Where Social Service Stands [Q&A with Sprout Social]

What does a generation of consumers, who can request a car in seconds (Lyft), invest automatically (Stash) and pay friends with a few taps (Venmo), do when they are put on hold, have a bad experience or simply have a question?

They often turn to social media to circumvent wait time, vent frustrations or try to get immediate answers to their queries. For the most part, however, brands have been slow to keep up with the demand of incoming social messages.

As part of our upcoming July feature on Web Customer Service, Website Magazine asked Andrew Caravella, VP of strategy and brand engagement at Sprout Social, a series of question to understand more about where social customer service stands today as well as strategies to optimize efforts on the channel. We think you'll find his insights helpful. 


What are the current expectations of customers/users when it comes to obtaining a response for a customer service-related query  from brands on social media?

Andrew Caravella, Sprout Social: Customers often turn to social with their customer service issues because they believe a Tweet will be faster than calling a company and waiting on hold. Since customers have this perception of speed and convenience on social, it's crucial that brands fulfill that expectation. In a survey of customers who have reached out to brands on social, 32 percent expect a response within 30 minutes-and an additional 42 percent expect a response within 60 minutes.

How are brands currently meeting those expectations (or not)?

The majority of brands aren't meeting their customers' expectations for social customer care. According to the Sprout Social Index, only 12 percent of messages to brands requiring a response actually receive one. When brands do respond, it takes an average of 11 hours, so timeliness is a factor, as well. Managing a high volume of inbound messages can be tough, but brands that put an emphasis on social engagement and responsiveness reap the rewards in terms of customer loyalty in the long term.

What are some active steps brands can take to provide quicker, more effective customer service on social media channels?

It's been a trend lately for brands to spend a lot of time creating funny personas or being promotional. While sassy replies seem to make headlines, Sprout data shows that customers would much prefer that brands focus on providing customer service rather than serving up a snarky tweet. To be exact, 88 percent feel annoyed when brands make fun of followers, and 67 percent feel the same way about brands making fun of competitors, yet 83 percent want brands to respond to them.

So for brands in an industry where customer service is key, it's crucial to ensure their social team is structured to provide fast, responsive social customer service.

An emerging way to respond quicker and resolve inquiries sooner, at scale, is to use chatbots to answer FAQs or gather necessary information from customers about their issue before routing their query to a human agent. Bots can handle repetitive tasks efficiently without ever tiring, then make an automated hand-off to a human agent for a more nuanced resolution and better customer experience. One caveat: While bots can make Twitter conversations simpler and easier, they should never totally replace the human experience.

Are there any brands you think are particularly good at providing customer support on social media?

One of Sprout's customers, Tito's Handmade Vodka, turns to the Sprout Smart Inbox for managing their inbound messages and making sure they all get a reply, all while staying true to their friendly and  fun-loving brand voice. In four months of using the Smart Inbox, Tito's saw a 12.6 percent rise in followers and a 37.1 percent increase in engagement. Because they put such an emphasis on open lines of communication on social, customers catch onto this and engage not only to ask questions but to share their enthusiasm and to advocate for the brand.

What can smaller enterprises learn from them?

When it comes to social customer service, there's no barrier to entry that prevents a smaller business from being just as effective as a larger business. What matters is prioritizing customer service and investing the necessary resources from early on, depending on your needs. Even with a small team, a brand can demonstrate that they're open and enthusiastic about using social as a customer service channel by engaging with those who reach out. Over time, customers will come to expect interaction on social-so whether small or quickly growing, a business just needs to keep delivering on that promise.