Whether a company realises it or not, social media is already an integral part of the customer experience (CX).
For an online business, it may be one of the few channels for a customer to interact directly with the brand, the platform on which they hear of new developments, share feedback and link up with likeminded members of a brand community.
Even if the majority of sales occur offline, social media acts as a digital storefront, just as crucial for shaping customer perceptions as the in-store environment. More than half (55%) of adults say they’ve first heard of brands via social media and an overwhelming 78% say a positive experience with a company via social would be enough to get them to make a purchase, according to Sprout Social.
Yet many companies lack a clear plan when it comes to integrating social into their CX programs. According to recent research by Hootsuite, 82% of companies agree that social is a vital channel for delivering exceptional customer experiences, but only 58% have a defined strategy for doing so.
This is becoming more and more problematic. As growing numbers shop online and social media platforms themselves become ever more sophisticated, it’s an oversight that could come with serious consequences, not to mention plenty of missed opportunities.
“Social has become an essential tool to any CRM strategy and brands can’t afford to ignore consumers reaching out to them, whether it is to ask for information, resolve an issue or buy your product,” says Clare Lawson, chief customer officer at Ogilvy UK. “In fact, for consumers, the number one thing that makes brands best in class on social is ‘offering a strong customer service’.”
So how do you craft a CX strategy that has social media at its heart?
A frictionless experience
The first step is to view CX the way customers do, as “an unruly collection of experiences from across a variety of touchpoints”, says DuBose Cole, head of strategy at creative agency VaynerMedia London.
“No one parses a brand interaction as ‘social’ or ‘customer service’ or ‘advertising’, they just see the company,” he adds. “Having a holistic view of how to portray yourself and add value at every engagement is essential to create a powerful and relevant brand in today’s world.”
In other words, ensure experience is consistent and seamless across all channels, be they online or offline. In fact, according to research by software as a service provider Freshworks, more than a quarter (26%) of consumers prioritise being able to continue conversations across different channels without having to repeat themselves.
Domino’s is a great example, according to Lawson. Their “Anyware” campaign – which enabled orders to be made across a far broader range of devices and platforms, including social media – focused on “removing barriers [and] making experiences as frictionless as possible”, she says.
Once you’ve achieved this consistency “you can start to add additional utility, engagement and enjoyment”, Lawson adds, citing esports brand Faze Clan as a great example. “They served the needs of their audience first, then started to widen to merchandise, partnerships and commerce.”
It can be a risky business, of course. “People can disconnect from your brand in a heartbeat on social,” says Lawson. That’s why it’s important to choose the social platform that’s the best fit for your CX strategy, first by mapping out company objectives and then looking at the profile of your target audience.
And don’t think too narrowly, Lawson adds. “Gone are the days when people say Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, TikTok and LinkedIn. The playing field is much wider. Search engines, publishers, blogs, commerce platforms – they all need to connect.”
Take advantage of social media as a point of sale, too, by tapping the growing number of integrative “shoppable” tools out there. Even new platforms like TikTok have recognised the value in this, trialling “Shop Now” buttons for brands’ video ads and a “Hashtag Challenge Plus” ecommerce feature which allows users to shop for products associated with a sponsored hashtag.
Talking and listening
Always make the customer the centre of any decision when choosing a social media platform, urges Jo Boswell, an independent CX consultant and formerly head of customer value management at British Airways. “It is vital to understand what the customer is trying to achieve and focus on how you can improve the outcome for them, and then work out how a social media channel can support them in achieving that outcome more readily.”
Ensure too that you deliver a customer experience that combines sharing content with listening, she adds. “Businesses need to think about their interactions with customers as ongoing conversations, which is as much about listening as it is about talking.”
While many organisations use social media to push messages out to customers, they aren’t necessarily as good at listening through those same channels, she notes. This means picking up on what individual customers are saying and responding appropriately, she notes.
“It’s great to have some inspirational marketing content that will stop customers scrolling past, but you also need to be able to respond to their comments and requests for help.”
And consumers are increasingly impatient. Up to 79% now expect a response from brands on social media within 24 hours, Lawson says. If 24/7 availability isn’t feasible, you need to be clear about your hours of operation and suggest where customers can find help outside these times.
It might be a new arrival, but ultimately social media is like any other element of CX, says Cole. If done right it “respectfully captures attention, considers the best way to create for consumers and their needs and adapts to keep providing value”.
Great brands, experiences and social marketing all share the same property, Cole adds. “They start with understanding who they’re speaking to and what value they can provide.”