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How to Deliver Great Customer Service on Social Media [Digital Exec]

Posted by Michael Reynolds on 11/12/13 10:30 AM
Michael Reynolds

Your company's got great customer service and a stellar social media presence. But have you ever thought about marrying the two?

In this episode of The Digital Exec, we sit down with Abram Herman from Associated Bodywork and Massage Professionals to discuss the concept of delivering great customer service on social media.

If you're feeling stuck in your social media efforts, this episode is for you. We cover topics ranging from hiding behind your social media to responding privately to messages and more. Learn what makes organizations successful on social media and how to implement an outstanding customer service culture. If you want to know how to keep your customers happy by delivering great customer experiences online, you'll want to listen!

Transcript:

Michael: Okay, we are live.  Michael Reynolds here with SpinWeb with Digital Exec #7. I'm here with Abram Herman.  Abram, how are you today?

Abram: I'm good.  How are you doing, Michael?

Michael: Excellent. Glad to have you. Abram is the Social Media and Marketing Coordinator for Associated Bodywork and Massage Professionals or ABMP for short, and I'm now going to say ABMP because it would take forever to say the rest.

Abram: That's much easier.

Michael: ABMP is, if I'm correct, the largest membership organization for massage therapists with over 80,000 members, correct?

Abram: Yes, by far we are the largest.with over 80,000 and then we also have sister divisions that work with aestheticians and cosmetologists. And we're also the largest association in those fields as well.

Michael:  That's great. So the reason I want to talk to you today is because you do a phenomenal job of delivering customer service on social media. Our topic today is How to Deliver Great Customer Service on Social Media.

You come at this from an association perspective, so a lot of our nonprofits and associations listening will really benefit from this, because who today is not interested in providing great customer service in general and especially on social media because everyone is there? A lot of people are talking about it and are trying to figure out how to deliver that effectively. So, how to really do that? And, by the way, how long have you been with ABMP?

Abram:  That's a good question. It'll be four years in April of 2014.

Michael: And you're in Colorado, correct?

Abram: Yes, Colorado. Right up in the mountains.

Michael: I often see your exploits of you mountain climbing in the beautiful mountains of Colorado and I get jealous. I'm like, "Oh, why aren't I in Colorado right now?"

Just to kind of kick things off, what makes you so great at delivering customer service on social media?

Abram: One of the things is an element of experience. You know I've had a lot of customer service oriented roles, so even though my role now is more in marketing, there is a huge component of customer service in social media even though it does serve a marketing purpose for most organizations and especially for associations. One is just experience and knowing how to deal with people.

I try to remember when I'm dealing with social media, you're dealing with huge numbers of people. If I put out a post, it might be seen by 25,000 or 30,000 people. But in a customer service perspective, I think you can tend to lose sight of the fact that those 25,000 people are humans.

Michael: Right.

Abram: Just like we have the vitriolic trolls in comment sections that, for the same reason, Popular Science just closed their comment section, it can be easy to feel really removed when you're using technology. So one of the things I always try and remember is, whoever I'm dealing with, even if they're angry at us and even if we're trying to smooth things over, there's somebody with legitimate concerns.

I have to remind myself that the person I'm dealing with is somebody who wants to be related to personally.  That's really the ultimate benefit of social media is it gets you that chance to have a personal level of connection rather than just email blasts and a website and things that are for everybody. This is something that meets people where they're at. It gives you a chance to show the personality of your people and of your company as a whole. I try and never remove the human component from it.

I always keep in mind that old kind of marketing saying that people want to do business with other people; they don't want to do business with a company.

I try to be genuine. I always sign my name in my correspondence so they know that there's a human on the other end. I just try to remember that there's really people on the other end and it's not just a random Internet interaction. 

Michael: I think you've really hit on one of the primary points of this concept. I see a lot of brands, a lot of companies, a lot of organizations -- for profit and nonprofit alike -- that hide behind their social media. If someone asks a question on Facebook, for example, they respond in this very, kind of surface marketing speak or this kind of legal speak and they just kind of spout a policy out. They don't sign a name. They don't really know who they're talking to. It's very impersonal. Even on social media, they somehow manage to make it seem very impersonal. That can be frustrating for people. So it's really nice to hear that you really empathize the personal aspect of it and you identify yourself by name. You say, "Hey, there's a real person here," so that really makes a big difference, I think.

