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Hitting the social, customer care sweet spot in retail

19th February 2021

Physical retail stores are some of hardest hit businesses with the coronavirus lockdown restrictions. As 2021 continues to be ‘anything but normal’, we wanted to share five practical tips to help retailers maximize social customer care, to support operational efficiency.

1. Keep internal communications clear (but hidden from the customer)

With physical stores out of action and online shopping bearing much more than it's usual weight, many customer journeys are taking a cross-channel approach (shoppers might start a journey offline and be forced to finish it online because there is no other option - not by choice) and lots of information needs to be shared between multiple teams.

For example, there’s a Christmas present in my cupboard that was bought in-store, but will have to be returned online - even though I would much rather take it back to the physical store it came from.

In the current circumstances, ensuring your social media team can quickly access accurate customer information is crucial for maintaining great customer experience. If I were to contact the retailer of my unwanted gift on Twitter, the last thing I’d want to hear is “sorry, we’re the social media team, you’ll have to email if you bought in-store”. Social customer relationship management needs to be mandatory, not a ‘nice to have’.

For more tips on making your community management stand out, have a read of this blog.

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2. Setting up ‘queue free’ channels for success

One of the strengths, but also challenges, of social customer care, is that there’s no queue for customers to wait in to submit their query. I can tweet anytime I like, and from the second I hit send, I begin waiting for a response.

Part of the shared lockdown experience we’re going through is how we interact with retailers in this ‘new normal’, which is of course generating lots of new (but probably quite similar) consumer questions.

Pre-written responses to set FAQs, which can be tweaked as necessary, are saving social media teams time and delivering a consistent experience for customers at scale. But beware… fully automated responses + social media can be a recipe for disaster!

If you are a retail company looking to do more with social media, our guide to B2C marketing can also help level up your strategy.

3. Take the opportunity to show off the customer service team

With many shops temporarily closed, retailers have lost the benefit of offering face-to-face service, something which still clearly differentiates smaller stores from the likes of Amazon. This means social media customer care has become one of the few touchpoints where a brand can still interact directly with the public.

Social media presents a great opportunity for businesses to build a memorable experience with a customer. Showing off the personality of the customer care team, having a bit of fun, or asking questions beyond something ‘transactional’ are all simple ways of achieving this. I often talk about pretending the screen doesn’t exist when chatting on social media – it helps to think about how would you help a customer in-store if they asked the same question.

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4. Harnessing in-store experiences online

Back in the day, one of the leading social customer care case studies was Best Buy’s Twelpforce. Essentially, colleagues across the business (over 2,500 of them) would spend some of their day answering customer queries on Twitter.

With the right social media management tools in place, and appropriate training, you can harness the fantastic knowledge and experience of employees who can’t be in-store right now. And if the logistics of that don’t work for you, or if the social customer care team want to retain responsibility for posting responses online, have your in-store employees on-hand through an internal live chat as ‘subject matter experts’.

5. Incentivising customer agents to go the extra mile

In times of crisis and stress, it’s always tempting for customer care to focus on the speed of response and efficiency. However, right now, going the extra mile for the customer has much more impact. We all feel it when someone helps us out of a real fix, and we’re more likely to remember it long-term. This is why it’s crucial to remember customer experience comes to social media support.

Providing your social care team with the autonomy to go that extra mile to resolve a customer query is hugely valuable. It might mean dealing with a few less queries per hour, but it’s a trade-off worth taking. Ideally bringing in some extra capacity (from point 4 above) can help balance it out.

To conclude...

Like most parts of a social media approach, cracking customer care in retail, and any sector for that matter, is about the right blend of expertise (and autonomy), the right guiding principles and processes to organize the work, and the right supporting technology to streamline inevitable peaks and troughs of inquiries.

The year ahead will of course continue to be challenging, with social customer care teams (as always) very much on the front line of retail.

Simon Preece is the Founder and Director of Slp Consulting, an organization that aims to help organizations navigate the rate of change and the growing impact of social media on their prospects, customers, and employees.

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