What To Do When Things Go Wrong


Worried-Face (Photo credit: shakestercody)

So, something’s gone wrong. And people know. They’re starting to ask about it on Facebook and Twitter. Now what? How do you handle it on social media? What should you say? When should you say it?

The first thing I do to begin answering these questions is to change the framing from “on social media” to “in person.” If you were face to face with someone, and these questions came up, what would you do? How would you answer these questions? The right thing to do is to be as open and honest as you can be. I say “can be” because there are legal and other reasons why it makes sense to not share every detail you have. I hope I would never look right at someone who just asked me a question and then turn my back and walk away.

Now, I reframe back to social media. The answer looks much clearer to me after the frame shift. Doesn’t it now seem more like each question deserves an answer? An exception would be when automated bots send the same question over and over again. But in that case, there is a whole audience that may not understand why you’re ignoring someone. If it doesn’t make sense to answer each bot post, it may make sense to hide those posts to avoid confusion.

What about proactive posting? When do you go proactive? How do you decide? Here’s how I decide. When there is a large concentration of interest in a single area on one subject, and the volume of inquiry makes it look like you’re saying the same thing over and over again, I call that time to go proactive. It’s a delicate balance because if not enough people in one area are concerned, then the proactive post reads as spam to them. They don’t care. Why are you bothering them with this meaningless triviality? But when a large portion of folks in an area you can geotarget are all asking you the same question or pointing out a perceived flaw or injustice, proactive makes sense. They all know it. They’re all mad about it. Tell them out loud that you hear them and tell them the facts. Even if you don’t know all the facts, being real to me means going out there and saying “hey, I hear you. I’m not sure of the whole story, or I can’t tell you the whole story yet, but I’m working on it and I care that you’re mad.”

What does going proactive do to Facebook? For a brand page, going proactive changes the traffic flow of your volume. Prior to going proactive, you may see your “posts by others” coming on to the page explode, if you have the ability enabled. When this fails to get the desired effect, you can see bleed over into your brand posts in the form of comments. If you have private messages turned on, you could see a spike in messages. Once you make a proactive post, you will probably find that the traffic moves from the brand posts and the “posts by others” onti your proactive posts. Is this better? I think so. Why? Well, when folks are looking for a provider of the service or product you offer, some of them scan the “posts by others” to get a feeling for how you treat your customers by taking the temperature of the “posts by others.” We all know that’s where you check for complaints. In the midst of a crisis, big or small, it looks like all your customers are against you. imagine looking for, say, a dentist, and everybody’s up in arms on “posts by others” because the dentist raised his rates, or did a bad job on some fillings. If you’re a prospective patient, you’re thinking “I don’t need all that noise,” and you take your business elsewehere.

Aside from moving complaints off the “posts by others” into one manageable post, a change happens in the types of responses you get. People stop talking to you directly, and start conversing with each other. After you get real, some people get less mad. Unfortunately, some people stay as mad, and then those people may argue amongst themselves. But it still becomes more of a conversation and less of a stone – throwing event.

So, as I see it, be as real as you can, and go proactive as soon as you realize it makes sense with as much info as you have. If you do go proactive with your updates, make sure you close the issue proactively when its over. Otherwise, people are left wondering what happened.

I’d love to hear any other thoughts around this.

Speak or Hold Your Peace In Tragedy

Daily Shoot-Condolence Card

Daily Shoot-Condolence Card (Photo credit: NedraI)

I’ve seen several articles online discussing whether a brand should post on social media to offer condolences or thoughts to those that have suffered a loss or tragedy. Without going into detail about who said what or had which opinion, I’d like to simply offer mine.

If the point of social media for business is to personify a brand image, and we are asking our community managers to put their personalities out there for the public, I think it makes sense that if we want to make appropriate posts regarding the tragedy, we should. I think scheduled sales posts should surely stop in impacted areas. If the impacts of the tragedy are broadly felt, then it may make sense to withhold brand posts for the entire customer area. I think that depends on the particular issue.

Here’s why. People that work at companies and provide social media in an impacted area could be feeling the same thing that the community feels, because they ARE the community. They leave work and travel home in cars or on busses or on the subway. Their children attend schools in the area. Their spouses and potentially their extended family also live and work in that area. Refraining from comment on the tragedy certainly doesn’t feel authentic or transparent in those cases.

I think the important thing is to carefully consider whether a post is appropriate and what that post should be. I’ve seen posts say that brands have no feelings and no personality. But I disagree. I disagree because brands are powered by people, and those people have real feelings and thoughts. True, the employees collectively represent the brand and try to convey a message that makes sense with brand objectives. But if we saw a customer in a retail setting, and that customer had suffered a loss, I hope that we would not hesitate before offering our sympathies to that customer. Because though it’s business, the fact that we’re all doing it together should make it personal.