Abram: And along the lines of what you're saying, it also speaks to a bigger element of your business. One of the huge benefits of social media is the transparency and the ability to show what's going on behind the scenes and why you're making the decisions you are. For somebody in my position, I work for a fantastic company and we honestly have nothing to hide, so as a social media, PR, and marketing person, it makes my job fairly easy.

We're not Goldman Sachs or some company that people just don't like. We're made up of really great employees and I'm seeing a lot of amazing things that the company has done behind the scenes that we don't necessarily publicize so it makes it very easy. I think maybe that's something to think about in social media is, if you feel like you have to hide things and if you feel like you shouldn't have transparency, maybe that says something on a bigger level about how the business should be run rather than how your communication avenues should be run.

Michael: I forgot who said it, but one of the marketing experts I follow said something to the effect of social media doesn't change your marketing, but basically amplifies who you already are as a company. So if you're already a great company and have great people, social media will amplify that. If you have problems, social media will also amplify that so I think that's very relevant.  

So what kind of questions do you typically get on social media? I know you're very active in the LinkedIn groups and you're very active on Facebook and on Twitter; those are kind of the primary mediums I see ABMP responding in. What kind of questions do you typically get and how do you handle them?

customer-service-headset

Abram: In our business, we get every question you can think of and then some. Because we are the largest organization in the profession, not only are our members looking to us to get information and to help them find the things that they need, but even legislators and government officials and that kind of thing look to us standard setting because we know how the profession works and we know how to do things properly.

Our questions literally run the gambit from I can't figure out how to use this member benefit to I want to know metrics for the profession or I have a legal insurance question or even some off the wall questions. I had a random guy from a Saudi Arabian company message us on Facebook the other day asking for a diagnosis of his skin condition so it can be just about anything.

Michael: Well that's a good segway into what's on my mind next. How do you know when to answer something publicly versus take it offline?

Abram: Generally, I try and do almost everything publicly unless there's actually a privacy concern for the person on the other end. If we're exchanging their member ID number of if they want to give me a credit care to pay for something, obviously we're not going to do that publicly.

Again, it goes back to kind of the zeitgeist to your company. We don't have anything to hide so I think it's only a benefit to us to deal with people publicly and to respond to their questions publicly because not only can other people see the justification behind what we're doing, but they can also see we're responsive to people. You don't want to leave an answer hanging out in the public realm and answer it privately and then everybody who sees it publicly thinks that it never got responded to.

I keep almost everything public unless there's really a reason -- if there is some proprietary information or some confidential information on the member's part -- that's the only time I would really take it out of the public.

Michael: I really love that because I often see the organizations like banks or financial organizations that have people Tweet them questions and all they ever do is say, "Call Customer Service" and give the number. Or they say, "Message me offline" or "email me." Well, no, you're on Twitter so answer me on Twitter.

Abram: Exactly. That's really an annoying thing to do to somebody. If they're talking to you on one channel, that's the channel they want to talk to you on and you don't get to; if somebody Tweets you, you don't say send me a 400-page letter on the subject, so why put them in any other channel?

Michael:  I appreciate that about your method, so that's good to see. What tools, if any, do you use to monitor?  Do you have any special software that helps you really monitor what's going on with your members or with the public, in general, and helps you respond better?

Abram: I have hundreds of Google alerts set up, both for the company name and the industry that we're in, for all three associations that we work with. Beyond that, HootSuite is the main one that I use for Twitter. I don't find a lot of use for it for things like Facebook or the other networks. I really use it exclusively for Twitter. Other than that, just basically being in there everyday, at least once a day I open up my bookmarks folder that has my daily social media tasks. Essentially, I'll go into LinkedIn to see what's going on there and go into Facebook to see what's going on there. I don't want to miss anything so I use the native applications for most of all Facebook and LinkedIn, and for Twitter I just use HootSuite exclusively.

Michael: So really it comes down to paying attention. All the fancy tools in the world won't necessarily fix the problem of just not paying attention. I see a lot of people that talk to me and say well, I'm not really on Facebook or I'm not really on Twitter and I don't really want to be there. That really tells me they don't really enjoy the medium; they don't get the medium.

Do you feel like you have to really enjoy the medium and enjoy that type of communication to be really good at customer service on social media or do you feel like that can be turned into a process despite a lack of interest in it?

