This is Why Social Media Customer Service is So Freaking Stressful – and What You Should Be Doing Differently

When it comes to the way you provide customer service on social media, it’s time for you to lower your standards.

Just kidding!

Obviously social media is a big, big deal when it comes to providing customer service. Where a lot of businesses go wrong, though, is not establishing their own standards for customer service on social, and trying to adhere to someone else’s – even if it means going crazy trying to compete with someone else when in reality, you’re not even playing the same game.

Whac-A-Mole Game


See, providing customer service on social media can feel like playing Whac-A-Mole – you have to act fast, and sometimes, it can be overwhelming. (Also, it may involve hitting people with a big mallet.) Whether someone is complaining, asking a question, or even just throwing some kudos your way, it’s visible to the world, so you probably feel compelled to respond as fast as humanly possible.

The question isn’t just whether or not you can, though – it’s whether or not you should.

How Fast Is Fast?

Customers expect fast response times when they reach out to you on social media. You probably don’t need any fancy schmancy statistics to tell you that – but here are a few anyway. Research published by Zendesk shows that for most people, speed of response and speed of resolution are the top two priorities for customer service – but how fast is fast enough?

It’s slower than you might think. The majority of consumers expect response and/or resolution within a day of reaching out on social media – according to KISSMetrics, fewer than 1 in 5 expect a response within an hour. That means you don’t necessarily need to be ready to spring into action at all times, even if other businesses apparently are.

Remembering That Speed Is Relative

Some businesses are lightning-fast when it comes to social media, and while it seems to set the bar high for customer service, you should always remember that their bar is different from your bar.

For example, take a look at American Airlines. Their Twitter account fires off an average of almost 600 tweets per day, more than 99.8% of which are @-replies. Many of those replies are posted within minutes of the original message.

American Airlines Twitter Stats


Tempting as it may be to look at their example and feel a burning need to try to match it, the reasons not to are a lot stronger! A business like this replies to tweets quickly not just because of the high visibility that affects every company on social media, but because so many of its service requests are highly time-sensitive.

Customers tweet at this company about lost luggage, missed connections, and all kinds of other issues that require immediate assistance. Ask yourself, when a customer seeks support from your business on social media, are they literally unable to move on with their day until they receive that support? If the answer is “no,” then you may be going a bit too hard on yourself by expecting to provide instantaneous responses.

Another factor? The size of your team. (If you even have a team – I sure didn’t always have one!) The businesses that you look to on social media as benchmarks – the ones that you aspire to be more like – are probably working with resources you don’t have. Why would you hold yourself to their standards? That’s just not fair!

Big businesses have social media teams. They have customer service teams. Even not-so-big businesses do! Right now, my company is nine people, including me, and several of us do social and/or customer service stuff (on top of other things). If it were just me doing everything for my whole entire business, like it was when I started out? There’s no WAY I’d be able to keep pace with the type of customer support my business can provide now. Your standards need to be scaled to your business and your resources – and if you find that you actually can’t provide the type of customer service your should be, then it’s time to think about hiring some help.

The Danger of Setting Unrealistic Expectations

But let’s say you don’t buy it. Let’s say you really want to just keep going full throttle and reply to everyone super fast and absolutely crush it 24/7.

Even if you FEEL like you’re doing okay like that, the truth is, it may be taking a subconscious toll – and one that you won’t feel the painful consequences of until it’s too late.

There’s a reason that you should be wary not to set unrealistic expectations for yourself when it comes to social customer service. According to research published in Psychology Today, task-switching can lower your overall productivity by as much as 40%. This means that while it may only take a second to read a push notification on your phone, or a few minutes to respond to a customer’s question on social, all that switching back and forth wreaks havoc on your work day.

That being the case, providing better customer service on social media isn’t just a question of how you reply to other users – it’s a question of your overall conduct on any given network.

So what do you do?

If you want to go on providing great customer service on social without running yourself ragged, there are a few things you can do.

1. Get rid of the distractions

Notifications sure are handy, aren’t they? Too bad they’re PRODUCTIVITY KILLERS.

Whether you get notifications pushed to your phone or you just can’t bring yourself to close that one tab perpetually open to Twitter, it’s time you cut yourself off. Otherwise, you’re taking control away from yourself – every notification is like somebody barging in your office door and interrupting you, no matter how urgent their message may or may not be!

Go into your phone and switch off the notifications. Close the browser tab. Create a buffer between yourself and your social, so that you have to make a conscious choice to check for new messages, rather than them being delivered to you.

Turn off notifications

Try it. You’ll feel better. (I promise.)

2. Figure out how often you REALLY need to check in

Checking your social media accounts can be addictive. (Literally.)

It starts out innocently enough, but pretty soon, you’re filling every 10-second gap in your train of thought by idly checking in – just in case someone reached out to your biz with a question or concern.

Those just-in-cases will drive you absolutely nuts if you let them, so take some time – maybe a week or two – to figure out how often you REALLY need to be checking in. Every day, keep track of the following:

  • How many times per day do you check in on social?
  • How many times per day do you actually use social to respond to a customer?
  • During which times do people tend to reach out to your biz on social?

You may find that you’re checking in way, WAY more often than you need to be – and maybe even at times when it isn’t that necessary. (You can also use a free tool like Tweriod to check which times you get the most @-replies on Twitter.)

Tweriod Twitter Stats

Why’s it matter? Because the customers that reach out to you on social probably don’t do it at evenly-timed intervals throughout the day. Maybe you get lots of activity around midday, but not much in the morning or evening. Maybe your customers are night owls, or are just in a different timezone!

Once you know what to expect, you can plan a better routine for yourself, rather than letting the just-in-cases run the show.

3. Set a schedule

Depending on how much social customer service you have to provide and the times you have to provide it, figure out a schedule you can use for checking in.

For example, you may find that checking in once every few hours is more than enough. If things are a little more fast-paced for your biz, you might need to check in once an hour or so.

Alternatively, you may find that you work best by only providing social customer service during your off-periods between tasks. I always try not to check social in the middle of a task like writing a blog post or reviewing analytics, but instead, reward myself for completing those tasks by checking in after each one – it’s great motivation!

Once you get a general idea of how often you should be checking in, you have to do the hard part: sticking to it. Otherwise, every one of those check-ins – which shouldn’t take more than 10-15 minutes each, tops – could easily derail your productivity. (Ahh, the timeless, distracting allure of cat videos and Buzzfeed quizzes.)

Focus App


Want a little help sticking to your guns? You might try a productivity app that’ll keep you in line, like SelfControl, Focus, or StayFocusd. If those seem a little too strict, you could also just try an app that tracks the time you spend, instead of restricting it – something like Toggl or Time Doctor will help you see how all those little breaks throughout the day add up.

Go on – rethink your standards for yourself!

Providing great customer service on social without sacrificing your sanity isn’t a matter of having LOWER standards – it’s a matter of having BETTER standards. Remember that your business is your business, and that the system that works best for someone else isn’t necessarily going to work best for you!

How do YOU handle customer service on social media? Do you do it yourself? Have a support team? Use the comments below to sound off!

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About Laura Roeder

Laura Roeder is a social media marketing expert who gives businesses of all sizes the tools they need to make their mark on the web. She is the creator of the social media scheduling software Edgar, as well as social media marketing web courses like Creating Fame and Social Brilliant.