The Internet age is rapidly changing customer service and social media is driving much of that change. Sprout Social, a social media management platform for businesses, has just come out with new data showing five out of six social media messages sent to brands go without a response. As more customers take to Twitter and Facebook to talk to businesses, no longer are customer service communications a private two-way discussion. Customers are taking their complaints and questions public, and businesses are at a loss of what to do.
The Sprout Social Index, a review of over 18,000 public business profiles on Facebook and Twitter, and 160 million messages sent between Q1 2013 and Q2 2014, has found there is an astounding uptick in the volume of customer messages sent to brands. Just over the past year, the number of messages mentioning brands has increased 77 percent. Customers are sending twice as many messages that require a response from brands. (Sprout Social said its algorithms allows them to differentiate brand mentions from messages that require a response). Unfortunately, five out of six messages requiring a response went unanswered.
“Customers are using social as their primary means of communicating with businesses,” said Andrew Caravella, vice president of marketing at Sprout Social. “The fact that five out of six social messages go unanswered suggests a misunderstanding and a huge missed opportunity to create a better dialogue on social and really utilize it as an ongoing communication channel, not just a marketing tactic.”
Social media messages to brands were up across all sectors of the economy, but surged especially hard in government, Internet and technology, and professional services. Social media messages requiring a response from government saw a 267 percent increase, Internet and technology companies saw a 94 percent increase and professional services saw an 89 percent increase.
“The reality is your customers are on social, regardless of whether or not your brand is comfortable with it,” said Caravella. “I would advise any business to overcome their fear and have an open dialogue with their customers. As a company, you have a much better chance of influencing a conversation if you're actually part of it. Not to mention, lack of engagement with customers on social could be detrimental to your brand.”
Though many businesses are dropping the ball, some have embraced social media with great success. Caravella said there are a couple of companies that others could learn from. For instance, Chicago-based GrubHub (@GrubHub) stands out from the pack.
“They're able to provide stellar customer service while maintaining a fun and witty brand personality, and they always keep the conversation open,” said Caravella. “Their audience can expect a quick answer that is usually accompanied by a fun quip or smile. It's never about closing out a ticket; it's about bringing people into the brand experience.”
“Another great example, specifically in terms of response time and transparency, is Royal Dutch Airlines (@KLM),” said Caravella. “They update their Twitter cover photo every five minutes with their current expected response time, so customers know when they can expect an answer and hold the brand accountable.”
For those who are still reluctant to take their customer service public, Caravella had a few suggestions and a reality check.
“Know your strengths and your weaknesses, be honest and open and know that authenticity will always trump canned language or sterile responses,” said Caravalla. “Yes, there will be a combination of positive, negative and even some very neutral conversations, but that is real life, and it extends into social.”
"The Social Business: Highlights from the Sprout Social Index" by Sprout Social