -- a human being, just like you. Odds are that person wants to help, but you have to give them the information they need to do it.
Be prepared to take the conversation to direct messages or email. It may feel like the company is trying to shuffle you away from public view, but often they need personal information (phone number, account number, answers to security questions) that they can't ask for in public. Plus, no company wants visitors to their page or profile to see nothing but a huge troubleshooting session with one person. It looks like they're doing damage control, even if someone is just asking a routine question.
Also, Wallace explained, if you're not getting answers on one network, try another. Twitter's silent? Go to Facebook. No one there? Head to Google+, or Instagram. Anywhere the company has a presence, there's no harm in posting a comment or question asking "Hey, I have a problem with X. Can anyone help me?"
Direct Communication Works Best
If you're serious about getting help with your problem, reply directly to the company's account, send them a Facebook message, or leave a post on their wall. It may seem obvious, but I frequently see people @-replying a company in the middle of a contextless complaint, or worse, not actually using their account name at all (aka, subtweeting). I've also seen other people mention companies they're having trouble with in their private Facebook posts, or in long comment threads -- places that the company likely can't leave a response or may not see.
The people who get the fastest, most accurate replies are the ones who reach out directly, and have the information they need for the rep behind the screen to look up their information and work on their problem. Try to make your tweet or Facebook message as informative as possible. Don't waste characters on snark. It may be tempting to vent, but every character counts, and brevity is as important as completeness. Wallace explained:
I personally prefer taking care of surface questions or small problems that don't need identifying information in public. Answering light questions and taking care of easy problems act as kind of an FAQ for observers and can often educate everyone while helping someone else. Plus the banter that can result is awesome.
For anything substantive, reach out directly. If all else fails and you're still not getting the help you need it is more than OK to keep posting to social media and creating cases/sending emails to get the attention you need. If whoever you're talking to has a series of humans manning social media and if it's shift based, trying again later might get you to someone who is more proactive.
Also, your tone and approach are really important. Be nice, be firm, and don't give up. Heck, the nicer and more unguarded you are the more likely you are to get attention if you keep poking at their social accounts. Social media people are weird, and usually introverted, but are empathetic as all hell. Pull on the heartstrings and appeal to someone's better nature without being contrived and it will get you far.
In other words, save the hashtags and subtweets. Stick to the facts, and explain what you need. Remember, you don't get shit you don't ask for.
Consider The Type Of Company
Before you reach out, look over the company's profile page. First, you may discover the solution to your problem in someone else's conversation. Second, it gives you an idea whether or not the company actually responds to people. It's surprising how many people don't actually do this -- I see people tweeting at accounts that never reply. Check to see if the company is engaged with its community. If they are, go for it. If not, you're probably looking at an unmanned account, or at least one that doesn't do customer service over social media. Some companies just use bots or form replies.
Take the size and character of the company into account as well. Wallace explained that small companies may be quicker on the draw and more eager to really resolve your problem than large ones:
I've taken care of Social Media marketing and customer service for two very different kinds of organisations in my career. One, for example, was a small company and another was a giant of a company; selling technological services.
The small company was definitely more hands-on in regards to how we handled social media. I had the helm of the various accounts without an intermediary or layers of vetting. I was allowed to foster a relationship with our customers organically, so long as I was in voice, and I had the power to do pretty much anything for them that I wanted, within reason. That extended to full refunds, replacements, free loot, what have you. I did it all, and I had massive amounts of fun interacting with everyone to boot.
The larger company I worked for was way different. It was a big and well-known company so there were specific programs used to screen social media sites; and it took paperwork and rounds of approvals before we could start interacting with people or change any of our procedures. We had pre-drafted blurbs to use in response to customers and there were double layers of vetting in place before a tweet or a Facebook reply could be posted. My replies mostly consisted of asking the customers to contact us with more details via our established CS system. While this was a bit sterile, I understood why it was in place. We didn't want someone to accidentally post something personal, incorrect, or weird to an official channel, and there were tax and legal issues regarding handling something CS-y in public.
