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The Complete Guide to Using Social Media for Customer Support

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Your customers expect you to be on social channels. Here’s how to do it right.

Note from Len: we get a lot of emails asking for advice on social media customer service, so I’m really excited about today’s post.

This epic guide was created by my friend Spencer Lanoue from Respond (by Buffer), and it answers just about every question that we’ve gotten about getting started with delivering support via social. I learned a lot from this post, and I think you will, too.


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

According to a J.D. Power survey of over 23,000 online consumers, 67% of consumers have used a company’s social media channels for customer support.

And when they do, they expect quick response times and high-quality service from the representatives they interact with.

Customer happiness is one of our highest priorities at Buffer.

Why? Because we believe customer support gives us the very rare opportunity to connect with our customers on an emotional level. You can’t do that in any other way.

And although there’s a growing number of companies who feel the same way we do, there’s still a significant gap between what customers want (and expect) from customer support on social media and what many brands are delivering.

And as a consequence, the few who make social support a priority will really stand out.

The growing opportunity in social customer support

This generates an exciting opportunity.

If you can empower your team to deliver responsive, high-quality customer support on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter…

…you have the possibility of blowing past your competitors (and gaining a competitive advantage) because you’ll likely be alone in your dedication to delivering a great experience to your customers on social media.

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

Gary Vaynerchuk

And exceeding your customer’s expectations might actually be easier that you think.

If you treat them like real people and genuinely care about the issues they’re experiencing (and how to fix them), you can really stand out.

If our experience at Buffer is any indicator, all that love will definitely pay off for you in the long-run.

In this complete guide to using social media for customer support, we’ll dig into everything from why social customer support is so important, to specific strategies to help you “wow” your customers and how to measure results.

Why customer support matters on social media

First let’s start with the bad news.

80% of companies believe they deliver “superior” customer service, but only 8% of customers think these same companies actually do.

Which means that even if you think you’re doing a great job with social media customer support, there’s a pretty good chance that… well… you’re probably not.

Customers want and expect great social media customer support. And they’re prepared to reward the companies who deliver.

Unfortunately, not very many brands are meeting (let alone exceeding) their expectations.

Now for good news. Like I mentioned earlier, this means there’s a huge opportunity for you to stand out from the crowd and really wow your customers (and a huge opportunity for your competitors if you don’t take advantage of it).

Let’s look at some of the numbers to gauge how huge this opportunity really is:

Pretty intriguing, isn’t it?

What’s even more convincing is the difference in expectations/outcomes between customers who reach out to your company through social media versus other support channels.

As you can see in the chart below, a study conducted by American Express found that companies are highly rewarded for delivering great support experiences for customers on social media (because customers tell way more people about them!).

But there’s also a higher risk for failing to deliver. 83% have abandoned a purchase because of bad support experiences and they tell an average of 42 people about it.

And let’s not forget the fact that when it comes to social media, every single interaction is public for the whole world to see.

All it takes is one bad interaction to wipe out a handful of good ones.

But if you jump into the most relevant conversations and get the social media buzz going in your direction, opportunities for referrals and retention skyrocket.

What customers want from social media support

So now that we know the opportunity we have in providing great social customer care, what exactly do customers want and expect when they reach out on social media?

1) A quick response to their issue

The number one most important thing that customers want is a fast response!

According to a study conducted by Edison Research, 42% of consumers who attempt to contact a brand, product, or company through social media for customer support expect a response within 60 minutes. And 32% expect one within 30 minutes!

And here’s a truly counter-intuitive stat…

Consumers are almost 2x more likely to recommend a brand that provides them with a quick but ineffective response than a brand that gives them a slow yet effective solution to their problem.

In other words, the best case scenario is a quick and effective response. But if you had to make a tradeoff, customers on social media would rather you be quick to get back to them.

Now that doesn’t mean you and your team should strive to give useless answers as quickly as possible. But it does illustrate just how important speed is for customers on social media.

From the moment a customer reaches out, the clock is ticking.

The overwhelming majority of Facebook and Twitter users—71% and 83% respectively—expect a response within the same day of posting.

And yet, a lot of brands still don’t have the same sense of urgency that their customers have.

2) Care and honesty

According to research from McKinsey, 70% of the buying experience is based on how a person thinks they’re being treated.

Which is why—even though care and honesty are harder to measure—they’re just as important as speedy response times.

Your customers need to know that they’re not just some insignificant spec in the vast social media ocean.

They want to know that their issue is as important to you as it is to them.

Simply using phrases like “Let me see if I have it right?” or “I’m sorry” can quickly transform your conversation and start building a real connection.

If you goofed up, say so.

If you don’t know the answer yet and it’s gonna take you 10-20 minutes to figure out what’s going on, let them know (remember how important a speedy response is?). And keep in touch until you do.

At Buffer, we’ve had a lot of experience in being real with customers even when it’s tough. Here’s an in-depth breakdown of what we did right (and where we had room for improvement) while dealing with a challenging security situation.

Adding a personal touch can really help, too.

Our Happiness Heroes always try to make their messages personal by adding their first names at the end of their responses (especially on Twitter).

That way, people immediately feel like they’re talking to a real person and not just another faceless company.

