Why you need a social media customer service plan

5 Jun

Being a customer these days means that you have a wide variety of service channels to choose from. No longer are you stuck with only an automated phone system. There are self-service knowledge bases, AI-powered chatbots and messaging services designed to cater to different customers.

As a brand, you’ve likely already worked on customer service in some form. Social media may only be one channel for customer care, but since it’s so immediate and accessible, customers will be reaching out to you whether or not you have a plan in place. Get ahead of potential customer complaints and compliments by planning your own social service approach.

In this guide, we’ll review several important components of setting up a social customer care program for your brand. By the end of this guide, you’ll know the answers to common questions like:

  • What is social customer care and how does it differ from customer service?
  • Why is social customer care so important?
  • What tools do I need? How does a software like Sprout Social help alleviate pain points?
  • How do I implement a social customer care strategy?
  • How do I calculate the ROI on social customer care?

Social customer service vs customer care

The two phrases “social customer service” and “social customer care” are close cousins with a few points of distinction. Customer service is generally a passive but responsive field. In this scenario, the company responds only when a customer comes to them with a question or issue.

In customer care, the company is proactive in meeting customers’ needs – this can take multiple forms including:

  • Having a self-service help center
  • Educating the consumer about your product
  • Interacting with a consumer on a consistent basis before they make a purchase
  • When they reach out to you on social media, already having their order information on hand
  • Offering personalized service

In short, social customer care is differentiated from service in that it starts before a customer reaches out to you about a product or service. It means that you not only respond to complaints but you also reward compliments. You recognize who your recurring customers are and keep them hooked.

For Mother’s Day, Fenty asked for photos and stories of their customers’ moms wearing the brand’s makeup. With over 200 replies on the original Tweet, the brand chose several to feature. On top of that, they offered to send free product over to the moms with no prompting from the customers. This reward only serves to generate even more loyalty among their customers.

Customer service usually involves only addressing the problem at hand. Customer care, though, will use monitoring and listening tools to see if there are trends and work on resolving those. Why is this so important? Read on to learn more.

Why is social customer care so important?

The customer experience plays an important role in the success of any business. How the experience plays out has implications on brand loyalty, sales, customer churn, consumer advocacy and customer retention rates.

If you were working in a retail store, you would never ignore a customer who walked up to you and asked you about a product. Yet, brands respond to only half of these messages online. Failing to respond can give you a 43% decrease in customer advocacy while a reply can increase it by 20%.

Social customer care not only addresses the customer that you’re interacting with but also anyone who might be witness to the public exchange. Responding to all direct questions sends a message to customers that you’re watching and actively participating. Selectively responding means you don’t care about all of your customers. In a way, social customer care is a springboard for increased sales and brand loyalty.

Statistic: Do you have a more favorable view of brands that respond to customer service questions or complaints on social media? | Statista

Statistic: Do you have a more favorable view of brands that respond to customer service questions or complaints on social media? | Statista

According to Statista, 47% of US consumers have a more favorable view of brands who respond to customer service questions or complaints on social media.

Not only is enforcing a positive brand image a major win from great social customer service, but so is brand loyalty. In a report by Microsoft of global consumers, 96% of those surveyed say that customer service is an important factor in which brands they feel loyalty to. It makes sense that happier customers drive repeat sales.

It’s easy to criticize brands who don’t respond but what would be more productive is identifying the root causes. Because even when you do respond, an unsatisfying also leads to brand damage.

consumer reactions to bad responses on social

consumer reactions to bad responses on social

In the Sprout Social Index, Edition XII: Call-out Culture, we found that about 50% of consumers stated they would boycott a brand due to a poor response on social. Accompanying this are consumer actions like 41% sharing the bad experience with their network and 26% trying via another channel. It’s not enough to simply respond with a perfunctory message, you have to know how to respond.

Some brands just aren’t yet equipped to handle customer comments on social media, which is why our next section is on the tools you need to build an approach to customer care.

Necessary tools for social customer service

Available tools for customer service vary on the size of the company. A single-location bakery might make do with free or low-cost tools while a multi-national one would invest significantly into a team and software.

To start, conduct a self-audit to see how many incoming messages are customer care related. Understanding the volume will help you determine how robust a tool you’ll need.

Message management

What do you use to respond to customers? Are you using the native Twitter app and Facebook messenger app? Do you find yourself constantly rotating between apps and wasting time navigating through them.

single inbox for facebook-related messages

single inbox for facebook-related messages

To manage incoming messages, you need a way to keep track of them all so you can respond in a timely manner. For free options, each network has its own app. Facebook’s single inbox compiles Messenger, Facebook posts and Instagram comments into one view. You can also create a free chatbot to be used for Facebook Messenger. This is useful if you have a high volume of the same type of questions.

Sprout Smart Inbox

Sprout Smart Inbox

If you’re dealing with a volume of messages split across multiple networks, a single view that collects everything in one place like Sprout’s Smart Inbox means less app switching and more focus on responses. In addition to incoming mentions, the Smart Inbox can also pull in your search results and brand keywords, so that finding indirect mentions and other key terms for your brand is one less thing for you to worry about. Finally, Sprout’s chatbot functionality also lets you keep an eye on chatbot-based conversations in the Smart Inbox, so a human team member can jump in when needed.

