At work or play, social media is how we stay connected to our larger personal and professional communities throughout the day. We use social media for PR and marketing, for news and sports updates, for recruitment, for team-building and much more.

Now companies, too, are using social media. From campaign launches to senior executive videos, from positive product news to greater transparency about industry issues, social media is changing how companies approach all facets of business. More and more, it's all in the name of better, more transparent customer service.

Social media tools offer far greater customer insight than we could've imagined even five years ago. Instead of just handling inbound calls, customer service reps are actively scouring industry hashtags for possible issues, responding to Facebook posts about products, and thanking customers with immediate replies and occasional discounts and promotions.

In short, social media is quickly changing what's expected in today's customer service world.

Generally, small-to-midsize businesses are open to using social media for customer service engagement processes. After all, they tend to have in-house customer service staffs on board and are agile enough to adopt social media as a way to work with customers' issues and needs.

Socially Shy Companies

On the other hand, large corporations are less social and tend to avoid frequent engagement with customers. More than half of B2C Fortune 500 companies don't provide their links to Twitter and Facebook sites on their contact pages, the study found. And 27 percent don't provide links to Twitter or Facebook profiles anywhere on their websites at all.
"The largest consumer-facing companies are still struggling to adapt to the ways that the Internet is providing them to reach out and engage with their customers. Although many companies have readily embraced social media for marketing, the customer service piece is coming much more slowly," writes Alex Knapp in Forbes.

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What About Your Business?

  • Are you battling similar sensitivities?
  • Is your company still struggling to find a way to fit the use of social media into an overall customer service process?
  • If not, how is your company currently staying in touch and interacting with customers?
  • Do you see benefits using social media to reach out to customers with tips, insights and customer service issues?

If you're ready to move ahead, developing an in-house team to manage social media discussions around your company brands, products, and services is a great start. Here are a few quick tips to move you in the right direction.

  • Monitor Facebook pages for both customer praise and complaints, and have an agreed-upon policy to respond and reward great customers.
  • Use industry hashtags for company awareness within your industry, and bring issues of substance and regionality to your customers to help support you as needed.
  • Provide YouTube clips describing particular company events, product demos, and interviews with staffers to help humanize your brand and company;
  • Use internal live-chat software to continue or complete a customer call, after initial Facebook or Twitter customer interaction.

Those are just a few quick tips above for day-to-day interactions. Of course, it helps to build social media into the overall brand strategy, company mission, and more. Moving social media away from "just a marketing tool" to a broader company focus on customer service strategy can reap major dividends in goodwill and customer communication.

Here are some final thoughts to leave with you.

  • Using social customer service gives your brand a voice. No longer is your company faceless. Your customer service team will, over time, find its voice on social media, and, soon, customers will start to warm to that human tone and will soon come to accept that voice as the representation of your company. A strong CEO or business-owner social presence works well, too.
  • Good customer service is rewarded all over the Web. How often do you see Web comments from users maligning a company's product due to short-sighted or indifferent customer service? If your team can speak honestly and consistently, with a clear corporate tone and policy, regarding complaints and more, you'll be rewarded by Web users in their comments on social media, business forums, sites like, and so on.
  • Social media helps in conflict management. Your customer service team can find possible business issues and customer trouble spots early on. The immediacy of social media can often escalate even the smallest online scuffles into major company dilemmas, unless you catch them early—anything from customer complaints that snowball into larger crises, to negative reactions over certain policy changes regarding ordering, shipping, or handling processes. Getting a grip on the challenges sooner will help in your overall customer service effort.

In a sense, social media is essential for today's good customer service. The conversations that take place online are happening with or without your input. And without your company input, your brand will fade from your customers' views. Use the right set-up, the right tools, and the right team to manage customer service conversion properly.

Watch for triggers about your company and use tact, understanding, and transparency to answer and respond in the best ways that you can.

Once your company becomes a welcomed voice in customers' online lives, you will start to see an upward shift in overall brand perception, hopefully leading to higher customer retention and greater market penetration.

Your tweets and interactions with customers may in fact also inadvertently spark your next great business idea. Be there to see it.

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Andrew Bart has had a diverse career that began over a decade ago at iCrossing, a global digital agency that sold for over $325 million in June 2010 to Hearst Corporation. Andrew has a deep-rooted understanding of innovative Internet marketing solutions.

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