The Intersection of Customer Service and Social Media

If you're a regular social media user, you're probably familiar with people using these channels to make complaints, praise companies, start discussions, or indulge in a mud-slinging match. Online social media communications have changed the way people seek out services and products and make buying decisions.

More of your customers are turning to social channels and looking to other customers for service insights and assessments. It puts the power into the hands of the customer and forces companies to actually do good, not just tell us they do good.

Customer interactions used to be one-on-one. Now they're one-on-many. What was once a company-controlled marketplace has become an uncontrolled, honest place where only a very small portion of buying decisions are actually impacted by company marketing and communications initiatives.

Social media provides an ideal place for the irate consumer to let off steam. Any single service interaction can now be turned into a public spectacle that can make or break your company. Research shows that 14 percent of consumers have recently read about a bad customer experience through social media, with 62 percent of them intentionally stopping or avoiding doing business with the offending company as a result.

It's amazing what can be said about a company in 140 characters or less. It's important for companies large and small to get on board with listening and responding to what is being said about them online. You might not have someone dedicated to monitoring social media, but people are talking around-the-clock.

How do you get the stories your customers are telling to be good ones? Make sure all of your employees are well trained on how to interact with customers in person, on the phone, and online.

Here are some common mistakes companies make when dealing with online customer complaints.

  • Responding too slowly: Today's fast-moving online world demands quick responses. If a customer is tweeting at you, he's likely upset about something that's happening now. Don't wait two weeks to address the complaint. Speed of resolution aids retention.
  • Having the customer take on responsibilities: Create a resolution process that requires little-to-no actions for the customer.
  • Lacking empathy: Be understanding of the customer's emotions with what you say and how you say it. When handling online complaints, be sure to make the extra effort to sound like a real person and not an automated response.
  • Avoiding apologies: Before fixing the problem, acknowledge the problem. Then apologize for it. Even if it's not your fault personally or the company's fault, accept responsibility on behalf of the organization.
  • Saying "no problem": If they thank you at the end for your help with the issue, don't respond "no problem," because it actually IS a problem ... to the customer.
  • Letting customers assume what will happen next: Be sure to tell the customer specifically what will happen next so she doesn't make an assumption that somebody will call or the resolution will happen in an hour if those expectations are unrealistic.
  • Forgetting to follow through: Do what you say you'll do.
  • Placing more value on the nickel than the dollar: Don't argue with a customer over a minor one-time transaction if that argument causes him to leave your company permanently.

Social media has made customer service more public than ever. If you don't handle complaints effectively and compassionately, other customers will begin to notice, and your reputation can quickly be ruined.

Being active on social media has become the easiest, most visible way for companies to address customer concerns and show customers that they're on top of customer service. Make sure you know what your customers are saying about you.

Randi Busse is a customer service speaker, trainer, and author of Turning Rants Into Raves: Turn Your Customers On Before They Turn On YOU! Her company, Workforce Development Group, ( provides training and coaching to improve customer service, increase customer retention, and create a culture of ownership among employees.