More and more frustrated customers are taking to the Twittersphere to demand a resolution rather than using traditional channels because they believe that they will get a faster response to their complaint. Everyone has horror stories of hours spent on phone lines trying to speak to someone about a problem, whereas it is presumed (often correctly) that airing a grievance on Twitter will help you jump the queue.
As social media is a public forum, companies want to mitigate potential PR disasters by resolving issues as quickly and smoothly as possible. A bad review by an influential customer posted on Facebook or Twitter could, if you'll excuse the phrase, go viral which is why companies will often prioritise customers who complain via social media. The public are always on the side of the underdog, and it is rare that a big brand will be given the benefit of the doubt in the face of a scathing review on social media from a peer so a speedy resolution is preferable for all parties involved.
Not only that but when it comes to big brands, their social media channels are often run by agencies (like us!) who are paid to get it right and to minimise any problems for their clients. An escalation process is an essential part of community management so that there are clear channels on both sides to report and deal with issues as they arise. Social media managers often have direct lines to the people who can best fix customer issues, so can skip the bureaucracy that people often have to go through when they call a company themselves.
However, customer service doesn't just mean responding to negative feedback. Queries come thick and fast on social media from customers looking for answers from someone that knows their stuff. With more people than ever using mobiles to browse the Internet, and - shock horror - not all websites being mobile-friendly, it's no wonder that they turn to social media to answer questions.
Hopefully, if you're doing a good job, you'll also be responding to praise and compliments as well and it's equally important to acknowledge these. Just as you can defuse anger and turn a negative experience into a positive one through efficient use of social media management, so too can you turn someone who's had a positive experience into a recurring customer and eventual brand ambassador by creating an ongoing relationship with them. Whilst a 'viral' complaint can spell disaster for a brand, customers are now looking for recommendations from their acquaintances on social media so a positive relationship can very much work in your favour.
Social media is a relatively new platform (although hands up if you've been on Twitter since 2006!) and is proven to be a great place to reach new customers and improve brand awareness, so its no wonder that brands are doing their best to impress on these platforms. All the pithy tweets and well-timed gifs, however, can be undone in one moment by a poor response to a complaint, so getting that right is key. As a Social Media Manager, it's my job to make sure all of this is balanced correctly for our clients so that their social media platforms are effective for customer service as well as serving some great content to our fans. Let's give the people what they want!