Ah, to be in customer service at holiday time—really the first line of customer experience and brand reputation. In high school or college you may have taken a retail job during the holidays and stood for hours behind a cash register, ringing out lines of Black Friday shoppers. And seeing that frenzy firsthand just may have prepared you (or deterred you) for a career in communications.
Social media managers and brand representatives currently sit as those front-line communicators for many organizations. For some industries like retail, travel and food holiday time can be the busiest—fueling questions about canceled flights, turkey recipes, or what to do when the hot toy is out of stock. Jamie Gilpin, CMO, Sprout Social, says social media has become the preferred channel of communication during the season for many customers.
“As we enter the holiday season, brands can expect to see18% more social messagescompared to non-holiday months,” Gilpin says. “This increase in expected customer care messages and requests across social platforms presents a unique challenge—and opportunity—for brands and social media managers.”
PRNEWS talked with several social media communications experts to see how brands can prepare for an onslaught of holiday platform traffic, and also how to proceed if your team goes dark during the holidays.
Jess Turner, senior community director, 1000heads, juggles multiple clients and brands for the social-driven agency. Her priorities lie in creating strategies well in advance to prepare for any emerging crisis on social media, as well as planning much-needed downtime for her teams. Turner begins by making staffing a priority for holiday coverage.
“If we are working with a brand that sees a spike in sales or activity during the holidays, our goal is to preemptively staff up ahead of time with a holiday team that can skillfully address a more active community,” she says. “Training is also key here, as you want service to be as high-quality as always, even with a new team and an increased volume of conversation or requests.”
While agency teams are built differently than an in-house brand team, they look at each client independently to conclude, based on trends, if the community will have urgent needs over the holiday period. Being a global agency also helps.
“It is ideal to find a holiday team that may not celebrate the same holidays (ex. international team for Thanksgiving coverage).”
Emotions can run high during holiday time, and many people may look to expel that energy onto a social media manager or customer service agent. But cooler heads can prevail by preparing those on the front lines ahead for possible hiccups. And in doing so, you may win over your initial enemy. In fact, according to a study by Ledgeview Partners,54% of people had a more favorable view of brandsthat responded to customer service questions or complaints on social media. Just being there means a lot.
According to Gilpin, companies can successfully handle the increased message volume by “implementing acustomer care plan that follows best practices, such as using social listening to proactively uncover and address customer issues.” Gilpin also recommends developing pre-approved messages based on frequently asked questions for speedy replies.
“The companies who rise to the occasion and use social media to provide quick, informed customer care will gain a huge competitive advantage.”
Turner undergoes a similar audit strategy with her team, defining the types of engagements they expect, and setting [reply] procedures for each type of conversation.
To simplify any escalation, the agency recommends a single crisis contact for the holiday coverage team if something is critically urgent and they cannot solve it themselves, nor do they have a pre-set plan.
“We also project emergency situations and build an escalation plan, which sometimes includes a PR contact, but more commonly, centers around a brand lead who can then contact PR or whoever else is the next best reference,” she says.
And even if a brand does not experience an increase in social traffic over the holidays, Turner suggests preparing a pinned post strategy to serve customers who may be trying to access brands when main teams may be offline.
“We proactively build a pinned post that can serve as a summary of key references your community can rely on should they need something over the period the team will be off,” she says.
Looping this into content that provides a friendly holiday message thanking the community or encouraging a restful break with loved ones can help.
“The holidays are a great time to remind your community that you are a collection of humans, not a faceless brand.”
Not all social media outreach consists of products. Some social media platforms see a rise in those looking for help through services.
Sociality Pro is an agency specializing in video marketing and SEO for primarily behavioral healthcare organizations and professionals. Current clients includeaddiction treatment centers, psychologists,therapists, medical doctors, and lawyers among others.
“The holidays can be an especially tough time of year for many who feel alone and are struggling with addiction, depression, anxiety and other behavioral health issues,” says SocialityPro CEO Austin Armstrong. “Our client content tends to get more traffic because people are looking for answers on social media.”
Armstrong says it’s important for communicators to keep customer service on social a priority over the holidays, because it is both the busiest and most emotional time of year. It’s important for both sides of the conversation to stay calm for everyone involved.
“The holidays can stir both positive and negative feelings, and anyone interacting online with customers must keep their cool,” he says. “Be patient and compassionate in your comments and messages to build customer relationships and loyalty.”
And if a social platform goes down, say Twitter perhaps, Armstrong says implementing a strong live chat function on your website as a must.
“I highly suggest incorporating a live chat solution on your website if you have the capacity to reply,” he says. “Our favorite chat service app ishttps://livechat.com/. We’ve used it for years. It also connects directly to your phone, so anyone on your team can answer user questions anywhere, anytime.”
Nicole Schuman is senior editor for PRNEWS. Follow her @nicoleschuman