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5 Crucial Steps for Using Social Media to Improve Your Customer Service

Social media can be defined in many ways and used for many purposes. But there is one, and only one, use that you should vow to never neglect. And that's customer service. Long gone are the days of hand-written complaints and private 1-800 phone calls. People flock to Facebook, Twitter, and the like to vocalize their complaints, which are then read by countless online consumers.

Understand today's social media tech for social customer service - ACCE '12

While you can't prohibit users from making negative remarks online, you can tame the fire. Here's how.

1. Provide Good Service in the First Place

Before we even discuss the ways in which social media can serve as a customer service tool, you need to evaluate your current customer service process. The fact that you need to manage customer frustration online is a signal that there was some seed of frustration with the company in the first place. If your current service is unorganized, poorly communicated, and unfriendly, there is nothing social media can do to help you. Social provides a place to improve, not to create. The best customer service provides a great experience in the first place, empowering employees to converse effectively and serve their customers well.

2. Don't Leave Accounts Unmonitored

If you create a Facebook, Twitter, Google+ or LinkedIn account, you need to be responsible for watching it. Don't set up a Twitter account and neglect to monitor your @replies, direct messages, or various mentions of your brand, products, and services. If you hung up on an irking customer complaint phone call, the world may never know. If you ignore a customer complaint in social media — the world will know. Be an active voice in online discussion. Monitor what people are saying about your company and be sure to address both positive and negative messages. Show your fans, followers, and customers that you're listening and that you appreciate their feedback and commentary.

3. Know that "The Customer is Always Right."

As cliché as it sounds, the expression "the customer is always right" is crucial on social media. When you receive a phone call, nobody hears but you and the customer. Hopefully you speak to them respectfully, but in the off chance you don't, whatever you said is left on the dial tone. But online, it’s tweeted, posted, and linked to. It's permanent. If you post something that contradicts your brand's message, belies what you intended to say, or was simply a case of not thinking before you speak (or in this case, type), don't just delete it. Instead, clarify your message immediately after. Furthermore, address other company-related issues using your social presence, even if they didn't stem from social media in the first place. Accept that you were at fault, let your audience know, and apologize if you were offensive. It will make you real to them, which is important because anything perfect is usually too good to be true.

4. Answer Questions as Instantly as Possible

Many customers are too lazy to pick up a phone. They're likely already on the computer, and it's much easier for them to type an inquiry on a company's social account. Don't leave these questions unanswered. If a customer needs help, give it to them. If you don't know the answer, direct it to someone else on your team who does. Consider hosting a live chat feature that allows customers to speak with a customer service representative right away. At the very least, include links on your social media accounts to your support pages. Make it as simple and intuitive as possible for customers to reach out to you and get the attention they deserve.

5. Listen to What Users are Saying for Improvement

If you're managing your social account as described above, you’ll start to notice trends. Trends in what customers are most confused about, what they continually ask about, or what frustrates them the most. Use these trends as insights into how to improve your overall customer service program. Address them in training sessions, use them to script blog posts, and, most importantly, find ways to eliminate them.