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To respond, or not to respond, to that tweet

Customer Service Channels

Social media has become an invaluable tool for providing online customer service. With their vast reach, social sites connect brands directly with consumers making it easy to source information and get immediate assistance.

There are instances, however, when social media interactions can turn ugly. Not all brand-customer engagements result in quick, smooth resolutions, and this reality means that companies sometimes find themselves in the difficult position of having to determine how to respond — if at all.

What social media users expect from your brand

Social media makes it easy for brands to engage with customers via real-time content. There are other advantages as well. By monitoring brand and product mentions and employing social listening, you can glean insight into consumers' perception of your brand and proactively seek out customer problems that may need to be addressed.

However, before you can determine how best to approach social media customer service, it's important to know what consumers want from your brand on each social site — in addition to a speedy reply.

Every network has something different to offer, and consumers come to them for varied reasons. For example, Facebook reports that consumers believe a messaging feature, like Facebook's Messenger app, is "easy to use, time-saving, effective, reliable, and fast." Your customers will expect a prompt response on this network, so "use auto-responses to let people know if you won't be available," Facebook says.

On Twitter, people "love to see emotion, humor and the face behind your brand," as outlined on their business blog. Small touches like personalized responses and customer care agents signing their name to each tweet can help you to build relationships and humanize your brand.

When it comes to Instagram, Lisa Barnett, strategy and innovation director at social media agency, The Social Element, writes that brands should cultivate a positive experience for their customers: "It's essential that brands have eyes on the page ready to not only offer help to customers but to provide positive reinforcement to posters that contribute to the community and delete any abusive comments that slip through the automated system."

Remember that a negative experience on any social channel can create a negative impression of the brand overall, making content moderation an integral part of any strong social media customer service strategy.

Public or private?

For all of the benefits of employing social media for customer service, there's an obvious disadvantage: Conversations are public. One way to mitigate the risk of negative comments going viral is to funnel customer remarks to a dedicated customer service account.

For example, on Twitter, Spotify has @SpotifyCares specifically for support and tech queries, while AT&T has @ATTHelp and Xbox has @XboxSupport. Brands can use these dedicated handles to tweet product, service and maintenance reports and updates, as well as to answer customer questions and concerns.

Xbox Twitter

Recently, Twitter announced its users can now choose to hide replies to their tweets from the public eye. The company writes, "This way, you have more control over the conversations you start, but people can still see the entire conversation." When this feature is enabled, Twitter users see a message that reads: "Some replies were hidden by the Tweet author."

Facebook, meanwhile, provides the option of hiding customer comments from everyone other than the commenter and their Facebook friends, which can be a good way to diminish its negative effects without inciting further drama.

While these features provides brands with the ability to conceal unflattering comments, there's a chance that doing so could cause customers to speculate about what they're hiding. Companies should ask themselves whether it's better to be honest about what's being said, or to cover it up in the interest of protecting their brand.

Another best practice is to transition the conversation to a private platform. If a customer is frustrated or angry and publicizing their feelings, provide them with a customer service email address or encourage them to send you a direct message. Ride-hailing brand Lyft takes this approach on Facebook in order to continue conversations privately and minimize complaints on its feed.

Lyft Example

Know when to hold your tongue

Every company has been in a situation where a customer has publicly posted an unfavorable remark. So what is a brand to do?

The solution is to assess the situation and respond in a way that will cause the least amount of damage to your brand. For example, unfairly negative comments — especially when written by people with large networks — can influence other existing and potential customers. A brand could choose to ignore it, but it's often best for companies to take the high road and offer a sincere apology in the hopes that the commenter will acquiesce.

You may also find yourself dealing with trolls, whose toxic comments are not only damaging but can go against social community guidelines. In these cases, brands are well within their rights to delete or hide comments from the public. If a user crosses the line by posting hateful and offensive comments, it's often best to simply not respond or to block them from your social media account.

The rules of engagement are a little different with social media versus when you're providing customer service through traditional channels. Understanding this unique environment and your customers' expectations will ensure that consumers receive the stellar service they're accustomed to and remain loyal to your brand.

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