Important etiquette tips for customer service on social, live chat and email

Social customer service isn’t just a nice-to-have anymore, it’s a must-have. As smartphones continue to change the way we live our lives, consumer expectations for social media customer service continue to evolve. Even just a couple of years ago, the norms around social media were still forming and customers didn’t expect to receive responses to brand complaints online. 

Today people expect companies to respond quickly to their complaints. More than 90% of surveyed consumers have used social media to connect directly with a brand. Additionally, when asked for their preferred communication channel:

  • 34.5% said social
  • 24.7% said live/web chat
  • 19.4% preferred email to other channels
  • phone came in at just 16.1%

What does this mean for businesses?

The bad news: Many brands continue to drop the ball – either responding slowly, or not at all to social customer service opportunities – with around 71% of customer service complaints on social media going unanswered.

The good news: Even if your company has been slow to adopt social media customer service, acting now to implement social customer service strategies will put you ahead of the curve and boost customer satisfaction, retention, and profits.

However, it’s important to remember that social media is a different communications format than phone, with its own distinct norms, etiquette and expectations. So, what does effective social media customer service look like?

Customer service etiquette: these rules still apply

While there are nuances of etiquette that might vary from platform to platform, the overall larger rules of customer service still apply. The platform a customer uses to contact you regarding an issue doesn’t affect the underlying human need to be heard, understood, and respected. These golden rules of customer service still very much apply:

  • Treat your customer with respect – don’t belittle them or ignore their feelings.
  • Personalize your interactions where possible and make customers feel valued as individuals.
  • Stay professional and be gracious – even when confronted with angry or emotional customers.
  • Be transparent and accountable – acknowledge where you made mistakes and make it right.
  • Don’t say no to a request without offering an alternative.
  • Don’t say you don’t know something without also specifying how and when you will get that information.

Additionally, there are some etiquette rules of thumb that apply to all text-based channels, regardless of platform:

  • Be aware of your tone. Tone is important in any customer service interaction, but the lack of nonverbal cues (i.e. facial expression, body language, etc.) makes it perhaps the most important customer service element online because it will determine how customers feel about that interaction.
  • Proofread for spelling and grammar before sending. Just as word choices can inform tone, poor spelling and punctuation can entirely change the meaning of a message. Quick response time is important, but so is making sure your agents aren’t accidentally saying things they didn’t intend.
  • Provide agents with brand guidelines. Providing consistent customer experience is key to customer satisfaction. Just as with service in other channels, it’s important to provide agents with guidelines for social media and other text-based customer service, setting out expectations for tone and other aspects of your brand’s online persona.
  • Don’t sacrifice first resolution for speed. Customers hate waiting, but they hate having to repeat inquiries even more, so don’t pressure agents to prioritize speed of resolution over first-contact resolution. Taking extra time is worth it if you can solve a customer’s problem the first time.

That said, different platforms have different norms – and depending on which platform a customer is using to connect with you, their expectations for what constitutes good customer service may vary. With  that in mind, here are some additional platform-specific guidelines to keep in mind.

Tips for social media

  • Respond quickly. Of all digital customer service channels, customers expect the fastest response on social media – with most consumers expecting a response on Twitter within 1 to 4 hours. It’s important to monitor continuously and to stay on top of issues as they come up.
  • Be proactive. Advise customers of delays and service issues, and when you expect them to be fixed. If you can’t give an ETA, provide updates as the situation becomes clear. (That said, don’t spam your feed with updates. No one likes it when their social media feed is dominated by one user’s content.)
  • Filter appropriately and look for approximate matches. Is there a common misspelling of your company name or hashtag? What about your product name? If you only search for perfect spelling matches, you’re likely missing out on other complaints.
  • Don’t switch channels without permission. Attempting to switch a conversation to DMs or private messages right away can look like a form of cover-up or sweeping problems under the rug. Some problems might require additional personal information – in which case you should always ask to switch channels, giving the customer the choice on which channel they would like to continue.
  • Don’t feed the trolls. If a customer is genuinely upset about a customer service issue, that’s one thing. But if they are being hateful or abusive, have your agents block and move on.
  • Avoid hashtags. Use 1 if you must, 2 at the outside. But just because you can use 11 hashtags in a response does not mean that you should.

Tips for live chat / Facebook Messenger / other messengers

  • Don’t be anonymous. If your agents are corresponding individually, set up user images and profile names. People feel better about customer service attached to a real person than they do about faceless customer service attached to only a brand logo.
  • Respond quickly when you can. Customers are often more patient with wait times over live chat than they are on Twitter, but nobody likes waiting. Ensure that your live chat / messenger channels are staffed appropriately to ensure quick response times.
  • Never ignore customers. Your goal should be nothing less than a 100% chat response rate.
  • Set up away messages. This way if a customer contacts you outside of normal chat support hours, or you are experiencing unusual volume, they will at least get an acknowledgement the message has been received and you intend to respond.
  • Use canned responses for common inquiries. One of the primary efficiencies of live chat is the ability to set up canned responses for common inquiries. That said, only use them when appropriate, and ensure the message doesn’t feel canned. Customers love quick responses, but not if you make them feel faceless and unimportant.

Tips for email customer support

  • Be clear in the subject line. We all get too many emails. Keeping your subject clear and concise will help customers manage their email and prioritize accordingly.
  • Briefly introduce yourself. Email doesn’t have the same conversational quality as social media or live chat, but people still want to feel that their customer service is personalized. Have your agents briefly introduce themselves before directly addressing the inquiry.
  • Answer all questions in a single message. This may seem obvious, but most companies are not managing to achieve this. Customers hate sending follow-up emails with questions that weren’t answered the first time, so have your agents ensure they have answered all customer questions before hitting send. (If there is something that needs investigation, say so and provide an estimate as to when you will have an answer.)
  • Always include a signature block. No one likes hunting for contact information or interaction history. Keep things easy for your customers by including a signature block on all emails.

Do you have questions about how to improve your digital customer service? Contact us to speak with one of our digital engagement experts, or request a demo to see our digital customer service platform in action.

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About the Author: Anna Kreider