How important is it to provide great customer support on social media?

According to a J.D. Power survey, 67% of consumers have used a company’s social media channels for customer support.

And when they do, they expect two things: a quick response and high-quality service.

We talk a lot at Buffer about customer happiness, and it’s because we truly believe in it. Here’s how our co-founder Leo Widrich puts it:

Customer support is the very rare opportunity to connect to your customers on an emotional level. You can’t do that in any other way.

And while there are a growing number of other awesome companies who feel the same way we do, there’s still a pretty big gap between what customers want from social media customer service and what many brands are delivering.

Why customer service matters on social media

It’s simple. Customers want, expect, and are willing to reward great social customer service. And not many brands are living up to their expectations.

That means there’s a huge opportunity for you to stand out and really wow your customers (and also a huge opportunity for your competitors if you don’t).

How huge? Let’s look at the numbers:

  • When companies engage and reply to customer service requests over social media, those customers end up spending 20% to 40% more with the company.

  • 71% of those who experience positive social care (i.e., a quick and effective brand response) are likely to recommend that brand to others, compared to just 19% of customers that do not receive any response.

  • Only 36% of consumers that make customer service enquiries via social media report having their issue solved quickly and effectively.

Even more intriguing, an American Express study found that social customer care produces more reward for wowing customers — because they tell way more people about good experiences!

And also more risk for failing to deliver.

I genuinely believe that any business can create a competitive advantage through giving outstanding customer care. —Gary Vaynerchuk

Getting started with social customer service

So, now that we know the opportunity we have — are there any tips or strategies that could help us provide amazing customer service on social media?

There’s a ton of information out there and it can be really daunting to sift through it all when you’re first starting out!

So to help you gain a better understanding, we reached out to 15 incredibly smart and talented customer support pros and asked them:

What’s the most important piece of advice you’d give to people who are just getting started with customer service on social media?

"If you could share one thing to do/think about that would help folks get off to a great start, what would that be?”

Here’s what they had to say:

1. Use your sleuthing skills to investigate a problem before asking for more info

Mo McKibbin
Customer Champion at Help Scout

“Build an awesome vocabulary of short, playful words with low character counts, and up your support gif and screen-casting video game. I use recordit for gifs and for video. Especially because of limited character counts, always "show, don’t tell" when you can.

Also, sharpen your sleuthing skills. Use your customer’s Twitter profile, name, links, anything you can to find their account and investigate a problem before asking them for more info.

Too much back and forth over Twitter looks sloppy and is frustrating for the customer (even more so than back and forth over email). Obviously sometimes you just can’t find what you need, but a little sleuthery can go a long way.”

2. Draw up a language guide to capture the spirit of your company’s communication style

Davida Fernandez
Global Head of Support at Campaign Monitor

“I highly recommend drawing up a little language guide that can help the people manning the social channels capture the spirit of the company communication style, especially in response to specific situations.

How do you want your company represented when there’s an outage? How about when someone is snarky or mean or complaining? A little glossary of terms and samples is super helpful. Also: Do you want to answer every single tweet no matter what, or only those that really require an answer?

Decide whether or not you want to ask the customer to switch channels (email us with your details!). If you want to keep it in Twitter, and there are those who say you should always keep it in the channel the customer prefers, do you want to have a support conversation that’s public or private (Follow us so we can DM you!)?”

3. Focus on the same key criteria that make your support great in any channel

Len Markidan
Head of Marketing at Groove

“Focus on the same key criteria that make your support great in any channel, just apply it to a faster, more casual medium:

  • Listen very closely to understand what the customer actually wants: this can take more work on platforms like Twitter where customers have fewer words to get their issue across

  • Strike the right tone: tone is always important, but you have to be especially aware of it in more casual channels like social media, where emojis, memes and silly GIFs can delight the right customers (hint: take your tone cues from a quick peek at the customer’s feed to see what kind of language they use — and are comfortable with — themselves)

  • Make things easy: research has shown that making life easy for customers tends to build the loyalty they feel to the business, so don’t make them work any harder than they have to…if you can solve their issue entirely in the social media channel that they reached out on, then don’t ask them to call or send more information.”

