Responding to Customer Social Media Communications

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By: Sarah Cornelisse *

Effectively responding to communications is imperative for cultivating a positive consumer experience. Social media carries with it an expectation regarding responsiveness that you need to be aware of; however, in general, the quicker you respond, the more favorably you will be viewed.

Customer service is a crucial facet of social media marketing. Social media is consumers’ most preferred channel for customer service issues or questions and for sharing feedback about products or services as related in a 2021 Sprout Social report. 

Effectively responding to communications is imperative for cultivating a positive consumer experience. Understanding social media customer service expectations and developing a comprehensive response plan will ensure that you excel with social media customer communications.

“Effectively responding to communications is imperative for cultivating a positive consumer experience.”

As reported in a 2021 Sprout Social report, “78% of consumers agree that social media is the fastest and most direct way to connect” with a business. However, preference for and use of social media for communications with companies will vary with demographic characteristics such as age, education, income, or other factors.

For instance, a 2018 Salesforce report showed that while a majority (52%) of Millennials and Gen Z consumers prefer communicating with businesses via social media, only 14% of Baby Boomers and 29% of Gen Xers share the same preference.

The consequences of poor social media customer service can be significant. For example, in 2020, Sprout Social reported that 49% of consumers would stop following a business on social media due to poor customer service. Further, research has found that consumers are less likely to purchase from businesses that don’t answer questions or engage with the public on social media, and they are more likely to buy from businesses they can reach on social media. 

Social media carries with it an expectation regarding responsiveness that you need to be aware of; however, in general, the quicker you respond, the more favorably you will be viewed. A 2020 Sprout Social report indicated that 79% of consumers expect a response with 24 hours, and 40% expect a response within one hour. Social media tools should be viewed individually as well.

“Social media carries with it an expectation regarding responsiveness that you need to be aware of; however, in general, the quicker you respond, the more favorably you will be viewed.”

A 2020 HubSpot article indicated that 85% of Facebook users, for example, expect a response within six hours, while 64% of Twitter users expect a response within one hour. If a consumer has a question and contacts you but doesn’t hear back for several days, what’s the likelihood that they’ve moved on – perhaps to another business that quickly responded?

Consumers’ experiences communicating with other businesses develop their expectations for future communications. Therefore, it is important to understand the implied response times for each social media tool; it’s important to know your audience. For instance, are your customers familiar with the demands of your industry and business? 

If not, are your response timeframes visible online, or should you consider adjusting someone’s work responsibilities to ensure timely communications? For example, Facebook provides users with information on how quickly businesses respond to private messages (not comments on page posts). If you receive private Facebook messages, it will pay to ensure that you have resources in place to quickly respond – for example, a mobile device with notifications turned on or scheduled times in your day to check your social media.

“If a consumer has a question and contacts you but doesn’t hear back for several days, what’s the likelihood that they’ve moved on – perhaps to another business that quickly responded?”

Developing a response plan is a step that you can take to ensure that you provide quick and effective social customer service. Below are some questions to guide you in your development of a response plan. In addition, your individual business and past experiences may provide you with additional questions and answers to incorporate into your plan.

  • Who will respond? 
  • Does an employee need to have responses approved by a supervisor?
  • How quickly will you respond?
  • What will you respond to?
  • What documentation is necessary for complaints? Will you require receipts, return of a product, etc.?
  • Is there a limit to what you will do, or offer, to resolve complaints?
  • When will you take a conversation offline?

With answers to these questions in mind, you can prepare yourself for responding to customers using the following five-step process.


A response process

1. Listen. As with in-person customer service, social service requires that you understand the needs of the customer. Take the time to understand customer questions which may require you to try to learn where and how they are getting their information. This will enable you to most effectively address any concerns that they have and earn their trust.

2. Acknowledge. It’s always best practice to acknowledge a customer communication that occurs on social media. With compliments, a simple acknowledgment along the lines of “thank you for the kind words” is all that is needed. If a question or complaint requires you to do some work (e.g. perhaps you need to ask others for information) before responding, or more time than you have at hand, take a moment to quickly let the customer know that you’ve seen their message and will be in touch. When you do this, provide a time frame in which you know you will be able to respond.

3. Ask Questions. Ask follow-up questions if a question or complaint is unclear or requires additional information or details before you can appropriately respond. Think about how in-person conversations take place – there’s a dialogue between the people involved. If the additional information or details will help you to provide an answer or solve their problem, let the customer know. 

4. Respond. While seemingly obvious, ensuring you respond to the compliment, question, or complaint is essential as sometimes tasks can be forgotten, or there may be a tendency to procrastinate if responding to a complaint. Make sure that your response completely answers the customer’s question or addresses their complaint, using any additional information you may have asked for. 

5. Follow Up. There will be instances where you will want to follow up with customers. Perhaps they had a unique question or criticism that requires a passage of time before it can be determined whether your response or solution met the customer’s needs. Following up with sincere interest to whether the customer’s issue was resolved satisfactorily demonstrates the value you hold for your customers.


*Sarah Cornelisse is a Senior Extension Associate of
agricultural entrepreneurship and business management
at Penn State University in the Department of
Agricultural Economics, Sociology and Education.
Sarah has expertise in direct marketing, valueadded
dairy entrepreneurship and marketing, the
use of digital and social media for agricultural farm
and food business marketing, and business and
marketing planning and decision making. Originally
from New York State, she has a B.A in mathematics
from the State University of New York at Geneseo,
and M.S. degrees in Agricultural Economics and Animal
Science, both from Penn State University.
Correspondence email: sar243@psu.edu
Editor’s note: references cited by the author within
the text are available under previous request to our
editorial team.

Everyone in your business who has social media responsibilities, whether family members or employees, should be trained on the customer service response plan that you develop. They should feel empowered to respond and care for customers. You may find it helpful to develop a flowchart to provide guidance on responding to different types of communications.

“Everyone in your business who has social media responsibilities, whether family members or employees, should be trained on the customer service response plan that you develop.”

Personal, timely, and thoughtful responsiveness to customer social media communications is a key component to social media marketing. 

Focus on social media customer service as a competitive differentiator. By bringing the same focus on responsiveness to your social media interactions with customers as you do to in-person communications, you can build trusting relationships with your social media community that they will appreciate and value and for which you will reap financial rewards. 

References cited by the author available under previous request to our editorial team.

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