To Engage or Not To Engage


Dive (Photo credit: Joe Shlabotnik)

So, as a customer support team, how much social engagement should your team participate in? When a customer asks a question, or posts a simple “thank you” to your brand page or Twitter handle, I’m confident that fits in the realm of social customer care. But when a brand releases a proactive engagement post about current events or opinions, should customer support participate?

When I’m staffing, I’m looking for technical support ability. I want a person to be able to completely resolve a technical issue on social media most of the time, without passing the baton to someone else. The ability to address billing issues is important, as well as great written communication skills. And, most importantly, I want someone that treats social media as an escalation path and thinks that the lamest thing they ever heard is “I’m doing it this way because that’s the way it’s always been done. I can’t question process.” So, I think the team I have is stellar.

But to ask for all that, and then also hope that the team I have is trained in the art of social marketing, to be able to engage in a way that will keep a conversation going in the desired direction, I think that may be asking too much. I think that responsibility lies outside of customer support. If a brand engagement post is schedule to deploy, I think marketers should be on hand to run that engagement until the buzz subsides. I mean, what happens if a crisis occurs during this brand post? I hate to say it, but our primary focus is customer experience and support. Also, I feel strongly that I will not ask customer support staff to be responsible for activities they haven’t been fully trained in.

Do you have customer support staff participating in marketing engagement activity?

Say Cheese, Team!

Limburger cheese

Limburger cheese (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Speaking of personifying brand image, a great way to do this is with photos of your support team displayed proudly on your customer support tab. I’ve seen this done a few ways.

One popular choice is a static group shot depicting the entire social media customer support team. These look good, and I think customers may perceive a sense of closeness among team members. The image can convey to a customer “We are a close team, and if another team member helped you before, I can pick up seamlessly where she left off.” On the other hand, any team turnover on the team causes you to break out the camera again.

Another approach I’ve seen is  individual head shots of each team member. Some layouts allow the visitor to click-through to different team members, while others automatically scroll. Sometimes short bios are included, but I’m not convinced these are necessary. I think I like it better when the agent’s name is displayed simply with the head shot. With individual shots, I think using the same background for each photo helps add a consistent feel.

In either case, I think reps wearing crisp polos in company colors with the company logo adds a nice touch. It helps team members look pulled together. Professional photography looks best, but if that isn’t practical in keeping up with each team member, try to develop consistent guidelines around how to shoot the pictures. Use the same location, the same chair, have the photographer a set distance from the person being photographed, etc. Also, I would recommend getting formal releases from each employee and keeping them on file.

So, grab your team, grab a camera, and take some photos. Happy snapping!

Sign Your Name

English: marcelina fernandez signature. Españo...

English: marcelina fernandez signature. Español: Firma de marcelina fernandez. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This may seem obvious, but I think it deserves stating. In social media, especially in a corporate social media channel, it’s so important to sign your name at the end of your post. If you are using a page or handle that other people also use, make sure there is a signature on that post.

Social media is the perfect vehicle to personify brand image with cheery, helpful customer support representatives. Customers can develop a relationship with the person that helps them, and warm feelings associated with a particular representative are then (hopefully) associated to the brand itself. If you can achieve this, you have something special going on with your social presence.

In order for this personification to occur, the customer must be able to identify the person they are interacting with and remember that person. People cannot identify with or build a relationship with a nameless string of text coming at them through social media. People can identify with Patty, or Bob, or Sarah.

So, go ahead and sign that tweet. It makes a difference.

Facebook Customer Support Tab – Necessary or Irrelevant?

Facebook logo Español: Logotipo de Facebook Fr...

Facebook logo Español: Logotipo de Facebook Français : Logo de Facebook Tiếng Việt: Logo Facebook (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I have been spending countless hours researching whether a customer support tab on Facebook adds value or is obsolete. We know that at least half, if not most people are visiting Facebook via mobile apps, and those mobile apps don’t provide access to tabs.  So, I set out on the internet to see who was blogging on the subject, or writing articles, and I didn’t find much on the subject (if you find something, feel free to let me know, I always value information.)

Then I decided to visit Facebook to see which companies had support tabs. I found that in the service industry, companies focused on customer support had dedicated customer support tabs on Facebook. The list includes Zappos, Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts, FedEx, Dell, HP and Sprint. Before you say “how are THOSE companies focused on customer support?”, understand that their intention is to excel in this area, they may or may not actually succeed at that goal, or your experience might differer from the company’s desire. I found that most large cable television and satelite providers have customer support tabs on Facebook. 

