In the Internet age, a customer-service strategy has never been more important. News travels fast. Bad news travels even faster. That can spell disaster for businesses that relax their customer-service standards, or fail to respond to every customer complaint.

We’ve all seen stories of poorly handled situations that have gone viral. Websites that allow customers to direct their angst toward specific brands have proliferated. On a local level, bloggers can wreak havoc on a company’s reputation. A bad review on Yelp can cancel out years of great meals served.

Related: The Secret to Recovering From a Negative Customer Review

The news is not all bad though. Organizations that embrace their customer-experience responsibilities can employ social media, along with other technologies, to disseminate positive reviews, endorsements and success stories. Smart organizations can also turn customers into “raving fans” by exceeding expectations, and by identifying key touch points in the engagement process that can make or break a sale.

So how do you wrestle with the double-edged sword of customer experience and social media? Start with the fundamental aspects of what constitutes a great experience for your customers. This can stretch to a lifelong relationship, but it pays to start with the earliest levels of engagement.

As you examine your brand’s customer-service strategy, here’s a quick five point checklist that can help support the end goal of happy customers that spread the good word about your services, products or technologies:

1. Captivate customers from the earliest point of engagement.

The very moment you read this article, companies around the globe are losing business by mistreating customers. Typical example: A customer walks into a store or restaurant, is greeted by nobody and is forced to wait for service. This is not a great way to create a first impression!

Even worse, some businesses can actually lose half of their clientele this way. Most businesses don’t even measure how many customers they lose. Smart businesses never make customers wait. Instead, they roll out the red carpet.

Always have an employee ready to greet a customer. There are also technologies that can do the “greeting” for you, such as an in-store kiosk that lets people “check-in” for service, or mobile apps that queue customers in a virtual line.

Related: 5 Tips for Building Strong Relationships With Clients

2. Encourage customers to share their opinions.

The era when a bad customer experience was only relevant to a few close friends is over. Online and mobile reviews mean every experience is magnified and spread in space and time. Social media can make good and bad reviews spread like wildfire.

It's good practice to encourage feedback by making it easy for customers to promote your business. It could be as simple as a “Like us on Facebook” reminder on emails that you send to customers. An additional option is to offer a discount to customers that send a tweet with a recommendation or referral. Be sure to keep interaction a two-way street, thanking customers who provide a nice shout-out.

3. Address customer complaints or negative reviews honestly, compassionately and openly.

Move quickly, and be empathetic. Put yourself in your customers’ position to understand what is driving their discontent. Most important of all, never ever get confrontational. You will likely fuel the fire rather than extinguish it. To COPE with problems, companies need four elements:

  • Contrition: apologize
  • Own up to the problem and take responsibility
  • Prevent the problem from happening again
  • Explain to customers what happened and why and what you are doing to prevent it from happening again

4. Learn from the mistakes and positive examples of businesses across all categories.

Spend quality time poring over examples of other organizations that have done a great -- or not so great -- job of addressing customer engagement issues and opportunities. Apple, T-Mobile and Vodafone, for example, have all shown leadership in this space.

5. Treat your customers as you would want to be treated.

We are all customers and consumers. How do you like to be treated? What do you find compelling? Use your own experiences as a starting point in creating a charter that defines how you will interact with customers.

It’s time to think beyond your product/service and closely examine your customer service experience. By adhering to the points in the checklist above, customers will build a positive connection with your brand. Once this connection is solid, treat it like a precious gem!