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Social media is impacting all of our lives and businesses are no exception. There are many reasons for businesses to plug into online social networks – the most important of which is that it’s where customers are and where they want businesses to be. Many businesses are active on sites like Twitter and Facebook, but the vast majority is not yet delivering on the customer service experience expected by their customers.

Brands are successfully using social media for marketing and promotions, but there is a critical gap in customer service delivery on these newer, social channels. In our recent consumer survey, The Northridge Group found that one-third of consumers who contact a brand on social media never even get a response. Like it or not (no, pun intended), social media has quickly become a critical part of the customer service experience channel mix and organizations can no longer ignore it. Of all channels, social media has the lowest percentage of issue resolution and follow-up, with only 13 percent and 10 percent, respectively. In order to take your customer experience to the best-in-class level, brands must take a deeper look at their social customer service program.

Here are a few questions to ask as you evaluate your organization’s social customer service program:

Q: What do our customers want from us when using social channels and how do we best engage with them?

A: Every business is asking this fundamental question, especially given that customers’ use of alternative channels is increasing.  It is more important than ever to understand and tailor your service strategy to the customer’s channel preferences and not your own. Customers often have a preferred channel to use when reaching out to a business and their preferred channel definitely varies based on the complexity and urgency of the situation.  Once the customer preferences are understood, brands can create an omni-channel strategy that includes social media an effective engagement channel for customer service issues.

Q: Do we know what is being said about our business on social media?

A: Organizations must have a solid understanding of what is being said about their company, directly or indirectly. There are many listening and engagement tools available to help your organization better hear and respond to the conversations customers are having about your brand.  Even though there are added complexities with the social channels, the feedback and insights gained are instrumental to your customer experience strategy.

Q: Do we have a comprehensive response plan?

A: You would be surprised how many brand advocates – consumers who promote your business – don’t get a response from the company. These are your best customers and they haven’t received a “thank you?” A response plan should cover all types of responses, whether positive or negative. Twenty-six percent of consumers turn to social media when they can’t reach a representative through another channel – the highest of all reasons – indicating that many use social as a last resort. It is important to examine these escalations and not only resolve that customer’s specific issues, but also leverage the insights to determine where the breakdowns are on other channels.

Q: Have we empowered our social customer service representatives?

A: Forty-two percent of consumers expect a response from companies within an hour on social media. In order to deliver on those expectations, businesses must empower their front-line social employees with the authority to address and resolve issues. Social is a public channel that requires not just quick answers, but the right answers, so it is critical to have highly skilled, cross-trained representatives in this team. Due to the public nature of this channel, the representative may also have to quickly and effectively move the discussion to another channel, so they should be proficient in handling service issues across all channels.

Q: Do we have the right customer service channel mix?

A: Now, more than ever, the customer is in control of which channel they use to interact with your brand.  While social is an evolving channel, it is clearly an important part of a brand’s holistic, omni-channel mix. The customer should receive timely and accurate answers to their questions or concerns within any channel and most importantly, a seamless experience when they move from one channel to another. There is significant room for improvement as we sixty-one percent of customers have to interact with a company on more than one channel to get their issue resolved. All channels must work together to deliver the best possible customer service experience.

To uncover what it is that consumers expect from a customer service interaction, check out The Northridge Group’s new report, The State of Customer Service Experience 2015, where we discuss gaps in what consumers expect and their actual customer service experiences.

For more insights, download our latest State of Customer Service Report.