By Thomas Brown, Head of Insights, The Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM)

A multi-channel approach that embraces social media is a key part of future proofing your customer service strategy. But, setting up your customer service via social media requires careful thought, especially when resources and manpower are limited. How much time will it take? How can you be sure you are reaching out to people in the most effective way? Below are 5 tips for businesses that are thinking about starting out.

1. Are your customers actually there?
Do your existing customers, or people matching their profile, actually use or want to use social media? Find out by asking your customers, looking at what your competitors do or auditing social media conversations to see how your company, brands, products or category are talked about.

2. What are they doing there?
If your customers are active with social media, find out why. A quick survey (or talking direct to Facebook, Twitter. etc) will help you to understand, for instance, whether your customer profile typically follows and engages with companies on social media, or whether it’s purely a personal communication tool.

3. Why do you want to be there?
It may sound an obvious question, but you should have some objectives for wanting to use social media for customer service. These could include reducing response times, improving the customer experience, lowering costs or any number of other goals. Knowing what yours is, though, is key. Too many businesses plough into social media without quite knowing why, which makes measuring success almost impossible.

4. Can you become part of the conversation?
Etiquette is incredibly important in social media: you wouldn’t walk into a restaurant, sit at someone else’s table and interrupt their conversation — the same principle applies in social media. Get involved in a low touch way with social media and start by listening. See how people interact with you and try different approaches to stimulate some dialogue. Don’t be afraid to ask for feedback — customers tend to feel safer giving you negative feedback online as opposed to in-store or by phone, so it’s likely that you’ll hear the truth.

5. How much time and resource can you put into this?
Wild success may seem like a nice problem to have, but you need to think carefully about the resource implications that come with social media. If your fan page or Twitter account becomes very active, with customers posting questions, complaints and alike, you’ve got to be able to handle it. If you know you only have a certain amount of man-hours per day, or people at your disposal, be open about this. Set expectations — opening hours apply to social media, not just your storefront or office.

This article originally featured on Your Better Business

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