Cultivating connections and customer care in a crisis
A 12-step guide to navigate social media during a pandemic
The human need for connection is never more evident than when we are faced with a crisis. As we all face the wide-ranging implications of the #COVID-19 outbreak, we are increasingly reaching out to share our experiences, engage in conversations and seek out information on the latest developments.
According to a study from influencer agency Obviously, as the #coronavirus pandemic deepens, people are spending an increasing amount of time on those social media platforms to which they’re already so dependent. Research unearthed a 22 percent increase in Instagram campaign impressions from Q4 2019 to Q1 2020 and a 27 percent jump in engagement on average on TikTok from February to March.
During the week of March 9, 2020, Sprinklr counted a record of nearly 20 million mentions across social media, blogs and news sites of coronavirus-related terms in a single 24-hour period around the world.
“With 19 million mentions across social media and news sites related to COVID-19 in the 24 hours alone around the world, it’s clear that coronavirus is the first global pandemic that is unfolding on social media with unprecedented volumes of conversations happening every second,” Grad Conn, Sprinklr chief experience and marketing officer, noted in an interview with Recode. “Global social media usage rates have grown by about 50 percent since 2014, when the Ebola epidemic was happening worldwide. And recent major news stories — including climate change, sporting, and political events — have not had the same global impact as coronavirus on individuals, businesses, and governments.”
Cultivating connection and community in a crisis
At a time when we’re all being advised to practice social distancing measures, many people will be craving connection and a sense of community. Customers will be turning to brands to resolve challenges and obtain information. This is where social media shines. Now, more than ever, brands need to build a sense of community on their channels.
How best to make sure you are sending the right messages and responding in the right way during these unprecedented times? Amanda Sternquist, HGS Digital’s Director of Global Social Care Practice, offers brands the following 12-step action plan:
1. Step up your social media listening. Now is the time to redouble efforts to listen to both owned and earned conversations about your brand to understand and identify the conversation drivers. “Advanced social media management tools will allow brands to listen to all the conversations in which people are talking to and about them, as well as their competitors,” Sternquist explained. “it’s imperative that brands seek to understand what their customers are doing, saying, and needing during this time of crisis.”
2. Prioritize critical conversations. Once brands have a solid understanding of the conversation drivers, what customers are experiencing and what they need in terms of support, they need to prioritize conversations to address the most impactful ones first. For example, if customer service conversations are the most critical to address, it’s important to prioritize them based on both owned and earned customer service mentions that are above and beyond anything that would celebrate the brand. “The use of AI technology can help triage conversations about exposure to individuals with symptoms, combat misinformation, and run campaigns to educate the public,” said Josh Kanagy, Division Vice President at Sprinklr.
3. Plan and prepare. Rather than wait for a crisis conversation to emerge, brands must work to anticipate the kinds of potential issues they can expect during an ongoing situation such as the coronavirus pandemic. Through keyword analysis, brands can begin to develop a map for how to differentiate between customer service issues that can be resolved and those that will require the larger organization’s input to mitigate.
4. Identify organization-wide resources. As companies work to transition employees to work from home or face possible shutdowns during the COVID-19 crisis, social media management resources available to respond to conversations may be limited. In these circumstances, it’s important that brands explore non-traditional resources from within the organization to help support customer conversations. Sternquist suggested that brands assess the types of customer service conversations taking place in their social channels in order to funnel them to other individuals or departments such as Marketing, Human Resources, or Legal teams.
5. Leverage the benefits of bots. Self-help bots are one solution that can help brands respond to an influx of customer service conversations during a crisis. Using a self-help bot via private channel messaging, customers could private message the brand, briefly describe their issue and the bot would work to triage the situation, direct them to online resources or help them self-solve their issue through interactive support. However, Sternquist warned that even with the use of bots, brands still need to provide options for customers to engage direct help if they feel they are not getting the attention or resolution they need from the bot. “Otherwise, it can escalate their frustration level and lead to potential crises,” she said.
6. Activate auto-replies. In addition to bots, brands can also institute smart replies or auto-reply functionality with the help of AI technology. With very refined keyword filtration, brands can disseminate which types of conversations are frequent and require just a basic standard response. For example, if a customer needs to cancel their trip, a self-serve auto-generated response can communicate an instruction such as “Thank you for reaching out. Please click here to request a cancellation.” This helps resolve the customer’s issue without ever having to touch a customer service agent’s queue. According to Michelle Crose, a Lead Solutions Consultant at Sprinklr, after a Fortune 50 Company implemented their Smart Response technology, they saw a 33% reduction in SLA and 24% improvement in engagement rates.
