Social media has become a critical touchpoint for companies seeking to deliver superior customer care. It’s a must-have for any customer journey, considering consumers are using social platforms like Twitter and Facebook in unprecedented ways for everything from content sharing to networking to product reviews. The impact of social media channels is huge. Right now, there are 313 million active users on Twitter and 1.7 billion monthly active users on Facebook. Lisa Oswald, senior vice president of customer service at Travelzoo, says, “As more and more people are using social media platforms for content sharing and social and professional networking, customers increasingly expect brands to offer services via these platforms. In 2016, nearly one-third of the world and 80 percent of internet users accessed social networks regularly — that’s 2.34 billion people worldwide.”

Rapid response time

Because of convenience and immediacy of social media, consumers now expect (and even demand) quick and timely responses from companies. According to a Nielsen-McKinsey study, more than 50 percent of Twitter users expect a response from companies in less than two hours. Marie Shubin, senior director of consumer relations at E. & J. Gallo Winery, believes that consumers no longer wait for companies to get back to them in the traditional “two business day” timeframe. Instead, they want answers when they reach out. “The implications of this for consumer service departments are huge. Consumer service departments have to rethink and retool their programs to accommodate these changes and develop new processes from the consumers’ viewpoint,” says Shubin.

Companies that deliver customer care via social media can also reap financial benefits. A 2016 study conducted by Twitter found that businesses create “a massive opportunity for themselves” when they respond to, and acknowledge, customer service-related tweets. In fact, customers are willing to spend 3 to 20 percent more on an average-priced item when a customer receives a response to a tweet.

Key decision points

There are many considerations that are important when leveraging social media for customer engagement.

Invest in the right tools. Get the right technology tools that provide the most useful dashboards and allow your company to access important consumer data within specific social platforms.

“It’s more important than ever for brands to embrace social media as a central part of their customer journey strategy.”

Determine who will manage the social media engagement. Is it your customer care team? Or your marketing team? Or is it shared? If the listening and engagement are a shared responsibility, then it is important that both departments can speak with one brand voice. Tied to this is also ensuring you have staff in place with the right skill set to engage on social media. Possessing strong writing skills as well as having the ability to listen, express empathy and respond in the right tone for a specific channel are critical.

Determine which social media platform is most effective. Social media is not a one-size-fits-all proposition so be clear on which platform will serve your customers best and allow you to engage in the most meaningful ways. 

The bottom line

It’s more important than ever for brands to embrace social media as a central part of their customer journey strategy. Smart companies are not just using social media platforms but also leveraging them at strategic touch points — before, during and after the sales or purchase process. There’s also tremendous listening and engaging occurring within these social channels that yield valuable consumer insights that companies are using to tailor the customer experience. It’s important for consumers to know that their voices are being heard through social media (whether it’s positive or negative) and that companies are listening. Customer care departments are often at the heart of these critical interactions. Oswald explains, “Because social media delivers such an abundance of customer data, brands can leverage this data to better understand customer wants and needs and engage with customers in ways beyond delivery of customer care.”

The touch points resulting from social media engagement can enhance customer engagement and drive brand loyalty. Companies can also leverage social media to run targeted marketing campaigns, generate sales leads, crowdsource product ideas or run interactive campaigns.

While social media channels will likely remain a core part of the customer journey, it falls on companies to balance the need for transparency and speed with promoting the brand voice and an overall positive corporate image. This can be both a challenge and an opportunity for companies willing to be serious players in the social customer journey.