It’s popular these days to suggest that small businesses add social media to their customer service toolbox. After all, it’s free and where the people are, so going in that direction makes sense.


However, that being said, using social media for customer service is often something done more in theory than in actual practice for many small businesses because they think that it’s just too much work and the payoff may be negligible. The fact is though, the opposite is usually true; it is not that much work and the payoff can be huge.


Here is a small, but very telling, example:  A colleague of mine loves to eat at Morton’s Steakhouse so often that he is in their system as a “best customer.” When he calls, Morton’s computer recognizes his phone number, they know what he likes, they call him by name, the whole nine yards. One time, at the end of a long day of flying across the country, he tweeted to his more than 100,000 Twitter followers in jest, “Hey @Mortons, why don’t you meet me at the airport with a porterhouse steak when I land?!”


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Can you guess the rest of the story? You bet. When he landed, he was stunned to find a server from Morton’s waiting for him with, yes, a porterhouse steak. The fact that the restaurant was 25 miles away from the airport was just one of his shocks.  Since he has such a large Twitter following, when he tweets he is happy with a particular company, it carries weight. You can bet that Morton’s thought delivering a steak was probably a small price to pay for such a potentially positive outcome.


There are all sorts of morals to that story, but the key one is this: The benefit of using social media for customer service, aside from being able to intercept problems (discussed below), is that resolutions like these have the potential to go viral.


In the real world, when you make a customer happy, you have one happy customer. But if you adopt and use social media for customer service, that happy customer is much more likely to become an “e-vangelist” for your company, and tons of people will hear your success story.


And therein lies the power of this idea.


Aside from delighting customers, the other benefit of this process is that the opposite is also true – you can put out virtual fires much more quickly if you are active on social media. If you are not present when people start posting bad things about your business, you will lose customers and might not even know why.

The actual procesPull Quote 5-29-12.pngs of using social media for customer service requires three steps:


1. Engage in the conversation: Many people think that the point of social media for customer service is to deal with upset customers quicker and easier, and while that is true, it just may be that the most important part has nothing to do with upset customers.


It does have to do with delighting customers, engaging with them and creating connections with them. You can use Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn to ask for insight and feedback from your customers. Post a poll. Get product ideas. Give them a coupon. Ask and answer questions. Forge a connection. Engage them.


2. Monitor what is being said: Now, finally, we get to the obvious purpose of using social media for customer service, namely, to deal with upset customers who are posting negative things about your business online.


This part requires some work and vigilance on your part, but it’s worth it, because left unchecked, such comments can ruin your online reputation, and that in turn can bleed into your offline one.


Consider the restaurant down the street from me that recently changed its name and completely rebranded itself. Why? Because one customer got so mad at something they did that his online assault became fatal. When the restaurant finally realized that it had an online reputation problem, it was too late. They eventually had to start over under a new, untarnished name.


So you need to monitor what is being said about you. Places you should look include:


  • Yelp
  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • LinkedIn
  • YouTube
  • Epinions


3. Respond as soon as you see something:  Surveys show that when someone is upset enough to post something negative online about your business, they nevertheless can not only be placated, but actually have a high likelihood of becoming your customers again if you engage them online quickly and work sincerely to solve their problem. In fact, almost half will go so far as to delete the original, negative post.


As you can see, using social media for customer service in the age of social media just makes good business sense. How have you used social media to strengthen your customer service? Or, how do you plan to? Share your thoughts with the SBOC community below.



About Steve Strauss

Steven D. Strauss is one of the world's leading experts on small business and is a lawyer, writer, and speaker. The senior small business columnist for USA Today, his Ask an Expert column is one of the most highly-syndicated business columns in the country. He is the best-selling author of 17 books, including his latest, The Small Business Bible, now out in a completely updated third edition. You can listen to his weekly podcast, Small Business Success, visit his new website TheSelfEmployed, and follow him on Twitter. © Steven D. Strauss You can read more articles from Steve Strauss by clicking here.

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