Social Media Strategist
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Social Media marketing, strategy and professional development blog for Jon-Stephen Stansel, a social media strategist living in Austin, Texas.

Getting Customer Service on Social Media

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Advice from a social media manager

by Jon-Stephen Stansel

Having worked as a social media manager for several years, I have handled my fair share of complaints; some reasonable, some ridiculous. For many, social media has become their go-to method for getting customer service and for good reason—it works. However, there are some tricks to getting your complaint resolved faster and with better results. Social media managers are only human, after all and not all complaints are handled equally. So here’s some advice from a social media manager who’s run accounts for several large organizations on how to get the best customer service on social media.

Ask a clear question

Don’t start with “I have an issue, can you help?” We get this sort of question all the time. The answer to that is always it depends. The social media manager at the other end has no idea if the next question is going to be a reasonable customer service request or an outlandish demand that can only be resolved by a company executive. Start with a clear specific question or request like “I’d like to check the status of my order. I ordered it two weeks ago and it still hasn’t shipped.” or “I’m trying to make a purchase, but the website won’t accept my coupon code. Can you help?”

Have a clear result in mind

What do you want to get out of this exchange? Do you want to return a product? A discount? Information? Be clear about what you would like the result to be. The social media manager you are talking to wants to help, if you are vague or have unrealistic expectations, there is not much they can do. If you are just angry and are complaining just to vent, know that you are not going to accomplish much other than ruining someone’s day and not really making yours that much better.

Private first, then public

One of the reasons why getting customer service on social media is so effective is the public nature of social media. Brands don’t like to get called out in public and answering customer complaints on social is a good way for brands to turn a negative into a positive, showing that they stand behind their service and want to make sure every customer is satisfied. That said; don’t use the public forum to blackmail brands into answering your complaint. Give them a chance to sort it out in private (or at least via @ mention) first, before putting them on blast. Also, many brands may be more willing to provide extra discounts or services via private message rather than in public as they don’t want to encourage more people to complain in order to get something for free.

Be realistic and know who you are talking to

It hurts to write this, but social media managers don’t have a ton of power. Your Tweet isn’t going to lead to a drastic shift in how the company does business. (Unless maybe you get the attention of Elon Musk.) The social media manager of an airline can’t create a direct flight from your municipal airport to Paris. No matter how much you Tweet to McDonald's, the McRib isn’t going to be on the menu all year. Keep your requests realistic.

Be friendly

It should come as no surprise that people are mean on the internet…real mean. A good social media manager has a thick skin and may have seen it all, but they are still a person. When complaining to brands on social media remember that there is a living breathing person on the other end of the screen. That person probably was up all night with a crying baby and then woke up early to drive over an hour in heavy traffic to get to the office, where the coffee pot was broken and then got your angry Tweet. (Okay, that person was me.) In general, people return kindness with kindness and are less likely to go out of their way to help rude people. Be nice.

Be reasonable about response time

Most social media teams are very small. Usually it’s not a team at all, but one person…a person that probably sleeps from time to time. If you send a Tweet at 4am on a Saturday, chances are you might not get a reply until the following Monday. And that should be okay. In general, social media managers want to reply as soon as they possibly can, but they aren’t robots and it isn’t always possible. If you don’t get a reply right away, don’t fly off the handle and demand a reply. If your request is sent after normal business hours, understand that you probably won’t get a reply immediately. Sometimes social media managers go to see movies.

Use social media for things other than complaining

If a complaint is particularly difficult or insulting, know that the social media manager is going to look at your profile and past posts to determine if you are troll. If every post you’ve ever made is negative or vulgar, you are probably not going to get a reply. A good social media manager tries to respond to every complaint, but also knows that it’s best not to feed the trolls.

Remember not everything can be handled via social media

Finally, some issues are going to take more than a few Tweets to resolve. Don’t be angry if you are asked to fill out a form or make a phone call. Social media managers want to solve the problem on social media whenever possible, but sometimes the company requires some paperwork and red tape that the social media manager can’t circumvent for you. If that’s the case, be patient and understanding. If you have questions about how to handle the next step of the process, the social media manager will be there to provide whatever help they can.