Abram: I guess you could conceivably turn it into a process, but you're not going to have the same results. I think in the customer service sense, you have to have a passion for what you're doing the way that you're doing it, but beyond that, just to stay up to date in the social world, I have to be interested in what's the latest Facebook change, what's the latest Twitter update, or what's the latest change in the Instagram app? It's not optional; it's not like when I feel like it I'll use these features. I have to be interested and passionate, and I'm interested in what these social networks can lead to.

It's an incredible thing from just a human perspective of what's happening with these social networks and the vast amounts of data and the kind of connections they enable. Even like us talking on a Google hangout, I think originally I friended you on Facebook because of some business deal we had elsewhere.

The connection to me is fascinating, the science behind what they're doing is fascinating, and the technology is absolutely fascinating; they're setting precedents for how to handle big data and how to connect people and that kind of thing. You have to be really interested in it just to stay up to date on what's going on and how the platforms are evolving and how to make use of them.

Again, to what you said, just to be happy and passionate about what you do comes through in your customer service. I enjoy Twitter and if there's somebody who doesn't see the value in Twitter or who thinks that it's just some place that people go to post the latest meal that they had, you're not going to come across as somebody who is warm and friendly and happy to be engaging with somebody on the Twitter medium.

It definitely is essential, although you conceivably could parcel it out to some set of robotic instructions, but that's not what customer service is.

Michael: And you have to like people. I know a lot of customer service reps that I encounter don't seem like they like people at all. I'm on the phone with them and they just don't want to be there, they don't want to be helping anybody, they'd rather be anywhere else but talking to just a person. I wonder how these people get hired. I mean you really have to like people to be good at customer service whether it's on the phone or on social media. So the same rules apply everywhere I think.

Abram: Yes, you have to like people and even beyond that, you have to like helping people, not just like being around them. People are going to be coming to you with problems all the time and you can either see it as, "Oh God, I have another complaint" or  "I have another thing that's wrong," or you can see it as, "Hey, there's a person who I can totally turn around and I can give them a fantastic experience," and turn them from somebody who is complaining into kind of a grand ambassador or somebody who loves us.

I think seeing them as opportunities and loving that process of helping people; I mean, in our business especially, we're kind of helping people pursue their dreams. These are all independent practitioners who got into a profession that they love and created a business for themselves. If they're asking you how to use a resources, it's not just it's a tool it'd be nice to have, it's like they're trying to fulfill their livelihood.

You really do need to keep, like I said in the beginning, keep that human element and remember the people behind who you're actually talking to; all the humans that are on the other side.

Michael: What benefit has this brought to ABMP? You're very successful in being the largest association for massage therapists and others.  Obviously, a lot of success has come from, I'm assuming, just as many other sources, but what sorts of benefits do you find from being this customer service oriented on social media for the company?

Abram: There's of course the direct ones, kind of a direct ROI, but the holy grail of social media and marketing in general of turning it into sales and gaining new members is part of it. So it's a great evangelist in that sense that if we come up with good content or if we're a good source for industry news, people find out about us and, of course, that's a good thing.

Even beyond that, I think going back to what I said of changing people's minds and turning it into a healthy relationship because you're always going to have naysayers whatever your business is and, social media, because it's so transparent and so personal, it gives you a chance to have that personal connection with somebody. It's much harder to yell at a person than it is to yell at a business. Beyond that, if you have a person who finds the solution to your problem, somebody is going to remember that. They are going to remember the personal time that was taken.

I think that over the last -- I started with the company almost four years ago -- but social media has been maybe for the last 2 to 2-1/2 years and in that time, I've made tons of connections and it's a lot of people who really weren't connected to ABMP and now they're our biggest supporters. They're the people who are sharing when we have a new comment in there and the people who are telling their friends, "Look, there's all this new stuff that these guys are doing, why don't you check them out?"

Word of mouth is a huge thing and social media is just a huge way to amplify that instead of telling somebody one on one, face to face, this is a chance for your biggest supporters to tell 500 of their friends or a thousand of their friends at once about why they love your company. In that sense, I think the biggest benefit I see beyond just the direct ROI and sales, the thing that marketers look at  is creating that relationship with so many individuals; creating a real personal relationship with our members. We have 80,000 of them, but they're still these people I connect with on a daily basis. We Tweet back and forth, we Facebook message, I read their blogs that they share on the company page every once in a while; those personal relationships are huge for any business, no matter how big you are.