Keep that in mind when you're waiting for a response. Some large companies have an equally large social media support crew. Others have a small team that relies on apps to funnel in service requests. Small companies almost always give their people the most leeway and respond the fastest, but they're less likely to be available 24/7, or on holidays and weekends, which is important to remember.
Don't Be A Jerk Just Because It's The Internet
Good companies are looking for any mention of their name or their products but direct @-replies, DMs and Facebook messages usually get the quickest attention. In fact, some companies don't pay attention to anything but direct contact. As we mentioned when we talked about how to handle executive customer service, acting like a jerk won't get you anywhere, and indeed can easily backfire and make people less helpful.
Wallace noted that sometimes the most angry customers -- the ones that have already given up -- take to their preferred social network and just start venting. Turning those situations around, she explained, is a huge part of her job and can be rewarding, but it's a time sink that slows things down for everyone, and people reaching out directly via wall posts and @-replies are the priority. It may be easy to fly off the handle because the internet seems huge and faceless, but we all know that's not true.
Good Customer Service Takes Time
Sending a tweet takes seconds, and it can feel like you're having a real-time conversation if someone's actively responding to you. However, remember you're one person with a problem -- the person on the other end may be dealing with a dozen cases at the same time. It's not the same as talking to a call centre rep on the phone. You may need to give them time to research your issue and get back to you, even if they replied to you seconds ago. If you're worried about the timeframe, ask them when they will get back to you.
The internet makes it fast and easy to make yourself heard, but often the people who work social media are part marketing, part customer service. Sometimes they don't have the permissions or authority to give you what you want, and have to create a ticket for you and escalate it themselves. Other times, your issue may require real digging, especially if there's history to it. Wallace explained that social media can be fast, but sometimes you should give it some time -- or follow up if you need faster response:
As for timeframe? Personally, I like to keep a reply to less than an hour, 24/7 if possible and there are people screening social media around the clock. If this isn't the case, then I keep it within an hour within the working hours for the company. (Makes Mondays fun!) So give it an hour unless something is on fire then try the multiple nice posts to get our attention.
The best times to contact a company are mid-morning and late afternoon, too. You'll miss out on the peak call/email arrival times then.
It's important to note that not all companies -- even huge ones -- monitor their social feeds 24/7. Some may have an internal rule that says they have to respond to an initial tweet or Facebook message within an hour, but after that, all bets are off. Don't be afraid to follow up if you think it's been too long, but make it clear you're following up. Most companies have multiple people on social media, and it's easy to "follow up" on a message and wind up talking to someone new who's unfamiliar with your issue.
The Secret Weapon: Contact Regular Support First
This may seem counterintuitive, but it's actually incredibly powerful: Use a company's regular customer service channels first. You may think that the whole point of using Facebook or Twitter is to get around all of that, but it actually gives you a leg up. Wallace explained that having an open case before you hit Twitter or Facebook means the social media team has an easy way to either work on your issue immediately. She explained:
The best thing to do? Find the official CS channels first and toss the company a line about whatever crap situation you're in. Then go to Twitter/Facebook/Google+ and ping the company with a direct reply of some sort and mention that you reached out already but you need help now. We'll find that official CS contact and get the ball rolling. It will also give us time and space in a non-public, official place to make whatever it is right for you.
If you've contacted us via established CS routes, always have your case number, contact ID, the email address you used, order number, what have you. We want to help you, but we need to find you first. I'm looking at you, John Smith with a common problem.
As soon as the person behind the screen sees your message, they can escalate it to the right person, or get to work on it themselves without having to start looking for your information or asking you to explain everything, 140 characters at a time.
Social media can be a fast, powerful way to get your problems resolved. The best companies handle their social channels well, respond quickly, and have people behind the screen who are empowered to help you with your problems. Not every company is like that though, and getting help from them takes a little more work. Either way, with these tips, you'll be able to get the help you need without the headache.
Raevyn Wallace is a social media professional who has handled customer service and social media for large and small internet companies for over 5 years. She offered her expertise for this article, and we thank her.