4. Craft Twitter searches to identify conversations where people don’t @mention you directly

Justin Rochell
Head of Community at Pocket

“Not everyone will @message you directly, so craft Twitter searches to identify conversations about your product or service. This creates a number of positive opportunities, including:

  • Keeping your finger on the pulse for how people are talking about your product or service

  • Giving warm welcomes to new users, or encouragements to those who might be considering your product or service

  • Chiming into existing discussions to offer help, guidance, or just to say “hi” and thank them for being a fan”

5. Make sure you have enough team members to answer as quickly as you can

Chase Clemons
Support Pro at Basecamp & Host of SupportOps

“When you decide to start offering customer service through social media, make sure you have the people to answer as quickly as you can. When they ask a question through social media, 32% of customers expect a reply in 30 minutes or less.

Don’t get me wrong - a reply at any time is usually better than no reply. But if your customers are seeing six hour response times, you’ll want to devote more team members to those social media channels.

It’s all about expectations. With email, live chat, and ticket forms, we can set the reply time expectation. You can let customers know they’ll get an answer within an hour in email, within 5 minutes in chat, etc.

With social media, it’s really hard to do that. Maybe you could put it in a pinned tweet. Or pop it into your Facebook About section. But are your customers really going to check that? They’re most likely to send a tweet / post a Facebook message without hunting for your reply times. If you’re not setting that expectation, they’ll go on their own personal expectation.

That said, most companies aren’t dealing with the amount of social media that say Delta or Walmart is. At Basecamp, we’re in the 30-40 tweets per day range along with 10-15 Facebook messages. At those numbers, getting quick replies out should be achievable without devoting a ton of people to it.”

6. Try to keep your interactions as quick and straight-forward as possible

Darcy Peters
Twitter Happiness Lead at Buffer

“An impressive social media customer support presence requires a quick back-and-forth, engagement, and timeliness. It’s important that we let our customers know that we want their interaction with us to be as quick and as straight-forward as possible.

Have you ever replied to a support request and then averted your attention only to find (3 hours later) that they had immediately replied back to you with an answer? If you haven’t, let me tell you that it doesn’t feel great at all!

To prevent this, I have a few tips catered to the flow of conversations you have coming in:

  • High flow: Assign the conversation to yourself using Respond or another social customer service software. When you see the number in your personal inbox go up, check back over there.

  • Low Flow: If you have a low flow of incoming conversations, think about blocking out 1-2 hours, once or twice a day, where you can keep the application open while lightly working on something else. This will allow you to have a bit more of an organic back-and-forth, and will also allow you to work on other projects.

  • Low Flow: If neither of those options work, maybe save the link to the social conversation and set a timer for every 15 minutes to check back and see if your customer replied.”

7. Remember that your customers care, and that’s why they’re reaching out

Michelle Earhart
Support Specialist at Trello

“You only subtweet those you love! Because of space constraints, or writing in the moment, people tend to be very emotional when they complain on social media, often more than they’d be in a 1:1 conversation.

Still, if they’re writing about you in public, they want you to know that they’re upset, and they’re, at some level, hoping that you’ll convince them to go back to loving your product.

You won’t always be able to give the customer what they want, but remembering that they care a lot helps me empathize with them and feel confident about reaching out.”

8. Respond to everything you can on social media

Shawna Jean
Technical Support at GitHub

“I’d say the biggest thing is to just start replying. Reply to everything you can. People don’t mind being directed to your contact form. They don’t mind an overnight delay when you only have one person working.

The more you reply, the more you’ll get to know the users who contact you via social media. They’re probably different than your email users, or your live chat users.”

9. Find a repeatable process that turns your social media support into a publicly visible empathy machine

Ben McCormack
Customer Support at FullStory

“Empathy is a critical aspect of customer service and that’s especially true when you’re getting started in serving your customers on social media. Start by listening and, as appropriate, replying to those customers who need help.

