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Train Your Agents to Tackle the Challenge of Social Media Customer Service

“Customer service is just a day in, day out, ongoing, never ending, unremitting, persevering, compassionate type of activity.” So said Leon Gorman, the former Chairman and CEO of L.L. Bean. And he would know—in his 30 years at the helm, he transformed the company from a $5 million catalog company to a $1 billion multichannel enterprise. Customer service was and is paramount to L.L. Bean, and they are an example of successfully transitioning from taking orders via mail and phone to taking orders, answering questions and serving customers via phone, email, live chat and social media.

Contact center agents have a tough job. It’s not easy to interact with lots of different people each day, staying positive and helpful even when the customer is not. Tenured agents have a high level of emotional intelligence that allows them to flex their style and approach based on the interaction. Contact center agents are well-versed in customer service via standard channels, such as phone and email. But what about social media?

Agents may not be as familiar or comfortable with customer engagement in public forums. With phone calls, agents can get a sense of the caller’s personality and mindset and adjust their approach as needed. With channels, such as live chat or Twitter, the agent must make assumptions based on the written words. “I recently ordered Product X and I’m having a problem” comes across differently from “I RECENTLY ORDERED PRODUCT X AND I’M HAVING A PROBLEM.” Is the second person upset? Or did they forget to turn off Caps Lock on their keyboard?

It’s no secret that the challenge and level of complexity in providing customer service grows as more channels are included in the mix (Facebook, Twitter, live chat, SMS with more added all the time). There are some standards in customer service, but some things are different depending on the channel. For example, an agent may joke with a customer on the phone on a routine call with them in good humor. It can be tricky to do the same in a live chat exchange, since tone can be misconstrued. And, although customers want personalized service, it is more difficult to convey a playful yet professional tone in writing.

So how do brands train agents to provide the same outstanding customer service via all channels, from phone to email to social media? Here are seven tips to help agents at all levels, those with years of experience and those just starting, be successful when providing social customer service.

1. Familiarize agents with different social channels and how to provide customer service via those channels.

It may seem counterintuitive—hasn’t everyone heard of Twitter?—but just because someone has heard of Twitter or Facebook doesn’t mean they have used it. And if they don’t use it personally, they probably need extra help to learn how to provide customer service on that channel. As I mentioned before, different channels can require different customer service approaches, so training is essential. Provide a basic introduction, help agents establish accounts if they don’t have them, and guide the first few interactions.

2. Offer multiple training sessions.

Whether it is a series of trainings or single sessions designed for the beginner, the intermediate, or the advanced user – repetition is important. That’s not to say the same information is repeated in each session, but interactions should be built on the skills that will be used at all levels. You can also leverage your own social media savvy agents for training and mentoring other agents. Consider offering different types of training, too, including online training, meetings and…

3. Offer simulations for practice.

Simulations or role-playing exercises are helpful for everyone: trainees can experience an actual interaction on a particular channel, so they can learn the steps, the information they will need and where to find that information. It’s also helpful for the brand and trainer to see where someone may need extra help, where more information is needed or where another step should be added in the training process.

It’s ideal to provide real-time feedback when training with simulations or role-playing. Ask the trainee how they thought an interaction went and offer feedback, as well. Feedback is important even if it can’t be in real time, so consider an evaluation or wrap up report at the end of training.

4. Establish best practices for each channel and for all channels.

Best practices are important in all interactions, but the stakes are higher when an interaction is public, like on social media. Interactions are one thing in a one-on-one phone call…and quite another when a Facebook message or Tweet can be shared and sent to millions of people. Remind agents to be aware of the public nature of social media interaction.

Establish a “best practices” resource with reference information agents can access quickly. Ask your expert social media agents for tips and tricks. List basic phrases or responses that can be copied and pasted (and customized). There will be some best practices that are standard no matter the channel, while others will be specific to a channel. For example, an agent needs to keep responses short on Twitter, while a longer response is possible on Facebook or live chat—samples of each kind should be included in your best practices.

5. Establish a brand “voice” for social media interactions.

It’s also important to establish a brand “voice” all agents should follow. Whether it is “all business” or casual and friendly, set the standard for agents. Remember that agents should be consistent with the voice but need some flexibility. If not, all interactions run the risk of seeming canned and impersonal…and that could make a customer think they are interacting with a chat bot and not a person.

6. Focus on quality control.

Quality and consistency are especially important with public interactions, since written words and videos can have a long life in the virtual world. It’s easier than ever for people to share their interactions and they can quickly go viral. Remember the video about the airline that broke a musician’s custom guitar? Or the Twitter interaction between Patrick Stewart and a cable company about his 36-hour wait for installation? Those incidents happened years ago but they live forever online. Maintaining quality interactions and service is very important. 

7. Remind agents to start and complete an interaction on the same channel.

Even if the interaction is taken “offline” due to sensitive personal information, it’s important to wrap it up on the same channel where it started. By closing the loop, anyone who was following the interaction will be able to see it was resolved, thereby heading off potential issues.

Social customer service is ever-more important, and it’s essential to train agents to handle social interactions. Those agents who embrace the “ongoing, never ending” nature of social customer service, and who deliver that service with compassion and good humor, will reflect well on their brand…and ultimately exceed customer expectations.

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