Breaking the Fourth Wall: Social Media as a Customer Service Tool
By Colin Ryan
Real estate agents on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ are spending too much time communicating with each other, and not enough time communicating with their customers.
Don’t get me wrong: talking to other professionals can be hugely beneficial to your business. As independent contractors, real estate agents don’t have the support systems that workers in other industries typically enjoy. The web in general and social media in particular are helping to fill this gap. By following other agents, you can benefit from the experiences, advice, and recommendations of those who are either more seasoned, or have dealt with similar issues.
With Facebook Groups, you can also join or create smaller networks to help you share informative content and network with others in your niche, region, or area of interest. Tech Support Group for Real Estate Agents, for instance, provides agents with a place to ask questions about everything from CRM software, to mobile devices, to SEO.
Nevertheless, the fact is you’re not selling your product to other agents: you’re selling to consumers. If you really want your social media activity to bear fruit, you need to focus on engaging those people directly. That means offering something beyond general posts and tweets that link to your website, blog and listings. Important though these dispatches may be for your marketing strategy, they’re not so much communications as they are advertisements.
Instead, you should be using your social media accounts to really talk and really listen. Because Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ are free and instant, they’re the perfect platform for providing this kind of quality customer service. Unfortunately, many companies don’t take advantage of this opportunity: a recent study by STELLAService found that among 20 top retailers, including Best Buy, Radio Shack, J. Crew, and Victoria’s Secret, only five responded within 48 hours to questions customers posted on their Facebook pages. Of the remaining fifteen, many neglected to answer the questions at all, while others simply deleted the posts entirely.
This is a real shame. After all, retailers as large as Best Buy should be using every possible opportunity to humanize their companies, and although your business may be quite a bit smaller, it’s equally important that you do the same. After all, as a real estate agent, you are your business.
So how should you go about talking to your customers via social media? You can start by talking back to people who like or comment on your content or posts. This is doubly important if their feedback is negative. By deleting a post that says something uncomplimentary about your business, you’re essentially confirming that customer’s opinion for them. Not only that, you also run the risk of tainting your image for anyone who saw the post before you had a chance to take it down. Finally, you’re forgetting the most important fact about negative feedback—namely, that customers with problems want solutions, plain and simple. So instead of hiding it, try to address the customer’s problem or dissatisfaction. Even if you can’t resolve the issue with a response, acknowledge their concerns and explain the steps you’ll take to make things right. Most importantly, customers engage you on social media because they expect a prompt response—otherwise, they’d call or email. So be sure to respond to posts as soon as you read them.
Next, you should also keep the conversation public whenever possible (and appropriate), no matter how nervous it makes you. Your responses will require more foresight, since they’ll be visible to everyone. But by keeping the discussion out in the open, you’ll not only solve that customer’s problem: you’ll also demonstrate to a wider audience your commitment to providing quality, expert service. Even after you’ve answered the question, keep the conversation visible. This way, visitors to your pages can easily browse your customer service successes.
Finally, you should also create your own opportunities for customer interaction. Make your contact information available and remind visitors often, so they can engage you when they want to. Don’t just wait for questions, either: invite them. Give away a little advice. Find out what your customers are concerned about, what they’re looking for in an agent, and what they want in a home in your area. Create threads and encourage people to participate in the conversation.
Twitter, Facebook, and Google+ aren’t simply extensions of your blog or website: they’re channels that allow easy communication in both directions. By addressing your customers directly via social media, you’ll build trust and forge relationships that will help you grow your business.
Published on April 6, 2011