Once you figure out how you want to listen and reply to your customers, find a repeatable process that turns your social media support into a publicly visible empathy machine. It’s not enough to do it once or periodically. Social media support really does need to be a repeatable process.

One practical bit of advice I would offer is to get to inbox zero every day so it’s clear you’ve listened and replied to every customer who has asked for your attention.”

10. Let them know there’s a human on the other side who cares about them

Kayla Lewkowicz
Marketing & Social Media Coordinator at Litmus

“For those just starting out, the public nature of customer service on social can be really intimidating. But resist the temptation to always channel switch*. Even if you can’t solve their problem in only 140 characters, it’s important to let them know that there’s a human on the other side who cares about what’s going on.

Taking the time to reply to everyone, showing them that they’ve been heard, and empathizing a little (there’s always a great GIF for that) can go a long way towards building customer trust and loyalty—even if you don’t have a solid fix just yet.

Also, I can’t recommend reading Hug Your Haters by Jay Baer enough. It totally changed my perspective on customer service on social, and has a lot of handy tips on how to reply to the "haters."

*Channel switching is when someone uses one channel to reach out (such as tweeting in a complaint) and you ask them to use another channel for the same complaint (such as asking them to email support.)”

11. When people need troubleshooting help, move them to a private channel

Micah Bennett
Support Lead at Zapier

“Funnel all account-specific inquiries to private channels. Social media adds a lot of barriers to helping people, from its public nature (discouraging the sharing of account info) to character limits.

Answering informational questions on social media is great, but when people need troubleshooting help, moving somewhere more private (email, Twitter DM, etc) is the best way to get people to solutions in a fast and scalable way.”

12. Keep your voice and tone consistent across all the channels your team moderates

Jordan Premick
Jordan Premick and the Customer Support team at AWeber

“Have a consistent voice. It’s easy to take the informal approach on social media. However, the tone of your interactions should mirror how you communicate with your customers across the other channels your team moderates. The way you communicate with your customers is part of your brand and will set you apart.”

13. Set appropriate expectations for each channel

Jay Baer
Author of Hug Your Haters

“Set appropriate expectations. If you have a presence on ANY social channel, customers will assume you can provide service there. If you can’t or won’t, make that clear in your bio text.”

14. Remember to have fun and be genuine with your tone

Erin McCaul
Senior Customer Support Manager at Moz

“If you’re just getting started with customer service on social media, the most important piece of advice I can give you is to remember to have fun!

Social media is an outlet that gives us news, information, a reason to procrastinate, and a platform to share. As you’re getting started, remember to be genuine with your tone.

Don’t be afraid to have fun with your responses (when it’s appropriate!), and surprise folks with great interactions. Great support is memorable. Get creative, and use those 140 characters to give your customers a awesome stories to tell their friends.”

15. Know your product inside and out

Melissa Francois
Social Media Care Manager at SurveyMonkey

“Engaging with customers on social media gives your brand the opportunity to communicate company values not only to existing customers but to potential customers as well.

On social media, your conversations are out there in the open for all to see, so you want to make sure you’re answering your customer’s question quickly and of course, correctly.

Some important advice? Know your product inside and out. Your processes and organizational policies should also be as familiar as the palm of your hand.

Once you’re totally comfortable with any type of question that comes your way – and keeping in mind that there will always be all kinds of new questions too - you’re ready to go. And oh yes, don’t forget, have fun out there!”

Over to you

I’ve been incredibly lucky to have heard lots of great advice over the past few months from our readers, Buffer Reply customers, and all the amazing people who contributed to this post!

I’d love to keep learning! If you have any tips or wisdom to share about getting started with social customer service, it’d be awesome to learn from you on Twitter or via email!

Excited to keep the conversation going!

P.S. Know a friend or colleague who might also find this post useful? We’d love your help in spreading the word :)