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What is better than a new customer? A lifetime customer.  Loyal customers don’t just give you business one time; they come back and often times encourage others to consider your brand as well. Happy customers are among the most influential sources for prospective customers. Not so long ago, your neighbor and co-worker might have given you their take on the best car insurance or the greatest new restaurant, but today, you have an online network where consumers can research their purchases and access the opinion and experience of millions.

Social media is an incubator for customer feedback and brand sentiment. Customers are sharing positive and negative comments, making suggestions and asking questions. Importantly, customers are increasingly seeking to address their customer service issues and inquiries on social media. According to The Northridge Group’s The State of Customer Service Experience 2015, 47 percent of people surveyed plan to use social media next year the same or more than they currently do as a customer service channel. Yet, one-third of consumers who contact a brand on social media never get a response and only 13 percent achieve issue resolution on this channel – the lowest percentage of all channels. Indeed, for more than 30% of consumers that Northridge surveyed, social media for customer service is not meeting their expectations.

Do customers perceive your company as helpful and the service experience as effortless and consistent across channels? How companies deliver on their brand promise ultimately drives differentiation in the marketplace and brand loyalty. Here are a few ways companies can provide a better customer service experience to their customers:

Engage with your customers (especially when given positive feedback)

According to Northridge survey results, more people frequently post positive feedback than critical feedback on social media (38 percent versus 26 percent). Instinctively, companies may address all of the critical feedback and leave the positive promoters without as much as a “thank you.” Social media platforms offer companies the opportunity to reinforce and show appreciation for their brand advocates. Brands who are proactively engaging with customers on social media – rather than just fielding complaints – will find the most success in amplifying a positive brand image.

Social media should be part of the omni-channel mix

Given their fundamental differences, there’s no reason the think that social media will quickly surpass the telephone as the primary customer service experience channel. Right now, half of the consumers prefer the phone to any other channel for customer service issues, but that doesn’t minimize the importance of social media as a customer service channel. More than twice as many consumers use social media as the primary channel for making comments, complaints, and asking questions rather than problem resolution. Customers use social media differently than the phone and this presents an opportunity for companies to innovate and engage with customers on a new level, gain valuable feedback and connect with consumers on their channel of choice. All of your channels should complement, not compete with each other to deliver the most robust and seamless omni-channel customer service experience strategy possible.

better customer service

Be proactive on social media

There is an opportunity for brands to be proactive on social media by informing their customers of potential issues as they occur or addressing common concerns to the wider audience. For example, if a utility company has an outage, they can report the status on social media, which effectively helps more than one customer at a time. Companies can review their digital data and identify the most frequently asked questions and address them on their website. Twenty-six percent of respondents reported that they most often reach out to companies through social media when the other channels have failed them. Social media has become a critical part of the customer service experience mix, so companies should definitely engage in the right ways on this very public channel.  Both customers and companies want to feel a sense of loyalty, so companies should nurture those critical interaction points on every channel.

Brands that want to improve their customer experience need to embrace social media as part of their overall omni-channel strategy, leverage it for insights and engagement opportunities and meet the consumer on their channel of choice. To read more about Northridge findings, download the full report.