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Is your brand prepared for a crisis?

Is your brand prepared for a crisis? Selina Petosa

Say goodbye to customer service calls and hold music, and welcome instant connection through a few clicks of a button. Social media allows us to connect instantly to any person and entity, including brands. When you need technical assistance or answers to product-related questions, a simple tweet can quickly produce the desired information. While this makes it nice and easy for consumers to connect to brands, it can leave brands with an unwieldly number of queries to manage -- especially in a time of crisis. Without a solid social customer care program in place, brands may find themselves battling negative sentiments, which can lead to financial and reputational loss.

For instance, Samsung has been addressing the Galaxy Note 7 crisis for months and continues to make headlines. The company issued a recall of the product, dealt with the FAA banning the phone from all flights, reportedly lost $5.3 billion in profit and dropped $19 billion in valuation. Further, a recent consumer survey found that 34 percent of current Samsung customers will not buy another smartphone from the company. When customers' queries are not addressed after 14 hours or conversations with customer service span five days without resolution, how can you blame them? Customers invest in a product, and a brand, expecting if the brand does not live up to its promise, it will diligently work with them to resolve the problem.

During any corporate crisis, brand sentiment and customer trust are significantly impacted, and brands need to focus on restoring trust with their audiences. Direct communication with customers via social media can help to maintain a loyal customer base, mitigate consumer concerns and reestablish positive sentiments towards the brand. In some cases, brands can even come out ahead after a crisis.

The new customer service call center: A distinct handle

In a time of crisis, whether it be an isolated incident, like a cell phone screen freezing, or a major corporate crisis, like that of the Galaxy Note 7, consumers expect to be able to directly communicate with brands for quick, helpful responses to their queries. However, managing the volume of inbound requests can present a challenge for brands, and without an effective strategy in place these requests may be left unaddressed for days or ignored completely. This begs the question, how do brands ensure that they are meeting every consumer request in a timely, effective manner? The simple solution is to create a distinct handle specifically dedicated to customer support.

The main brand handle is a destination for companies to share exciting news and showcase personality, not where it should be addressing consumer requests. While the main brand handle proactively fosters relationships and captivates the attention of existing and potential consumers, the support handle addresses customers' concerns.

Through a support handle, brands can easily manage and respond to support-related questions. Instead of sifting through all the mentions and tags that include the main handle, customer service representatives can monitor one handle -- streamlining the customer care process. Yes, support-related requests will be sent to the main handle -- however, the majority of consumers will direct their queries to the designated support handle, knowing that is where the support team can assist them most effectively.

The other main advantage of a customer service handle is that it directs negative feedback or customer frustrations to a designated area. When reaching out to customer service, customers are likely frustrated due to a malfunction, confusion around the product or unmet expectations. This is going to happen with every brand, especially one facing a crisis, but keeping the negative commentary off the main account is one of the most effective ways to mitigate the damaging effect a crisis can have on brand sentiment and trust.

Get a handle on constructing the perfect response

Twitter is one of the most common avenues for customers to seek support. Sixty-seven percent of its 310 million users have leveraged the platform for customer service. But with only 140 characters, it is critical for brands to make responses as useful and meaningful as possible. An ideal response should be personal, quick and direct.

When consumers are concerned that they will be impacted by a crisis, companies can be flooded with queries. Bots are a quick fix to address a large number of consumers, however there is no guarantee of their effectiveness. Samsung, for example, is using bots and has left many consumers speaking out about their negative experiences, going so far as to label the company's customer service as "useless.

Consumers expect personalized responses and can easily recognize when they are directed to a machine. Not only do bots struggle to address the consumer's request, the impersonal nature of the response can leave consumers feeling ignored and undervalued. Instead of helping the problem, bots often aggravate it.

Another element to consider is that consumers typically expect a response within 10-30 minutes. That doesn't mean the entire issue needs to be solved in that timeframe, but the consumer needs to feel acknowledged and confident that the brand is doing everything in its power to assist them.

Lastly, responses should be seen publicly but should not clutter the feed. The secret to solving this riddle is direct messaging. When first acknowledging a consumer request, it should be in the form of a public tweet. A brand should showcase its customer service skills and provide the audience with evidence that it will invest the time and resources necessary to assist them. Then, move the conversation to direct messaging to work through the finer points of the issue. Once it's resolved, thank them for their time and patience publicly, so that the brand can once again demonstrate its strong customer service. Apple frequently implements this strategy. If the brand is unable to address the problem in two or three tweets, then it moves the conversation to direct messaging. While this may seem tedious, it's a worthwhile practice that will instill confidence and build trust amongst other consumers.

Every company should be prepared to handle a crisis and reassure customers of its dedication to a fulfilling brand experience. In today's digital world, that means having an effective social customer care program in place. Companies that don't demonstrate a commitment to the brand-customer relationship may cause irreparable damage that has long-term impacts on the success of the company. However, with a well-maintained support handle, brands are 28 percent more likely to receive positive shout outs after a customer interaction. For a brand dealing with a crisis, these expressions of praise are an invaluable first step to recovering positive brand sentiment.

As Founding Principal and Chief Creative Officer, Selina drives the strategic vision for Rational Interaction, evangelizing the promise of integrated, user-centered digital solutions that move Rational clients and their customers forward. With over...

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