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The line between social media management and customer support is getting thinner. Each channel has its own mechanisms, but they are all based on one simple rule. Communication must always be bi-directional. Otherwise, it won’t be communication… and (personal opinion here) it also wouldn’t be as interesting as it is.
But, how hard can it be to chat, write or communicate? It’s something we all do, right? Well… Of course, it is: we all communicate. In fact, it’s something that we’ve been naturally “programmed” to do.
The problem is that, unlike math, engineering or something that has a well-defined process, communication lives in-between perceptions. It doesn’t matter how clear, objective and straight to the point I try to be: the sentence I’m writing right now is surely different from the one you are reading, and that’s absolutely natural because each one of us has different interpretations of the same thing.
What I’m saying is that communication is highly emotional, and there isn’t a bulletproof logic or theory that can be applied. The same input generates different outputs, depending on the people who receives it, the mood they’re in, and (here’s the variable you can control) the words you write.
Knowing that you can’t control most of the variables (you can analyze or predict them), it’s interesting to see how there’s a common pattern. Yes, we are all different, but there are characteristics that we all have in common.
Like most people who are starting their careers, I used to look to community management and support as something really easy. After all, I just had to be nice, right? Well… When I first got offended by a follower, I spend some time understanding why he was reacting like that and figuring out a way to explain why things are as they are… and still make him happy (or, at least, less angry).
This blog post is a wrap-up of the lessons I learned as well as a thank you to all my angry customers.
Treat them as what they are…
Humans. Portuguese people are naturally cold and distant when they write. We like fancy words. The more we use in one sentence the better. The thing is: why treat a customer as “dear customer” instead of using his name?
If you want to make him understand what you’re saying, really put yourself in his shoes and treat him as equal. Make it a conversation from one person to another, and you’ll see how he reacts.
People will also trust you more if you tell them your name. They are no longer messaging the company, they are messaging someone. Even if you can’t tell them what they want to hear, they will easily understand that there are company policies if there’s a person telling them that.
Don’t send them automatic answers
If there’s one thing that bores me to dead is a pre-written message telling me that the company will take care of my complaint. Even in the most extreme of the cases, a complaint is a second chance to get a customer back before they trade you for your competitor. And what do you think when you get an automatic message? Exactly.
On the other side of the computer, we all have tutorials, FAQs and template answers for customers. They are useful and save us a lot of time. Despite, if you’re speaking to someone who cares so much about your service that he sends you a message, the least you can do is giving him a partially personal message.
Be sincere, but choose the right words
Don’t tell anyone, but I don’t know everything that is going on and I don’t have the answers to all the questions I’m asked. Sometimes the people who can help me helping the customer are busy (which is totally legit), but instead of leaving the question unanswered I started understanding that people will be more patient if I tell them the true. “I’ll check the question with someone from the technical department and I’ll get to you as soon as I can”. Stay true to your word and you’ll be amazed how people can be understanding. Even if they’re mad.
Be neutral, until you get to their hearts
When people are complaining, they usually use words with a negative charge. Most of them are judgemental and aren’t always that nice. From my experience, the best thing to do in this cases is avoiding other judgemental words.
Of course that what’s judgemental depends on of your perception, but see how the word “comment” as a different charge from the word “message”. Instead of thanking your customer for his comment (which is something seen as light and, sometimes, unimportant), thank him for his message (which is something more neutral). A review is something completely different also.
On the other hand, if the commentary is positive you can be more thankful and use nice words. Remember the previous lesson about not answering as a person? If the message is nice, you can thank them in name of the company, but keep using your name.
Unless you really have to, never apologize. When something goes wrong and people complain, our first instinct is to apologize. From my perspective, the moment you do it, you trigger something in your customer’s mind that tells him that you just took the blame. That means that he took over the situation and he has every right to keep complaining, which isn’t what you want. Focus on the solution instead.
Take them out of the public eyes
In my opinion, that is one of the hardest things to do. When a follower is so angry that he threats that he won’t stop until he destroys your brand, the best thing to do is trying to get him out of the public eyes. Leave a comment saying that you will get in touch using the private chat and use a personal account to try to understand why he is so angry that he won’t turn off his caps lock.
To end up, I would like to highlight community management and customer support as a great way to hear directly from your customers. Google Analytics is amazing and you can take insights from almost any digital tool. Despite, there isn’t a better way to understand how your product impacts real life and solves specific problems. And isn’t that what marketing is about?