7. Expand the review process. At any time, but especially during times of crisis like those the COVID-19 pandemic presents, social changes can change one hour to the next. A daily review of your process and keywords just won’t cut it. “Brands may need to review their conversation drivers three times a day or more to ensure they are remaining agile and meeting customers’ needs every step of the way,” Sternquist suggested. “It’s important to continually track those conversation drivers through that first-level analysis portion to understand how your brand can continue to react and exceed the needs of the customer where possible.”
8. Engage with empathy. While it’s important to stay true to your unique brand voice, it’s wise to evaluate the tone of your messaging during challenging times. What seemed funny yesterday might be perceived by your customers as insensitive today. Instead, focus on posts that add value and demonstrate heart in today’s changing environment. Consider Comcast which is offering free wi-fi for students. Chipotle is setting up Zoom lunches with celebrities. Kahn Academy is offering learning resources via free memberships while U-Haul is offering 30 days of free self-storage for college students displaced by the coronavirus. CVS Pharmacy is offering free delivery on prescriptions and other store essentials. Each of these is an example of focusing on positive ways to create engagement. Think about how your brand can make an impact.
“When you share content or feedback with customers, empathy is the number one thing to focus in that response process,” Sternquist said. “In an empathetic way, let customers know that while all businesses are experiencing hardships right now and navigating new territory, together you will help them get through this situation.“
“These offers are really hitting home,” Sternquist added. “Once this crisis blows over, those customers that were using your free resources will become advocates and be more apt to purchase your resources.” Now is the time for brands to think about what they can offer at a minimum financial impact to keep their customers engaged.
9. Take a break from COVID-19 content. Search on the keyword “coronavirus” and you’ll find that Google is serving up 6,070,000,000 results as of this writing. Everyone is currently overwhelmed with news about COVID-19. Brands should take care to create a balance of content including messages that highlight positive news and feel-good content.
United Airlines is one of the carriers in the travel industry being inundated with customer service conversations. They are upscaling their customer service experience by ensuring their agents go above and beyond to be informative through the process and diverting positive sentiment conversations out of their agent queue so their representatives can focus on the critical customer care.
But they are also balancing their customer care and COVID-19 coverage with posts that focus on the positive. Consider the post which United Airlines published on St. Patrick’s Day which garnered 1,200 shares and more than 500 comments.
Cisco also used the March 17 holiday to add levity to its social media channel while still making a connection to the coronavirus issue.
In the post, Cisco cited a popular Irish blessing while including a photo of members of its Cisco Galway team who are working remotely.
Still other brands like CNN and the Chicago-based Shedd Aquarium published posts intended to share positive news about the crisis or just to provide followers with a laugh.
In this latter category, the Shedd Aquarium, which was forced to temporarily shut its doors to the public, published a series of posts following the adventures of their popular penguins on a field trip of their own through the aquarium.
Widely shared, the penguin post garnered 64,000 shares, 59,000 likes and 18,000 comments.
10. Post in real-time. While social channels provide the flexibility to schedule publication of posts and allow editing of scheduled posts prior to the scheduled publish date, social media strategy during times of crisis warrants brand consideration of publishing in real-time. Messages that aim to provide the most recent updates on coronavirus developments will benefit from real-time publishing. Relying on social listening tools to scope out conversations and trending topics is beneficial in tailoring a message that fits the appropriate moment in time during a crisis.
11. Explore expanded technology resources. Now is the time to evaluate the performance of existing technology resources and reach out to other management resources to determine if there is a way to leverage extra support through the crisis. “Maybe there’s an upgraded enablement or a feature you’re not considering that can help you take a lot of the stress and headache away from managing this crisis,” Sternquist said. “It’s really about being fully informed about your options.” For example, Sprinklr CEO Ragy Thomas has deployed his teams, and is offering incentives, to aid clients in standing up additional tools to help manage the conversations. Recently, their Internal Center of Excellence for Implementation created pandemic-specific assets (including tailored listening dashboards and keyword lists) that was brought to customers for quick deployment in their respective Sprinklr environments.
12. Turn your community management up a notch. During a global crisis such as the coronavirus pandemic, your customers will be watching more than ever how you respond and engage in social media (especially with increased usage of social media platforms). Now’s not the time to ghost your social media channels. Instead, use these circumstances to ramp up your customer service and pay extra special attention to your brand’s conversation drivers.
“The best thing brands can do right now is listen to their customers to really understand what they need and then cater their content to meet those needs,” Sternquist added.
Need help with social listening or social response strategies? Learn more about HGS Digital’s EPIC Social Media Care solution or request a consultation.