Personal Customer Service? Let’s Chat

How to deliver one-on-one customer service through social messaging apps.

March/April 2016

There’s an app for everything these days, but when it comes to which apps people use most, Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, Skype and Snapchat rank among the top 10.

Social messaging is an especially useful tool for customer care, allowing brands to respond quickly and help their customers in near-real time. Connecting with customers where they already are spending their time—on social media—will help create a stronger bond.

“Traditional social media is like using a megaphone to address a crowd, whereas social messaging is more like taking the time to have a word with each interested member of the crowd,” says Cooper Carrasco, the social media specialist for ANDESIGN, an industrial design firm based in Sparta Township, NJ.

Let the customer make the first move

Social messaging is a more intimate method of communication than public posts, so Carrasco recommends that businesses encourage customers to reach out to them using the apps, but adopt a “speak when spoken to” policy—only responding to messages customers send, rather than initiating conversations. You don’t want to spam customers and potential customers with various irrelevant messages … if you do, they might not be your follower for long.

Address social comments more privately

Social messaging is extremely beneficial for responding to negative customer experiences. If a customer leaves a complaint on your Facebook page, asking the person to send you a message with more details shows the rest of your fans that you’re dealing with the issue in a timely manner, but it doesn’t open the door to hashing out the entire situation in a public forum.

However, any exchange had via private chats can easily be shared publicly, so remember to maintain a professional tone whenever communicating through a social messaging app.

Find opportunities to engage with customers through messaging

Your customers know how to reach you by phone and by email. As more people spend more time using messaging apps to connect, your messaging contact information should be as easily available as the more traditional means of communication. Include links to Facebook, Skype or Snapchat on your website, email signature, receipts, purchase orders, business cards or any other way you provide contact information. If you have a brick-and-mortar location, post small signs encouraging customers to message you. Also, leverage social media to promote the customer service you are providing through messaging apps.

While it is best practice to let the customer make the first move, once you are contacted, leverage the opportunity to send a thank-you, special offer or request for feedback.

Messaging apps can also be used to send order or appointment confirmations, provide customer support and answer general questions.

Choose your apps wisely

Of course, before diving into the apps, determine which ones your customers are most likely to use. As with most budding technology, users of messaging apps skew younger. According to Pew, 49 percent of smartphone users aged 18–29 use social messaging, but this drops significantly when looking at older age groups, to just 37 percent of those aged 30–49 and 24 percent of those aged 50 or older.

If you have international customers, social messaging can be of particular value. Where texting or phone calls might cost you and/or the customer money, most social messaging apps are free around the globe.

Consistency is key

If you decide to engage with customers on a social messaging platform, commit to using it, being accessible and responding quickly to any customer requests.

“If you fail to engage with the rapid response time that has come to be expected via these platforms, you run the risk of frustrating customers and having the opposite of the desired effect—lower sales as customers turn to competitors for answers or, worse, customers that complain about lack of responsiveness publicly on social media,” says Hillary Berman, founder of Popcorn & Ice Cream, a small-business marketing consulting firm located in Washington, D.C.

As your involvement on these platforms grows, expand the customer service role of social messaging, with a system that prioritizes which messages should be responded to first (for example, specific technical questions or complaints should be top concerns, followed by general questions or feedback). If social messaging apps prove a heavily trafficked channel for your customers, you may want to develop a ticketing system that allows you to track how quickly your business is responding and reference each customer’s previous messages.

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