If these companies provide customer support tabs, what’s the flipside? who doesn’t have them? I found that large brands like Coca-Cola, Starbucks, McDonalds, and AT&T, the really big players, do not have support tabs. I pondered the reasoning behind this. I tried to imagine whether these brands could really provide valuable customer support in the volume they might receive. Honestly, it seemed as though the types of issues or complaints would not really fit in those spaces… well, with perhaps the exception of AT&T. I’m puzzled by that choice.

As a consumer myself, I perceive that the presence of a customer support tab shows a company is serious about customer support. I’ve read that customers want customer support telephone numbers and other ways to contact a company clearly displayed and not hidden under mountains of data. A customer support tab would be a great place to showcase this information. Got content on your website that could help customers? Provide easy access links to that content right on your support tab, especially the most visited articles. This could increase awareness of your .com content to customers that may not have seen it before. Have a forum? Why not add a widget with your forums? HP does a good job of segmenting options into “I want to help myself,” (searching .com answers), “I want help from others,” (support forums), and “I want help from HP,” (HP support services).

So, where do we land? Is there value in developing and maintaining a customer support tab, or does the inclination of Facebook users to go mobile say that investments should go elsewhere? If so, where should they go? I’m inclined to think that if your company wants to show that you are service-conscious, a Facebook customer support tab is still a wise investment. What do you think?

Surveys on Social Media Customer Experience

Young Girl with Cell

Young Girl with Cell (Photo credit: “PictureYouth”)

Many of the sophisticated customer care social media listening and engagement platforms are either already able to or are making plans to offer the ability to automatically send surveys to the customers you interact with on social media. These surveys can be used for straight net promoter score information (how likely are you to recommend our company/service) or customized to get detailed customer satisfaction information (on a scale of 1-5, how friendly was the social customer support representative you spoke with?).

I know that Frederick Reichheld (The One Number You Need to Grow) claims general NPS responses can be used for growth prediction. And Christopher Wilson (The Net Promoter Score: Part 2 of the Inc. Plan Social Media Series) talks about how to glean NPS from social media. He touches on a point that I think we’re all probably realizing in social media customer care: when you have customers complaining on social media, they perceive a gap between the marketing promises and the product delivery.

But, my questions are a bit deeper. I want to know whether it makes sense to do NPS surveys and CSAT surveys on interactions consumers have had with social media customer support staff. If they had reached out to us through a more traditional channel, like phone or email (yes, email is now a traditional channel, can you believe it?) they might receive a survey via email so we might understand customer perception of that touch point. But what about if they tweeted us or reached out on Facebook?

The first thing I’m considering is the total volume of surveys and touches they already receive from the company. I recently read a piece by Becky Gaylord (Email Marketers: Customer Service DOs and DONT’S) about how Becky had a lovely customer experience at Sephora that seems it could have truly produced a loyal customer. Instead it crashed and burned as they over-informed her via email and topped it off with that cherry of a request to fill out a survey. Another thing I think about is the nature of the channel. If customer support on social typically begins with neutral or negative sentiment that we hope to turn neutral or positive, will the NPS reflected there paint an accurate picture? Or will this subset of customer interactions return a shadowy report of only customers that were dissatisfied to begin with?

I do know that I’m glad the sleeker listening and engagement platforms for customer service are gearing up to offer the ability to automate rather than having to cull through large CSV data downloads and manually pull the data, then manually run the surveys through other tools. I also know that the social media world is all about gathering as much data as possible. How NPS will fit with customer support transactions on social media, I’m not sure yet. I’ll circle back to let you know what I find out.

If you have thoughts, I’d love to hear them.

When To Step In on Forums

English: Tech Forums Thumbnail

English: Tech Forums Thumbnail (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So, here’s a question. On a new support forum, how long do you wait before you jump in and respond to customer questions? When I look out across the vast sea of forums, the response times are all over the place. For seasoned forums, where the base is large and the community is strongly rooted, it seems that very little moderator activity will still allow helpful conversations to flourish. On newer communities, though, it seems like more nurturing is required to get things going. I can tell you that without any tending at all, a new forum is not likely to spring to life and turn into a lush garden.

My thoughts right now are that if someone in the community posts a question that could be answered by other community members, giving between 12 and 24 hours on a new forum will give enough time to allow forum members to step in and participate, yet be responsive enough so that members don’t feel abandoned. I’m also thinking that if there is a question that no other community member could possibly answer, that the moderator should step in within an hour to provide assistance. This is especially true in technical forums, where the forum member is trying to complete a function or action and likely cannot complete this action without the aid of another forum member.

Do you have thoughts on this?