Oh, and it also never hurts to use people’s names when you’re talking with them (even over social media). Like Dale Carnegie said:

Remember that a person’s name is, to that person, the sweetest and most important sound in any language.

3) Help them where they reach out

Generally, your customers want to be helped in the same place where they reached out to you (it’s much better experience).

If a customer asks for help on Facebook, they don’t want to be told to call a 1-800 number.

And if they post a question on Twitter, they don’t want you to move them to email. They want you to reply back with a tweet.

According an American Express survey (and everyone I’ve ever met), getting shuffled around is a huge pet peeve, both offline and on social media. It’s extremely irritating to your customers.

So where are your customers looking for help online?

Facebook used to rule when it came to customer care. But these days, Twitter is where you’re most likely to hear from a customer.

Other places where customers might also reach out to you include:

Figure out where your customers are most active, study the patterns for each network, and make sure your team prioritizes accordingly.

How and when to monitor and respond

Once you know your customer’s expectations and where they’re reaching out, it’s time to wow them. Here’s how to do it:

1) Monitor your brand

The first step of delivering great customer support on social media is to listen to what’s being said about your brand online so you can identify issues and chime in when necessary.

Which is why we recommend using a social media monitoring tool. There are plenty of free tools to get started, including:

For larger teams that are looking for a full-service social customer care tool, there are some great options like SparkCentral, as well as Sprout Social and our favorite: Respond (our new help desk software for delivering speedy support on Twitter).

2) Know when to enter the conversation (and when to stay out)

As you monitor your brand, keep in mind that not every mention (or complaint) is an invitation for you to join the conversation.

In fact, a survey conducted by Netbase found that 51% of consumers want to be able to talk about companies on social media without them listening.

And 43% of them even believe that social listening is an invasion of their privacy.

3) Harness your empathy to decide when to step in

So when is it appropriate to step in? And when should you just listen?

Getting the balance right can be tricky. But it helps to cultivate a strong sense of empathy.

Looking at each message from the customer’s point of view can help you navigate thorny territory, identify problem areas, and figure out the right tone to strike when you’re responding to an issue.

The same Netbase survey suggests the following four principles when deciding whether or not to step into a customer conversation:

How to measure success

So how will you measure your success when it comes to delivering great customer support on social media? Here are a few metrics to start with:

1) Total volume of messages

Here’s the first place to start - how many customer requests, issues, and problems did you respond to in a given period?

For example, in May 2016, our Customer Happiness team sent 9,980 emails and replied to 5,200 tweets.

Source: our customer happiness team’s Respond dashboard

Total volume gives you a couple insights:

2) Resolution rate

Getting to inbox zero feels great, and it’s the lifeblood of customer support.

Measuring resolution rate helps you understand how many of the total issues your team has resolved for your customers in a given reporting period.

3) Average time to answer/resolution

Since we’ve established that speed is such a critical element in social media customer support, it only makes sense to measure the average time it takes to answer a customer’s question or resolve an issue.

Here’s an example of how we measure these numbers at Buffer (we just re-established these goals last month after dropping them for about 6 months):

Response times aren’t quite a sweet spot right now, but it feels great to share these publicly as we’re tracking them aggressively again!

4) Customer happiness

Last, but (definitely) not least, it’s important to get an overall sense of how your customers are feeling about your product, service, or brand.

You can quantify this by collecting your social media mentions per reporting period and analyzing them by sentiment - were they positive, negative, or neutral?

At Buffer, after every support email we send, the person on the other end has the option to leave a rating, letting us know how they felt about the interaction.

Not only can we see if customers are happy, satisfied, or unhappy with our product or support—we can also see how many times we managed to deliver a little bit of wow :)

Here’s what our stats looked like last month:

An inspiring example of social media support

Being a consultant, author, and speaker on the subject, it’s safe to say Peter Shankman knows a thing or two about customer service.

But even he was blown away after he sent this joking tweet to his favorite steakhouse:

To Shankman’s complete and utter disbelief, a Morton’s Steakhouse employee drove 23 miles to the airport to greet him with a full meal!

What’s interesting is that even Shankman admits that the “stunt” was meant to be out of the ordinary… and that’s okay!

Customer service, he says, isn’t about telling people how awesome you are, it’s about creating stories that do the talking for you.

The final word

Most companies view social media as a marketing tool. But customers expect more. And they’re willing to reward brands that go the extra mile.

View every interaction that comes your way—every tweet, comment, question, mention, and more—as a true privilege.

It means someone took special time out of their day to think about you or get in touch with you.

It’s a chance for you to have a conversation, to learn something you didn’t know before, to think about what you could do differently or better.

Using social media as a medium for customer support gives you an additional way to wow your customers, to blow them away with the quality of your service. And that can be worth it’s weight in gold.

With that in mind, your goal is to make sure each of these interactions is as useful, unique, and happy as possible.

P.S. If you liked this post, you might also like Respond, our new Twitter help desk for customer support teams. Track @mentions, custom search queries, easily move conversations to DM, and never miss another important conversation on Twitter!

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About the Author

Spencer Lanoue is a product marketer at Respond (by Buffer), a simple Twitter help desk built for customer support teams. Trusted by the people at Slack, Stripe, Wordpress, and more, Respond helps your team deliver fast, quality support to your customers on Twitter.

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