Social media has enabled both consumers and brands to have a shared voice and interact on a public stage, creating a balance that addresses the wants and needs of both.

Think it’s easy to leverage social media to provide customer service to customers? It’s not. It takes planning and a lot of work. Social media itself doesn’t offer any silver bullets in answering your customer-service challenges.

By becoming a tool for consumers, social media has not just enabled direct communication between brands and consumers, it’s created a new paradigm between the two. By not using social media, it only creates a pile of customer service questions, praise and complaints that go unanswered.

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So where do you start? Apply well-known customer service practices to social media and build your relationships with your customers. Here are seven guidelines to follow:

1. The customer’s needs are a priority. All businesses exists to fill a need or a want. Understanding and uncovering this from your customers will make your business more effective.  Social media enables you to gauge what your audiences are saying about you and your brands. It allows you to get into a conversation with customers and engage them directly. Social media can provide a very powerful tool to surface those wants. When you truly listen to your customers, they will let you know what they want and how you can provide better service and products answering their needs.

2. Connect with your customers. Take time to engage with customers to hear their needs and ask questions. Concentrate on what they are really saying. Don't just answer quickly -- give attention to the words, tone of voice, and most importantly, how he/she may feel. Provide an opportunity to connect in another medium such as email or phone to bring the connection to a more personal level.

3. Address their needs. Loyal customers are not making purchases because they want a product. They are making a purchase because they need your product to fulfill a purpose, whether it may be a function or an emotional need from using the product or service. Your attention in responding to them can enhance loyalty and create a stronger emotional connection to your brands. Work at becoming better at identifying and targeting their needs by asking the right questions. Communicating regularly with customers can help provide greater opportunities for engagement.

4. Be helpful. Even if there's no immediate profit in it, continuing to support your loyal customers further builds that relationship. Make customers feel important and appreciated. Treat them as individuals. Always be courteous and grateful. Never let any communication go unanswered. Thank them every time you get a chance.

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5. Be reliable. This is one of the keys to any good relationship, and good customer service is no exception. Ensure timely response in all your communications, no matter the circumstances. When challenging issues arise, the worst case is to leave the issue unanswered. If the circumstance is new, figure out how to adapt afterwards. Look for ways to make doing business with you easy. Always do what you say you are going to do.

6. Learn to apologize and deal with complaints. Social media presents a unique challenge in customer service because it’s public. When complaints arise, learn to apologize, listen to the customer and deal with the problem immediately. Let your loyal customers know what you have done to resolve the complaint by providing a concrete solution.

7. Take the extra step. Your company’s future is dependent on keeping loyal customers happy. Find opportunities to elevate yourself above the competition and go the extra mile to ensure an ongoing commitment. Consider the following three tips:

  • Always give your customers your time, within reason.
  • Look for every opportunity to connect with and thank your customers.
  • Find ways to give back in ways that your competitors do not.

Remember, the fundamentals of social media customer service are not significantly different than traditional customer service. The biggest distinction is the accountability granted by its public nature. Take that accountability seriously and your loyal customers will continue to do business with you.

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