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Managing online shoppers' fear of the fact that there is no shop assistant over the counter to deal with a complaint when an order goes wrong, should be an easy process in the age of social media. Using social media to address such issues is also a great way of managing online reputation.
At I-COM we always recommend that clients have a clearly visible phone number on their website, meaning nervous potential customers can phone them if they have any questions; this also makes it clear to potential customers that there is a person who is ready and willing to help them, really driving home the point that customers are important. This is also true of customer service focussed social media accounts: in the age of social media, providing customers with mutiple methods of quick response has never been easier.
One of the great things about social media, from the customer's perspective, is that it provides another means of contacting a business and getting help - should a phone be busy or inaccessible, or the question be fast and simple. But if you're going to have social media accounts (and a contact number/email) you must make sure that you back it up with action. Here's an example:
See Tickets Customer Service vs. All Tomorrow's Parties Festivals vs. Me
Last April my husband booked tickets and a 2-berth chalet at Butlins for the All Tomorrow's Parties festival coming up this weekend (10/12/10 - 12/12/10) via See Tickets. About a month later a couple of friends decided they wanted to come as well but all the 2-berths had sold out so my husband dutifully contacted See Tickets and asked if he could upgrade the booking from 2 people to 4. They obliged, sent a confirmation email, refunded the cost of a 2-berth and charged our card for the cost of a 4-berth.
See Tickets asks that you wait until five days before an event before contacting them to report a problem - but their customer service hours are Monday-Friday so we couldn't phone over the weekend. It is now 24 hours before we set off (via a stopover in Cardiff) and we have yet to receive our tickets, or the email we should have received 2 weeks ago with a series of important forms.
On Friday (03/12/10), we checked the order status on our tickets to discover they had not been dispatched yet. On Monday (06/12/10) my husband tried phoning them - for several hours - and could not get through. Finally, he filled in the email contact form - which states that all emails will be responded to within 3 hours. Today, on Wednesday (08/12/10), we've still heard nothing back from See Tickets.
It doesn't end there, however. While trying to phone See on Monday, my husband also tweeted at them a couple of times, as did I. They have been updating their Twitter feed, but have yet to respond to a series of rather frantic @ messages from two people worried they won't be able to get into an event for which they've paid £165/person - and for which they have to travel 400 miles.
On Tuesday, having given up receiving any sort of response from See Tickets, my husband emailed ATP Festival directly in hopes they could, at least, confirm that they had our name on a booking form. ATP responded within about an hour to let us know everything was fine and directing us to the necessary forms on their website.
Good customer service is its own online reputation management
Where See Tickets went wrong here isn't that they've potentially made a mistake on a confusing order - it's that they have shown no desire whatsoever to even acknowledge the problem. This is a critical error for any business - particularly one whose service is mainly delivered online.
For starters, if you deliver a poor experience time and time again then eventually customers will go elsewhere - where we can we use WeGotTickets, Gigantic or Ticketmaster (or even Ticketline). Not only that, if you deliver a bad experience again and again, eventually your customers will go online and complain about you in some form and that message will get out (and 417 reviews isn't going to be a number skewed by marketers).
If you're actively online where customers are talking about you then you can manage that conversation - and deal with issues as they arise - and you can build a lot of trust off the back of that conversation.
Social Media is the online version of a shop front
I like to tell clients who ask 'Why should I have a social media presence?', that social media can operate alongside a website to fulfill the role of the shop assistant helping customers in a brick and mortar store - it allows a company to actively deal with customers' questions and any issues as they arise in a public manner - so that potential customers can see a commitment to service and quality in action.
If you have the accounts, however, and you aren't using them, it's potentially worse than not having them. Have you ever been in a shop waiting at the till while the sales assistants chatted to each other or messed about on their mobile phones? Did you leave? Well, having a Twitter account where you talk at your customers but don't respond to them is the same thing. It demonstrates that you don't really care about what they have to say and sends the message that customer service is the last thing on your mind.
So the moral is: social media is the best way to proactively manage your online reputation, but just having an account isn't enough. Make sure you use any accounts you have to actively engage, or you will likely do yourself more harm than good.