In Marketing

Customers have a louder voice than ever before. The 1979 study by the Technical Assistance Research Program, commissioned by the White House Office of Consumer Affairs, found that a complaining customer might tell 8-12 people about a negative experience they had with a business. Happy customers tell an average of 6. However, because of social media, those numbers have dramatically changed. A positive or negative experience shared on social media can garner thousands of views. Even millions! But how does this dramatic shift change how you handle customer interactions online? Shep Hyken from has the answers.

Earlier this month I attended Social Media Marketing World, the largest conference on social media marketing in the world. Over the last few years, customer service has shifted from traditional phone support toward social media channels like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and others. Dan Gingiss started the Social Customer Care Track and interest has grown exponentially. The room I spoke in this year was three times larger than last year’s room, and we packed the house.

A great example of a positive customer service experience reaching a broad audience is the story of Joshie, a beloved stuffed animal that a young guest left at the Ritz-Carlton Amelia Island. The father of the child who left Joshie behind shared their experience in a blog post. Since then, the story has been retold and shared by many others and has gone “viral.”

One of the best examples of a complaint that went viral was Dave Carroll’s YouTube video about when United Airlines broke his guitar. When United refused to fix or replace the broken guitar, Carroll wrote a song about the experience (as any good musician might do), turned it into a video, and posted it on YouTube for all the world to see. At the time of this article, he’s had almost 18 million views.

Good and bad experiences handled the right way, make social customer care far more important than basic customer service. It blurs the lines between customer service, marketing, and even sales.

Social Proof

Scientific data validate the importance and power of social media customer service.

According to Bain and Company, research from 2011 indicates that when brands engage or respond to customer requests over social media, those customers spend 20-40% more on average. A more recent study from by Twitterthat appeared this year in the Harvard Business Review found that a response to a complaining customer – even if it’s not the response the customer may want to hear – significantly improves the odds that they will not only come back but also spend more on your products or services.

SocialSprout’s research claims that 89% of social media messages from brands go ignored. Other studies found similar results. Some claim this number seems high, but even if it was half that – or even a quarter– the number is still too high.

According to Groove, “failure to respond to customer complaints or questions on social media can lead to a 15% increase in churn.” Can any business afford to lose customers at this rate?!

Two Choices in Social Customer Care: Reactive and Proactive

Many companies I work with have the social care concept wrong. Their version of social customer care is to monitor popular review sites like Yelp and TripAdvisor, as well as channels like Twitter and Facebook, and react to complaints and questions. That’s a good start, but there are so many more opportunities. The best companies not only respond to complaints and answer questions, they thank customers and comment on positive reviews. And the companies who do it best go beyond just reacting to what customers post – they proactively interact with their community of customers.

Reactive Social Customer Service

The traditional way customers reached out to a company for help was via telephone. They still do, but a growing number are turning to social media channels as their first choice. Many customers post a question or problem not as a rant, but as a basic cry for help. But that isn’t always the case. When customers leave a scathing review on Facebook or send a nasty tweet, it is often because the first effort, whether on the phone, through social media, or even in person, was not handled to the customer’s satisfaction. Regardless of the reason, responding the right way can springboard your customer service reputation. The world can see how you respond in real time. My friend and colleague, Jay Baer says, “Social media turns customer service into a spectator sport.” When your customer makes a “public complaint,” the world is watching to see how you respond. A well-handled problem can be your best PR opportunity; mismanaged, it becomes a PR nightmare.

Speed Counts

Reaction time is important. The time that it takes a company to respond is crucial to take advantage of this PR opportunity. A few years back, I wrote about the Eptica study that evaluated 500 US retailers’ ability to respond to customers. The average amount of time it takes for many of these companies to reply was, to say the least, disappointing. For email, the average response time was 7 hours and 51 minutes. For Facebook, the average response time was 1 day, 3 hours, and 7 minutes. For Twitter, the average response time was 1 day, 7 hours and 12 minutes.

Numerous other studies validate these numbers and, in some cases, found even worse statistics. Simply put: nobody wants to wait nearly eight hours for a response to their complaint in the lightning-fast world of social media.

Regardless of social media channel, reaction time is paramount. Social Bakers released a study that found the average wait time on social media is nine hours. American Express Global Customer Service Barometer indicates that 25% of customers who complain on social media expect a response in less than an hour.

I was on a flight back to St. Louis with a short layover in Dallas. As we were approaching the Dallas airport, the Captain announced there was bad weather and we would be circling the airport until it was safe to land. Using the airplane’s internet, I checked to see if I would make my connection. Unfortunately, the delay was going to mean I’d miss my flight. So, I went on Twitter and direct messaged American Airlines that I was going to miss the flight. Within minutes, they responded that I was now protected on the next flight. That’s the way social customer care should be handled. Their response time was excellent. It wasn’t their fault the bad weather caused a delay, but they stepped up and seized the opportunity to make a passenger happy. By the way, I “went social” and tweeted about the great way AA handled my problem.

-Shep Hyken

To keep reading and learn more about leveraging your social media customer service, click here.

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