The Great Social Customer Service Race – 14 Top Brands Tested on Social Support Savvy

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Guest post by Ashley Furness. Ashley is a market analyst with Software Advice, a lead generation and research advisory firm that offers software reviews and comparisons. 

Today, consumers tend to base their purchase decisions on reviews, social media and referrals from friends. They are interested in marketing, but only if it matches their expectations about the brand.

If anyone had a handle on social customer service, I assumed 14 of the nation’s top brands – such as Coca-Cola and Pepsi – would be among them. But recently I completed a research project that tested this theory, and I came up with some surprising results.

The five-week project, dubbed “The Great Social Customer Service Race,” assessed the how quickly and often the companies responded on Twitter. Four Software Advice employees used their personal Twitter accounts to send messages to the brands, sometimes with the @ symbol and sometimes without the @. When the @ symbol is used, the account holder is notified that they’ve been mentioned in a tweet.

It’s not feasible to expect these brands – some receiving thousands of messages per day – to reply to everything. But we designed questions that should have received some kind of response based on social customer service best practices. Overall, the participants responded a mere 14 percent of the time.

Here are some lessons we learned from the experiment that you can use to improve your social customer service process.

Don’t Dismiss Messages with No @

The companies that participated in the race only responded three times out of the 140 instances where an @ symbol wasn’t used and the brand was still mentioned.

Not all messages sent without the @ should receive a response – for some it could be considered invasive. But much of the time customers hope the brand is secretly listening. This is an opportunity to surprise and delight, which can lead to positive word of mouth and create a brand advocate.

Also, listening for mentions without your handle can uncover opportunities to retweet positive feedback for promotional purposes. Customers talking positively about your brand significantly reinforces messages from your marketing team.

Prioritize Message with Critical Emotion or Intent

For the race, we purposefully sent messages with keywords such as “mad,” “thinking of switching,” and “thank you” to see if this increased the response rate. In most cases, there was a negligible difference. This is a huge misstep.

Since you can’t respond to everything, companies should have a system for prioritizing what gets answered and how quickly. Listening for keyword triggers such as those mentioned above is one useful method. Many social CRM programs can be customized to move these kind of messages to the front of the support ticket line.

Know Your Twitter Advocates and Detractors

In addition to keywords, it’s also important to factor in Twitter advocacy and detractors into your prioritization strategy. I tweeted the same brand as many as seven times during the social race. The goal was to assess whether the brand would adjust their response time based on my previous message history.

We didn’t find a huge difference in response between the beginning and end of the race. Social brand advocates offer an opportunity to retweet positive messages about your brand. On the other side of things, responding to someone that tweets negatively about your brand can mitigate their negative influence.

To accomplish this process, ensure your listening software integrates with your ticketing system. This will allow you to track and record relevant Twitter activity, just as you would serve through phone, email or chat.

Time for a Change in Social Strategy

The primary reason these companies missed many of our tweets likely was a gap in strategy more than technology. Marketers should work collaboratively with customer service when managing social media.

Want to see how some of the biggest brands fared? Here are the results:

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