ImageWe have all seen it happen: a brand spends millions of dollars building up their social community only to see it crash and burn by failing to respond correctly to a customer service debacle. Business leaders watch these stories unfold in the news, thankful that it was not their own brand. They may take a step back, seemingly heed the example as an isolated ‘warning,’ but then go about business as usual. Whomever the culprit, the failure in these public and often embarrassing instances actually happens long before the customer service incident takes place. In fact, the true misstep transpires in the brand’s misunderstanding of the interplay of social engagement and customer care.

Social is an incredible channel for building and engaging with one’s community. Last year alone, Twitter and Facebook saw a 20 percent growth in collective users, surpassing 1.4 billion active users*. Consumers increasingly spending more time on social, so taking steps to tap into this channel and engage customers where they reside is a smart way to create conversations, market a brand and grow a business.

Attention has long been paid to holistic engagement, yet customer care is sometimes relegated to an afterthought or, as mentioned, an isolated incident. So, how does a business achieve a balance between engagement and customer care and, perhaps more aptly, how can they become one in the same?

Social engagement is the first step of building a healthy and sustainable community and is where many businesses start. Successful companies plan ahead, think about social within their larger marketing strategy, prepare content, enact promotions, establish their ‘voice’ and respond to conversations on an ongoing basis. However, smart social businesses do not simply start and end with engagement – they think forward, proactively building complementary efforts around customer care and service.

While responding to customers’ social customer service questions may seem like an obvious strategy for success, in reality it’s not happening. The truth is, 80% of customer social inquires go unanswered. Think about that for a second – imagine calling a business only having them pick up one out of five times. Why do many businesses ignore the customer care opportunity in social? First, social tends to live in the marketing and PR teams where they are often not equipped to answer service-related inquiries. Second, many businesses are not tapped into all the conversations happening about their brand or able to track customer conversations and route internally to the right team for an answer.

The more effective brands simultaneously (and even subconsciously) train their customers that social is the channel on which to interact with the business for both marketing and service related issues. In addition, they staff and dedicate resources to proactively and reactively have those conversations. They know that, whether solicited or not, successful social customer care can drive positive brand engagement, conversations and loyalty; while negative experiences can devalue great social marketing inroads that preceded them and significantly impact brand health. Successful social businesses come to realize that social care and engagement feed one another in an ongoing cycle that builds and promotes a brand’s health online.

Brands that truly want to leverage social to grow their businesses need to embrace this complementary relationship and put their customer engagements on equal footing as their marketing messages. If you’re embattled with these same issues, consider the following strategies to get started with a ‘customer-first’ social care plan:

  • Monitor and collect social brand mentions to ensure service-related issues are discovered
  • Staff appropriately and have tools and technologies in place for optimal responsiveness
  • Be proactive and anticipate questions, complaints and ways to positively affect outcomes
  • Put yourself in the customer’s shoes and consider their perspective at all times
  • Even if a statement is neutral, turn that opportunity into a positive brand experience

Social customer care and engagement are symbiotic – and the customer service funnel should be built into an overall social engagement strategy. Businesses that put these simple steps into practice and place social customer care on an equal playing field as engagement will undoubtedly be rewarded with customer loyalty, positive engagement and sustainable social brand health.