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How to Help Your Social Media Customer Service

Authors: Mitch Causey Mitch Causey
Posted Under: Social Media
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How to Help Your Social Media Customer Service
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Customer Service and Social Media Marketing both require a lot of thought to be done well. If your thought process is constantly re-inventing the wheel of your responses, you can burn out. By following a process that fits your specific needs, you can create some thought-efficiency, saving some of your brain power for innovation and customer delight.

The social media customer service process below is what I’ve found works best for me, and I’d love to hear what approach you take in the comments.

Let’s get started.

Step 0: Mindset of “Us” Not “Me”

If you’ve been in the business world for any time at all, you know one of the most consistent and potent battles is that of the mind. Left unchecked, we can find ourselves being pulled in more directions than we can count, resulting in very reactionary emotions.

Further, since careers in fields that involve high customer interaction and high stress seem to correlate well with depression, the customer service segment of business has a high likelihood of resulting in some serious emotional disorders.

One of the best ways to win the mindset battle is to align your goals with your customer’s goals. A previous manager of mine opened my eyes to this concept and ever since then, my communication with customers has greatly improved. You see, I had a “me versus them” mentality. Every time I talked to a customer, I viewed the customer as the opposition. Whatever problem was discussed was unfortunately viewed in my mind as a criticism about my work.

What my manager showed me though, is that I needed to mentally place the customer and myself on the same side of the situation and have an “us versus the problem” mentality. After that, instead of squabbling over minor details of short-term losses, my clients and I could focus on long-term, collaborative gains.

We created a much better flow of identifying where we were setting our sites for success together, discovering what the root of many difficult situations was, and working in a less stressful, proactive environment.

With this concept in mind, try saying “us not me” to yourself before reaching out to customers to be better prepared for the emotional rollercoaster that may happen during your day.

Step 1: Sell or Renew

Understanding the relationship a customer or prospect has with your company is an important first step for framing your conversation. Knowing the history of the person you’re communicating with will allow you to understand if he/she is a current customer or a prospect, as well as his/her general tone over time.

Depending on your company’s size, this process will look very different, but with tools that have been around for a while, like Nimble CRM and even SproutSocial, in addition to new tools coming on the scene like HubSpot’s new (anxiously anticipated) CRM, can connect your social media interactions and your sales teams information together to keep everyone on the same page.

Once you are able to figure out if the person is a prospect or a current customer, you can establish your end goal for that communication: sell or renew.

Step 2: Triage for Priority

For companies with a high volume of interaction on social media, it’s crucial to prioritize your time appropriately. The best way I’ve found to prioritize communication is what I like to call the Triage of Happiness.

The way it works is when you receive a notification, you pass it through a quick, mental sentiment analysis to see if the overall tone of the message is Unhappy, Neutral, or Happy.

Triage of Happiness:

  • Unhappy
  • Neutral
  • Happy

Obviously, there are a lot of other factors than just sentiment when it comes to priority, but I like to keep things simple.

In general, I treat the unhappy communication as the highest priority because of the age-old adage that people tell more people about a bad experience than a good one, and because helping someone in need is always more important than thanking someone for their praise. 

The second priority are the happy messages. I suggest this over neutral for the second spot because you’ve got momentum. Growing a snowball that is already rolling is easier than starting a new one.

Finally, we come to the neutral category. These should be addressed after the others because the sender is not on either side of the fence. Once the first two are taken care of, focus on pulling the neutral socialites to a positive view of your brand. 

One final thought though on priority is to mix it up. If you find yourself working with a company that just can’t get it right and has more negative comments than can be dealt with, be sure to find some variety in your day by either promoting neutral or those rare positive gems or proactively creating a positive experience with clients you know treat your brand well. This will keep your spirits up and will show that there is more to your company than just death threats.

Step 3: Respond Accordingly

Finally, once you have the right mindset, have established whether the contact is a customer or a prospect, and have triaged the messages for priority, it’s time to communicate. Let’s take a look at what your goal should be for each of the three levels of triage and take a look at a couple examples of what to do and what not to to.


For those unfortunate circumstances where a customer or prospect is upset with your company, your goal should be to shift the communication from Unhappy to Neutral by taking it offline.

“Do” Examples

GoToMeeting is a Virus

In this tweet, the GoToMeeting user has compared software to the most horrifying thing when it comes to technology in most people’s minds: a virus. Obviously, the software is not a virus, but performs in an odd way. Since the GoToMeeting team was aware of this different behavior and it’s potentially negative impact on the user experience, they have created a solution. The GoToMeeting team member did exactly what he/she should have done, they were aware of the conversation, aware of the issue, aware of the solution, and connected the user to the information, diffusing the situation and showing that they are on top of it. Are there common issues in your business you could create documentation to send in response to regular complaints? Dove Stains Clothes

In this situation, the customer’s clothes have been marked by a Dove product inspite of the company’s messaging explicitly promoting otherwise. The Dove communications agent did what we should all do in the situation – take it offline. What I especially like about the way Dove handled it was that they don’t require the user to follow them for a Direct Message, instead they provide the appropriate email address to send a note to. 

Is there a public email address you can send to customers instead of the follow/DM process?

