As discussed in one of our recent posts, reputational risk has become a top priority in recent years with the explosive adoption of social media.

We’ve all seen the Shell smear campaign come across our news feed, or the overnight meltdown witnessed on Applebee’s Facebook page after an employee was fired for posting a customer’s receipt. Yet we’ve also seen positive outcomes: increased communication between corporations and their customers, sharing of campaigns that strike a chord with consumers to their entire networks, and even visible praise from those who have had their questions and concerns dealt with in a satisfactory manner.  

Social media, if nothing else, allows for complete transparency between a vendor and its customers. If companies want to protect their reputation and turn even the angriest customer into a devoted fan, this transparency must showcase a unified approach to customer support and problem resolution.  

Changes in customer support channels

Long gone are the days when customers would simply call a 1-800 number to ask about the whereabouts of a delayed package, or vent their frustrations of a billing mistake. Consumers are now posting these questions and complaints in public forums for all to see.

What was once a single unsatisfied customer can now quickly turn into an angry mob. And while a 24-hour response time may seem acceptable for email and phone inquiries, we have been conditioned to expect an immediate response when it comes to social media.                                          

Most companies have developed social media teams who are in charge of pushing content and promotions through their social media channels, and responding to all inquiries from consumers. This certainly addresses the need to respond swiftly to customer questions, however the majority of social media teams reside within the marketing department.

These socially-savvy employees are marketers at heart. They are not necessarily adept at resolving customer issues or diffusing an angry customer, nor do they follow the same processes as the customer support team. This results in a fractured customer experience.

Inconsistencies in customer service can damage your reputation

Imagine John Doe receives his home internet bill and realizes he has been charged twice on every bill for the past six months. He is a little shy and hates calling to complain about anything, so he decides to email the customer support team at the email address provided on his bill.  He gets an automatic response stating that they have received his email and will reply to him within 48 business hours. John feels a little riled up as they owe him in excess of $300, so he decides to check their Facebook page. He notices others have posted questions or complaints and have received a response, so he decides to do the same.  

Within five minutes of posting his comment, he receives a response from a member of the social media team, Sarah. Sarah states that she has looked into his account and it appears his contract includes two separate internet connections. She acknowledges that this was likely a miscommunication during his initial setup call, and she can remove the second connection going forward. While she cannot refund him the $300 in excess charges, she can apply it toward future credit on his account. John is delighted with how quickly and easily the issue was dealt with and thanks her for her help.

Later that afternoon, a member of the customer support team emails John and apologizes for the error on his bill. He says he has corrected it and John will receive only one charge going forward. In addition to this, he has applied a refund for three months of the additional charges on his account.

Let’s put ourselves in John’s shoes. Not only has he been double charged to the tune of $300, but he has been given two different options from two different individuals. One person says she is unable to apply a refund, but will apply all the extra charges towards future credit, the other person has applied a refund for only half of the extra charges. John isn’t sure who he should contact or what has been applied to his account.

He had thought this issue was resolved and now feels like this company has no idea what it’s doing. He details his experience on the Facebook page and asks that they get their act together and come back to him with a final resolution. Other customers see his post and begin to comment stating their disappointment.

Consistent customer support through all channels

This example illustrates how quickly a company’s reputation can be damaged through social media channels. But there is an easy way to avoid such damage and turn customer issues into opportunities.

The majority of customer support teams nowadays are highly skilled in problem resolution and escalation procedures, and follow a common set of rules when it comes to customer refunds, discounts, and incentives. Incorporating the social media channel into the customer support team ensures that every customer will get the exact same response whether they choose email, phone, or social media. This promotes a positive customer experience and a reputation for great customer service.

It is important to note, however, that all outgoing content and messaging released through social media feeds should remain with the marketing team for brand consistency.

Reputation is one of the greatest risks facing B2C businesses today. Consumers now hold the power to publicly condemn a company at will, and social media enables any negative message to spread like wildfire. While there will always be unsatisfied customers, there are a few steps any organization can take to minimize the risk, provide a seamless customer experience, and turn social media transparency into an opportunity to secure customer loyalty.

5 steps to minimize reputation risk in customer support and social media

  • Ensure all customer inquiries placed via social media channels are handled by customer support personnel.
  • If the customer support team is subdivided into groups such as phone, email, social media, etc., it is important to have a common set of procedures which all subgroups adhere to. This will provide the customer with a seamless experience no matter how they choose to contact you.
  • Response time is important no matter how customers choose to contact you. However, a 24 hour response time, while considered standard for email, is simply unacceptable in the realm of social media. Customers expect a response immediately, but this doesn’t mean they expect a resolution right away. Oftentimes, a simple update such as, “Thanks for your question! I’m going to speak with my supervisor on this right away and will get back to you within a couple of hours. Stay tuned!”, is enough to satisfy the customer’s urgency until the answer to their question has been determined.
  • Respond to positive feedback just as quickly as criticism. In an age where many believe customer service is a lost art form, any opportunity to showcase your happy customers should be taken. Provide thoughtful responses to positive customer feedback and share with your followers.
  • If and when your customers decide to use your social network against you, as discussed above, have a plan of attack ready to go. All employees who interact with customers via social media feeds should be aware of this plan and know exactly what steps to take, what answers to provide, and how to minimize the fallout.

For more information or advice, ClearRisk would be happy to help! Our risk experts can help you manage reputational risk.

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