Utility companies have been in the media spotlight for some time now, criticised for price hikes and rising profits. Customers in turn are venting frustrations, demanding the best pricing deals available and feeling rather apprehensive and untrusting of providers. That said, as customers are coming round to the idea that perhaps high energy prices are here to stay, providers are now faced with the task of retaining customers and in order to do that they must ensure customer service is unquestionable.

At the end of last year, eDigitalResearch found utility companies are failing to optimise social media as a platform for customer engagement, often leaving channels neglected for unsatisfactory periods of time. As we continue to move into an increasingly digital world, and social media becomes the norm businesses need to sit up and listen, changing their customer service model to ensure they drive service excellence through all channels.

Utility companies will have to start taking social media seriously and understand the impact – and implications – it has on business success. At the moment, social media is something everyone knows they need to be doing but many still don’t quite know how and worse still, don’t realise how important it really is.

Here are some top tips on getting it right:

Understand the content which should be used

Fundamental to a social media strategy is understanding what kind of content should be produced to ensure customer service levels remain high and consumers stay engaged. Content needs to be appealing whether that is in the form of news, promotions or interesting third party updates.

That said, social media channels are more than a way of simply pushing out content, they need to form a two way conversation providing appropriate and timely responses to customer enquiries or even feedback. As the old saying goes, its quality not quantity; working out what customers want and delivering to those needs through social media interactions is key.

Engage appropriately in real-time

Whilst social media is a fantastic tool for improving customer loyalty, the messaging must be personalised and appropriate – consumers have high expectations when it comes to the type of response they expect to receive. Used in the wrong way, social media can give the consumer a very public soapbox on which to vent their frustrations. In order to respond appropriately you need to be able to understand exactly how important and influential social conversations are in order to funnel resource and manage expectations.

Having a 360 view of the consumer through combining their social profile with their customer account, helps understand how socially influential the consumer is whilst also recognising how valuable they are to the business. Timing is also critical when it comes to social media. Utility firms receiving numerous pieces of feedback, which unfortunately, more often than not are negative, need to be on the ball and ensure that all responses are in real-time. Social media is fast paced and we’ve all seen what can happen when responses aren’t timely!

Encourage a holistic approach

For utility providers, where customer service is a core component of the business, the implementation of a social media strategy is integral to success. It’s not just about having one department sat at the end of a computer or mobile device pushing out content. Whilst central management is required, a holistic approach needs to be taken across the whole business, ensuring that adequate numbers of people, and the right processes, are put in place in order to respond appropriately.

Businesses need to direct relevant messages to the right part of the organisation in real-time, enabling immediate responses to be made. Having just one department responsible for social media often causes delays as a lack of insight into all aspects of the business means time is taken to source the right answers before a response is made – not good enough in the eyes of today’s customer.

It’s vitally important that utility brands properly strategise and plan every aspect of their social media channels. They need to embrace social media and bring it into the heart of their customer service strategy by taking a proactive approach to social media monitoring and engaging with customers online. Only by ensuring all areas of customer service are covered, offering a seamless and supportive service in response to incoming enquiries and proactively offering information, will utility companies achieve brand loyalty.