“Don’t” Examples

Comcast Doesn’t Follow Up

I’m sorry to bring up a dead horse, but really, Comcast seems to be struggling in a number of customer service areas. In this example, the rep was doing so well, but then completely failed. The customer had apparently been billed in error and was complaining about it. The rep did just what he was supposed to by asking for the follow/DM and even got to the point where it was taken offline. Then, however, he apparently stopped communicating and it returned back to Twitter for all the world to see. How can you make sure each open case gets closed quickly with follow up in your business?

Walgreens is Unaware

This situation is somewhat nuanced, but proves the point that you need to be aware of the conversations going on with your brand. In this case, a customer complained twice on Twitter about the same situation and received a clearly canned response from Walgreens both times. This shows the customer that they are not cared for and might as well be talking to a machine. What ways can you and your team be more aware of the conversations each other are having? How can you provide personalized responses based on context?


In the case where communication is neither positive nor negative, but somewhere in between, your goal should be to shift it from Neutral to Happy by replying with a positive, helpful response that also spreads your brand-specific messaging.

“Do” Examples

Dollar Shave Club Shares Reviews

Dollar Shave Club does a lot of things right, including sharing their reviews page when the context clearly calls for it. The potential buyer was asking the community for reviews, so DSC went ahead and joined the conversation by sharing their reviews page, taking it from a wild west of communication to a more moderated place. In addition, they continued following up within the same thread on Twitter, showing that they want to add spice to people’s lives, not just make a quick sale.

Can you leverage current reviews if someone pings their network for some opinions?

T-Mobile Extends Their Brand Messaging

This is probably one of the most basic examples we’ll walk through, but you don’t have to make headlines every time you communicate. In this instance, T-Mobile just won a customer from their competitor AT&T and the customer was proud to make it known. Rather than ignoring it, or simply retweeting it, the T-Mobile team wisely responded with their brand-specific hashtag of #UncarrierRevolution. How can you better promote your brand-specific messaging to turn neutral communication into a positive brand experience?

“Don’t” Examples

Hilton Doesn’t Respond

This situation is pretty mild, but worth discussing. You see, Hilton didn’t do anything wrong here, but that’s the point – they didn’t do anything. I’m not too familiar with the President’s hotel habits, but I assume he doesn’t lodge at this particular one on a very regular basis. If there are conversations going on around a significant individual like that, it’s crucial to be a part of them and leverage them for your brand’s positive image. Sadly, I don’t think they even tweeted anything from their own account.

How can you be more aware of key events that could have mass appeal for your brand?

Kenneth Cole’s News Party Foul

This has been documented by a number of people, but it’s worth bringing up in this section. Neutral communication doesn’t always have to be directed at your brand for you to mess it up. Everyone was having a normal, non-anti-Kenneth Cole day when out of nowhere, the clothing company decided to pipe up and take advantage of the #Cairo hashtag’s popularity by somehow horribly connecting the issues in Cairo to their new spring collection. Wow.

How can you understand the conversations you are reaching out to before a mistake like this is made?


For the interactions where people are going bonkers for your company (in a good way), your goal should be to leverage that happiness to promote more happiness from more people. Share it, respond how they would want you to, promote it, repurpose it, and have fun with it.

“Do” Examples

Husqvarna is Human

This is an incredibly simple, but incredibly impactful example by one of my favorite brands (Husq chainsaws or bust). The customer was clearly happy with the new mower he purchased from Husqvarna and made the public aware. A friend connection chimed in to share the same sentiment. Then Husqvarna responded to the friend, not by saying “we are glad you are satisfied” or “thank you for your purchase, please buy this other product,” but said “thanks dude” just as any normal human being would do. It shows us that there is a human behind the brand, not just a corporate board of directors setting policy. How can you show your customers that you are a real human communicating with them?

American Airlines Supports Our Troops:

Similar to the GoToMeeting case above, American Airlines did a great job in this instance of sharing their positive brand message for service men and women. The customer gave them praise for priority boarding for military members, so the airlines used it as an opportunity to share the other ways they support our troops.

Are there regularly occurring positive experiences with your brand you can document and have ready for a time like this?

“Don’t” Examples

J. Crew is Not Capitalizing

When people interact with your brand in the category of Happy, do more than retweet. In J. Crew’s case, they do an amazing job in general at providing excellent service for their customers. This is especially true within the Unhappy and Neutral categories. When it comes to the Happy though, J. Crew seems to have one response: retweet. They rarely continue the conversation, extend brand messaging, or really anything else. They only retweet.

How can you engage your happy customers beyond retweeting to push the happy snowball down the hill?

Muscle Milk is Missing:

Listening is crucial in social media, everyone knows that. Beyond listening though is understanding who is talking. In this example a Bleacher Report Analyst with over ninety thousand followers tweeted a positive message about Muscle Milk. This was a perfect opportunity to leverage a fairly influential fan for free, but Muscle Milk failed to comment. You have to be present to provide two-way engagement.

How can you better tell which customers you should respond to if you can’t respond to them all?

Again, interacting with customers on a regular basis takes some serious brain power. You have to constantly react and respond in the right way at the right time, every time. Do yourself and your mind-endurance a favor by creating your own response operating procedure or use the one above. This will free up some mental resources to do more to inspire than just react.

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