Michael: I'm glad you mentioned the blog as well because the one thing I find remarkable about ABMP is that your company President personally blogs on your website. It's very personal, very conversational, very engaging, and there's the company President of an 80,000 member organization posting on the company blog. I love that.  I think that's beautiful.  

Abram: That's just how we operate. Les is an awesome guy; he's hilarious. He may be the President and he may be the boss, but everybody here loves him because he's just a funny character and he's a great guy. Having somebody like that as the public face of your company is awesome, but that's ingrained in our culture too. One thing that a lot of people might not know is that we make these kind of retention phone calls, so if a member expires, we call them up and we say, "Hey, we wanted to make sure you knew that your membership expired and if you're interested in renewing for another year and staying with us." That's something that everybody in the company does.

We have Les, the President, and Bob, the CEO, who basically run the company, but you're just as likely to be called by the CEO of the company as you are by anybody in the membership department or me or anybody else. And if you call and the phones are ringing off the hook, we have what's called like a primary overring where if there's not enough people in membership to pick up the phone, it rings throughout the office and Les will pick those up or Bob will pick those up.

That's just part of the company culture.  They're not sitting in some gilded office with gold on the walls and diamonds in the ceiling. If a member calls and there's nobody else to pick up the phone, the CEO is going to pick up the phone because that's a member. So it's a pretty cool atmosphere in that way.

Michael: I love that. One more question because I know a lot of people listening are probably wondering: I would love to take this next step and to bring my company or my organization online to a customer service mindset on social media and really be great at it and really engage with members, customers, or prospects there. Do they go out and hire an Abram? Do they have to hire in-house? Can they do a hybrid approach working with other companies? Do they have to do a cultural shift and training inside the company? What is the next step in getting there to get to the point where they can be in the same place as you and ABMP?

Abram: I think there's a lot of different roads you can take to that same destination. On the one side, you can have somebody like me who is passionate about customer service and passionate about the medium, and willing to do that, but it can also be learned. I think the biggest over-arching, you know, broadest statement I can make on the subject is that I think there's a tendency for social medial to be an afterthought for a lot of companies. It's like, "We need a Facebook account. Give it to the intern and he can run it." Yeah, that's not at all the way to do it.  You wouldn't put your intern up on a podium in front of 5,000 people giving a speech about your company so why would you do the same with social media when it might be 100,000 people or a million people, depending on your business?

I think the first thing is really take it seriously. It's not an afterthought and it's not a chore, it's a huge opportunity and treat it accordingly. Put your best people on it or find somebody who is going to be effective at it and don't just brush it aside and say, "We'll do this when we have time" or "We'll give it to this guy because he has more room on his plate." Really focus on it and consider it a primary objective rather than just an afterthought would be my biggest advice.

Michael: Well, Abram, you're very good at your job and I really enjoy watching the service you provide to your members online on Facebook, on LinkedIn, on Twitter, on other networks. You do an awesome job and this has been extremely insightful. I appreciate it.

Abram: Thank you.  I appreciate it.

Michael: Let's end with a shout out to ABMP. Tell me what makes ABMP great. What would our viewers and listeners love to know about ABMP?

Abram: Oh, there are so many things.  I mean, the easiest way to say it is there's a really good reason that we're by far the largest association in the U.S. and our members know it. If you're not a member, you need to find out because beyond just the liability insurance, which is a huge part of what we do and why we have members, the resources that we offer and the customer service has always been a huge focus. Like I said, the CEO might pick up the phone when you call.

It's so hard to pin it down to one thing because overall it's just a great company. I don't say that because I'm in a sense a PR person or because I'm a face for the organization, it's because I love that the organization makes my job so easy because we really are doing great things.That's the only way I can put it.  I can't pin it down to one thing, but overall it's just a fantastic company and I know that from the inside.

Michael: Well, our viewers and listeners can find ABMP online at ABMP.com and there is, of course, links to other social properties from there so definitely everyone check them out and follow online. You could learn a lot by following Abram at ABMP. And we appreciate your time.  It's been awesome.

Abram: Thank you Michael.

Michael: I want to thank everyone for joining and thanks Abram. Have a great day. We'll see you next time.

 

If you're a visual person, you can watch the video of our Hangout. Or if you'd prefer the audio version, it's available here. You won't want to miss this opportunity to be entertained by two professionals while learning how to raise some more moola for your nonprofit. 

Tune in next time for our next installment of The Digital Exec, your source for becoming an expert in the latest and greatest technology.

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Topics: customer service, social media, digital exec

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