People power

Chatbots and help centers are great for handling frequently asked questions and mitigating the volume of your incoming messages, but they won’t replace the need of a real person quite yet. You need to have the staff to manage and handle customer care. Even if they come from a customer service background, they’ll need to be trained in the specifics of customer care on social media.

An internal tracking system

Customer care should be a feedback loop that includes improvement over processes and products. You need a way to keep track of common issues that can be addressed at a company level, such as correcting an ongoing issue in your shipping process or identifying a recurring product defect. You also need to generate reports to make sure your plan is succeeding. This can be as simple as a spreadsheet or more robust as needed.

Sprout's smart inbox allows you to tag specific social users as sales leads

Sprout's smart inbox allows you to tag specific social users as sales leads

The Sprout Inbox’s tag feature allows you to tag incoming messages with any created tag, such as “feature request” or “product complaint.” This way, you can easily run a report on these tags to see what’s trending.

Any service report you generate should also include how quick you are to respond and if enabled, how happy someone is with your service. This feedback loop helps you improve or maintain aspects of your service. Sprout’s Twitter feedback feature allows customers to give real-time feedback to their service interactions.

Your brand’s customer service voice

Having multiple people manage social media means that there’s more chance of your voice getting diluted. You want your social approach to be cohesive across promotion, posts and service responses. It’s possible to have a pun-tastic attitude for original Tweets and a more conciliatory tone for customer complaints. To keep this in check, document and create a voice strategy so everyone on your team knows how to represent the brand on social media.

Make it easy to find you

This could mean having a separate service account on Twitter if you have a high volume of requests. Or if you’re on Instagram, adding your customer service information in the contact bar. Finally, if you have a website, be sure to add and publicize the different channels a customer can use to contact you. If you prefer questions through Messenger, make it easy for them to find that information.
bite ig

bite ig

When you click to Bite Beauty’s Instagram profile and then on contact, the call and email actions appear. This gets you straight to the customer service team. Given the company’s large Instagram following, it makes sense for them to add this information into their account.

How to implement a social customer care strategy

Remember, customer care starts before the customers come to you with product issues. Imagine your responses being broadcasted on a stage with every potential customer watching. That’s how you should approach every public service interaction. Even private messages can be screenshot and sent out for the public to view.

Know why customers reach out on social media

why consumers reach out to brands on social

why consumers reach out to brands on social

In the Sprout Index: Empower & Elevate, we found that of the consumers who reach out to brands, 59% will if they had a good experience, 47% will if they have a product or service question and 40% will because they had a bad experience. Understanding why consumers reach out to you helps you prepare responses ahead of time.

why consumers unfollow brands on social

why consumers unfollow brands on social

What are the social consequences of poor customer service? The same Index found that 56% will unfollow the brand. And an American Express report found that the average American will tell 15 people when they’ve had bad service.

Tip: In your social customer care plan, document common scenarios of why customers reach out to you on social media. Add in examples of how to respond.

Know when to stay on or off the platform

There may be times when you can’t resolve a situation in the public sphere. In this instance and in any where you require customer information, it may be necessary to move into a private communication method. This could be a phone call or just a move from public Tweets to DMs.

saved replies

saved replies

Tip: So you’re not always scrambling for the same answer, use features like Sprout’s saved messages and Instagram’s Quick Replies to keep the approach consistent.

Keep track of interactions

In Microsoft’s report on global customer service, it found that 72% of consumers expect the customer service agent to know who they are, what they’ve purchased and have insight on previous experiences. You may be interacting with a customer on social media for months before they finally purchase from you.

To keep all the information in one place, make sure that your systems are linked up. Some help center software systems offer add-ons that automatically load in order numbers and social handles for associated email addresses. This makes the interaction much more painless and removes the same requests for their information.
ig card

ig card

To manage this on social, Sprout’s profile card expands per user, leaving you room to write private notes, see the history of interaction and load in user information. If you’ve asked them for their phone model before, all you’ll need to do the next time is to confirm it hasn’t changed.

How to measure ROI for social customer care

The amount of time, resources and staffing it takes to maintain social customer care are important to know for justifying the initial investment. Success for service can be measured in customer satisfaction surveys that are automatically prompted after a conversation.

sprout team report

sprout team report

If you have multiple social media managers, running a report that shows how responsive they are and what their performance is like is another way for calculating success.

Lastly, don’t forget about off-social analytics. Those social website referral data that you collect combined with repeat customer sales should reflect your customer care performance. Social care is just one component of calculating your overall social media ROI.


The major takeaways of this guide is to stress the importance of having both a plan and the tools at your disposal. Without a plan, your social customer care lacks goals and has no cohesive execution. Without the right tools, you’re missing mentions of your brand that might be costing you customers.

Putting effort into a care plan instead of solely service requires some self-reflection. You need to understand why it’s important for your brand to have the plan and what benefits and consequences might result from it. US consumers will pay 17% more to do business with firms with great customer service reputations.

It’s time to start working on your social customer care plan. If you already have one up and running, let us know what’s worked in the comments below.

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