Consumers have gone social, and businesses are overwhelmed.
With a tweet, Facebook status update or Instagram picture, customers have more ways than ever to publicly praise or criticize your business.
Customer reviews are more important than any marketing you could pay for because they're seen as more credible, says Ron Kaufman, author of the New York Times bestseller Uplifting Service: The Proven Path to Delighting Your Customers, Colleagues, and Everyone Else You Meet.
Kaufman says that businesses can take back the power and leverage social media for their own benefit.
"Tell happy customers to go ahead and be social about their great experiences and encourage unhappy customers to come to you via social media so that you can make it right and improve your overall service,” Kaufman said.
He gave us seven tips from his book for how to use social media to leverage customer service:
1. Make it easy for customers to be social. Create a forum section of your website where they can relay good or bad experiences. Then, you are more likely to see what they say about your service. This can help you to identify strengths and fix weaknesses.
2. Say "thank you." Be sure to show your customers appreciation for their feedback. But don't offer an incentive, like a discount, for a review. This "dilutes the authenticity" of the review, Kaufman says.
3. Invite your customers to speak out. During a business transaction, simply mention your Twitter, Facebook or forum page. Simply encouraging them to reach out can result in good publicity for you.
4. Ask how you can improve. Then thank them, even if they provide negative feedback. This "how can I help?" attitude breeds trust and loyal customers, Kaufman says. It also ensures that they'll go to you—and not the general public—with a problem.
5. Start a social program. Kaufman cited United Airlines, which made a customer service review part of its mobile app. Customers can recognize great service simply by putting an employee's name into their app. This can improve company morale and engages the customer.
6. Use social media to create an FAQ. What questions do people ask the most? Keep track of frequent inquiries on social media and create a base of frequently-asked-questions and answers. Your customers will appreciate it.
7. Make talking about your brand irresistible. Offer customer service so great that people will want to share with others. Kaufman cites the Ritz-Carlton hotel chain. After a customer's child lost his stuffed animal, the hotel staff found and returned it. But they also took photos of the toy around the resort to show how great its "extended stay" was. This pleased the customer and resulted in good attention for the hotel chain.
“Your customers’ voices are vital to your organization,” says Kaufman. “Social media provides an incredible opportunity to engage those voices."
Read more on how to provide great customer service.
photo: Daniel Acker / Bloomberg via Getty Images