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Do you know when to keep the conversation going on social or understand what your customers are looking for? Do you have the right skills? Ritesh Gupta explores what customer service means on Facebook

Caring for the customer on social media channels still has its fair share of challenges.

“One of the main ones that we face is forecasting the amount of engagement we will get from each post,” says says James Silverstone, a communications executive, Butlins.

“It is a challenge to ensure that we have team cover in the office each day and maintain our quick response times.”

Last month Butlins said the first UK holiday brand to reach 100,000 fans on Facebook. 

Taking a leaf out of Butlins’ book, how can you improve customer service on Facebook on an ongoing basis?  

1. Analyse what visitors expect from you

 The team at Butlins found that when guests visit its social media pages, they are not only looking at the latest photos, competition and news, but are also seeking advice on booking a break.

“We get a great deal of enquiries on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram about our resorts and breaks from people looking for a quick response,” says Silverstone.

On Butlins’ Facebook page, customers are mainly seeking tips for planning their break or how to make the most of it once they book.

Every firm needs to be prepared for issues or negative feedback, too. But what sort of complaints are being posted on Facebook?

Chris Schalkx, social media manager at HotelQuickly says real customer support questions like failed bookings and so on won’t find their way to social media.

“Customers seem to call or e-mail us instead of reaching out to us on social media. Most of the questions we get are about the promotions, campaigns and events we run on these (social media) platforms,” he says.

2. Keep improving the skill set

Butlins is making sure that the customer care team is being nurtured in order to performan better.

“We have a dedicated team of customer care advisers who respond to emails and phone calls, but we’re shifting our efforts and resources into training our customer care team to be multi-skilled, so that they can answer queries across all our channels and platforms,” says Silverstone.

Butlins monitors its social media channels from 9am – 9pm, seven days a week.

“We actively listen out to people talking about Butlins on the Internet, even those who don’t specifically tag us in a comment or post, so that we can proactively assist where appropriate,” he says  

3. Make it a dedicated effort

Quite often questions are raised about who should shoulder the responsibility for social media-related initiatives. In fact, many might not be in a position to recruit a team for social media customer care initiatives. One-year-old HotelQuickly, which is inching towards a fanbase of 50,000, finds itself in this situation.

“Right now, there’s not one person doing the customer service through social media at HotelQuickly – it’s an additional task for all of us working on these channels. Eventually, when our user base grows, we would need someone to focus more on this,” says Schalkx.

4. Focus on continuity

Butlins relies on Facebook in a number of ways in the run up to a guest’s break. For instance, the team offers assistance on booking, upgrading, travel and resort information.

Says Silverstone: “We let customers know about the shows and activities available during their break and build anticipation by engaging in conversation with our followers and with imagery and updates.”

In addition, during the break guests are encouraged guests to share their own photos online. “We have started to use on-resort signage to direct people to Facebook during their break,” he says

When Butlins guests have returned home, the firm runs competitions to find the best holiday pictures, which both re-engages guests with their holiday memories and also serves as interesting and useful content to future guests.

5. Know when to move discussions off your Facebook page

It’s not always advisable to converse on the official page.

“Be aware that the whole world is watching - every step you take could get magnified and turn against you; if you mess up - everyone will know. Therefore, try to relocate [any potentially difficult] conversations to a private channel,” recommends Schalkx.

According to Schalkx, trying to openly sort out a problem at times may raise expectations of all customers.

“If we make one exception for one customer, we cannot deny that to the next one - you raise your own standards and customer expectations without being fully aware of that.”

It’s better to reply to a customer that has reached out to us on social media and ask him/her to take to conversation to a private channel; either a private message on Facebook or direct message on Twitter or phone/e-mail,” he explains.

6. Be personal

Customer care is all about somebody being there to help you out.

“Here at Butlins we always make sure we sign off all our tweets and comments with a first name so that it gives the reply a personal touch,” he says.

The team tries to make sure that it always uses a friendly, conversational and informal tone of voice. “Social media doesn’t have to be too corporate and if the customers are engaging with you in an informal manner then reply in the same way,” says Silverstone.  

To hone your social media strategy still further, why not join us later this year for Online Marketing, Mobile and Social Media in Travel, 2014 which will take place in Berlin in October

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