4 Ways to Boost Customer Advocacy -- Fast Use awareness and speed to turn social media criticism into a sale.

By Jay Baer

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Smartphones, social media and always-on Internet connections have created a tsunami of customer complaints in the past few years. In fact, they nearly doubled from 2013 to 2014 in the U.K. alone, and there's no sign of them slowing down any time soon.

What's more, it's not enough for your business to simply reply anymore -- you have to reply fast. Studies have found that 39 percent of social media complainants said they expected a response within the hour. Yet, the average social media complaint response time is 4.99 hours. Ignoring a complaint on social media is even worse, as customer advocacy drops by an average of nearly 50 percent.

Conversely, being fast gives you the opportunity to turn bad news into good news. When social media complaints are addressed, customer advocacy actually grows by 20 percent, according to our research.

Take Discover, for example. When the financial services provider received a critical tweet from a customer who was mailed three credit card offers in just a few days, it tweeted the customer back within minutes.

Related: 3 Ways to Increase Customer Loyalty

Suddenly, the customer went from complaining to praising the great service, and he even ended up applying for the card. When your support is fast, you can turn lemons into lemonade.

Here are four steps you can take to quicken your online customer support speed.

1. Use a complaint radar

You need to find customer feedback on Twitter, Facebook, Yelp and all other potential channels.

Speedy service means you're fast everywhere, not just in the places you're looking. Use software services to surface complaints on all channels. Once you know all the places people discuss your business, your staff will be ready to handle issues more rapidly.

2. Commit to getting faster over time

Discover moved from an average answer time of more than three hours to an average answer time of just 21 minutes. That improvement didn't come immediately, and it didn't come easily. But Discover achieved it because it set a goal, measured incremental progress and steadily found ways to increase speed.

Related: 4 Pincers for Crushing Your Competition

3. Set service expectations

You may not be able to answer questions as quickly as Discover, but let your customers know approximately how long it might take you or your team to respond. For instance, if you answer Twitter questions between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday, add that to your Twitter bio.

Or try KLM Royal Dutch Airlines' approach. It not only publishes the expected response time to questions on its Facebook and Twitter pages, but it also updates that time every five minutes.

4. Burn your permission slips

If your first point of contact needs to ask someone else for permission to take action, it's almost impossible to be fast enough to surprise and delight a customer. Empower your frontline people to make decisions and solve problems independently.

The U.S. Department of Labor cited customer service representatives as one of the fastest-growing occupations over the next decade -- and for good reason. Addressing the ever-increasing needs of your customers as quickly as possible is more important than ever. Discover used speed to turn social media criticism into a sale. You can, too, with an investment in the right process and steady improvements in responsiveness.

Related: 3 Tips to Align Your Startup's 'Core Value' With Customers'

Jay Baer

Author, Speaker and Founder of Convince & Convert

Jay Baer is an author, speaker and the founder of Convince & Convert. 

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