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Ask the Expert: How is Social Media Changing Customer Service?

As social media has moved from emerging to mainstream, it’s deeply impacted the way businesses operate, and they way customers reach out to brands. Perhaps no one has felt a greater impact than the contact center.  Earlier this month I had the chance to chat with Michael Sim, social media consultant and CEO of Show the World the Power of Your Voice.  He shared his perspective on how social media is impacting customer service, and how brands must adapt.

You can check out the full interview and learn more about Michael below.

Have other questions for Michael, or advice to share?  Leave them in the comments!

Erica: How has social media impacted customer expectations, and how can brands keep up?

Michael: Social media has had a massive impact on customer expectations by giving everyone a voice and direct access to nearly any person or company online. Companies are now forced to become more accountable, transparent, and responsive to their social audience due to this level of accessibility.

One example that comes to mind is my ongoing social engagement with a company who created one of the main apps I use for social media content scheduling. As with most applications, there are always going to be bugs and updates. I regularly tweet them publicly to let them know when I find something wrong. The company promptly thanks me for my recommendation, and even follows-up from time to time to let me know if/when my discoveries have been fixed.

For most companies, however, the thought of having someone publicly blast criticism or an angry tweet is terrifying. And while many of us know that good and bad reviews are healthy and necessary (as long as there is proper follow-through), this fear has caused many companies to respond in two distinct ways:

a. Blog Updates & Scripted Customer Support

Some of the companies I’ve worked with respond with a very closed-off and sterile approach to social media. Due to the perception of risk over the social “unknown” that comes with creating content and becoming more social, standard blog updates and scripted customer support tweets comprise a large portion of their social activity. This tends to hinder the growth of their social media audience, reduces overall engagement on what little content they do publish, and can have a significant negative impact over customer loyalty.

b. Humanized Publishing & User Engagement

On the other side of the spectrum are brands who have embraced social into all aspects of their business activity (such as is seen with the social app company mentioned earlier).


“Social” CEOs, account managers, customer support, sales teams, and other public-facing positions help add a necessary human element to the B2C and B2B relationship building process. The way I see it is that the nirvana of social ROI lies not in Likes or Retweets, but in the quality of conversation.

Erica: Is it possible to adequately support customers through social media without the use of fancy software or technology?

Michael: Having tested a wide variety of industry standard social media management tools, I actually find it far easier and more natural to manage communications natively (on the original social network apps) via my iPhone or iPad. I’ve used TweetDeck, Seesmic, Hootsuite, Radian 6, and Sprout Social in the past, and they all have their own unique features. But for some reason, being immersed in the native experience gives me a far greater sense of satisfaction. Who would have figured – it’s actually fun to be social on social media.

Having said that, my number one recommendation to companies consider social customer support is simple: come out of hiding from behind the technology, embrace your role in the social community, and treat every new contact as your new best friend.

I believe that technology is burdened with the task of making what already works, work better. The handshake, the fruit basket, the holiday card… Social media is only helping to remind us that everything we care about is built through relationships. Social media isn’t an obligation, it’s an opportunity – so jump in and join the conversation.



Erica: How can companies avoid any risks that may be associated with offering social media customer support?

Michael:  Here’s my advice:

  1. Don’t Hire Amateurs - As many have witnessed with the ever-so-popular “Social Media Fails” examples, businesses who hire amateurs to manage their accounts face a far greater risk. Since Social Media is relatively new, many companies consider Social Media Management as something an intern, a family member, or a general staff employee can handle. I can’t begin to tell you how many times I’ve heard “She’s really good with that Twitter stuff” in the past. Well that’s all good fun until you get a pouty 20-something employee who forgets to switch over to their personal account – and openly complains about the traffic (using curse words) to your entire social media audience. It’s even more fun when the press picks up on it, creates a screenshot, and then writes a blog post about it.

  2. Develop a Social Media Policy - Like all business processes, companies should create a social media guidance and regulation policy before allocating serious resources towards social media. For some companies (such as stock trading companies), it’s important to remain unbiased when discussing publicly traded companies or trading strategies. In this case, the company might face risk if it answered a question about trading, or if it shared a piece of content that strongly urged someone to take action on a stock.

  3. Use Examples To Show “What Not to Do” - The lesson in this example is to train your employees on social media best practices, and hold them accountable to a signed policy regulating their use and activity of company-controlled social accounts. Take some time to search Google for examples of “Social Media Fails” or “Social Media Bloopers”. There are plenty of examples available that you can then share with your teams so that they have a better understanding of what not to do. Then, take some time to research any industry regulations or policies that restrict the public discussion of certain information.

  4. Create Dedicated Support Accounts - Another way to lessen the risk of social media customer support is to create a dedicated support account on any network you have an active presence. For instance, if you’re active on Twitter, create a @YourBiz_Support account. This way, support staff can “listen” for brand mentions from other users, and immediately take action to resolve a support inquiry.

  5. Personalize Your Messages - One technique that has consistently proven itself valuable is to use the carat symbol ^ along with your initials as a social media “signature” (example: Have a great day Jane! ^MS). This humanizes your social activity, and tends to have a calming effect over angry customers.

  6. Manage Disgruntled Customers - As I’m sure most of us have witnessed, there will always be one Debbie Downer in the group. Consistent with the cliché, this customer simply insists on being angry despite your best efforts at resolution. If this happens to you, try to take the conversation to Private Direct Messages (Twitter DMs), Private Messages (Facebook), email, live chat, or telephone.

About Michael Sim:

Michael Sim is the CEO of Sociafy, a charitable social strategy group that partners with charities and non-profits to launch celebrity-infused viral events through social media. In addition to recently becoming a new father, Michael is also passionate about leveraging social media and technology for Social Good. Connect with Michael at @ChicagoDesign or Sociafy @Sociafy on Twitter.