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Why Stellar Customer Service Is Key to Building Your Online Brand

If you and your employees truly believe the customer is always right, you can build one heck of a successful brand using social media.

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In his book Tweet Naked, online marketing expert and social media agency CEO Scott Levy provides the critical information entrepreneurs need to craft a social media strategy that will boost their brand and their business. In this edited excerpt, the author discusses how to build an online brand with killer customer service.

Above and beyond anything else, I want to emphasize the importance of providing amazing customer service. If you adhere to the age-old adage, "The customer is always right" (even when you know they're wrong), you can build one hell of a successful brand, especially on social media. Huge brands have been built overnight because of incredible customer service.

Zappos, the online shoe seller, offers an amazing example of how great customer service can lead to tremendous results. Selling just shoes, something you could buy anywhere and everywhere, Zappos broke the mold. Founded in 1999, under the name, the Henderson, Nevada, company became Zappos a year later and topped the $1 billion valuation in less than ten years.

Zappos executives recognized that the number-one stumbling block to buying shoes online was the possibility that the shoes would need to be returned and that would cost customers money. With that in mind, Zappos built its brand around extraordinary customer service, offering customers a 365-day, no-cost return policy. It also offered free shipping.

In addition, employees are trained to go the extra mile to help customers on an "unscripted" help line. Zappos employees are taught to do whatever they can to ensure a satisfied customer. It's reported that one customer service professional actually spent eight hours on the phone helping a customer! Reports of Zappos' amazing customer service spread like wildfire across social media, and word-of-mouth became the number-one manner of marketing for the shoe company, which grew by leaps and bounds.

If ever there was a company that knew the core value of customer service, Zappos is that company. Its slogan is "Powered by Service," and Zappos' top execs have been quoted as saying, "Everything we do is focused with our customer in mind. In fact, our call center has an entire team, called quality assurance, which focuses on making sure our customers' experience is the best it can possibly be."

What you can learn from the Zappos story is that if you want to build one hell of a brand, it should feature amazing customer service. Even though you know customers can be annoying, misuse products or abuse the return policy, you need to instill in your corporate culture that it's important for everyone to take good care of each and every customer. This way they will become a fan of your business and help spread the word via social media. While you may have more returns and may even have to spend a little more money to hire and train employees on how to provide excellent customer service at all times, that investment will pay off one hundredfold when people are talking about how much they love your brand.

At the root of customer service is caring about people. That's because social media has given customers a voice like they've never had before. The nameless, faceless company that didn't really care what the consumer thought of it can't avoid social media visibility today. A customer or potential customer could have 300,000 followers or know someone who does. Just as rave reviews about a company can travel quickly across social media, so can stories of rude service or a company being unresponsive to their customers.

Therefore, it's your job on social media to care about people and make them your friends and your fans. You want them to love your brand, share your passion for your company, and spread their enthusiasm across their social media channels. That's how brand champions are created and how you can enjoy an incredible amount of free marketing.

One of my favorite social media success stories is one that belongs to my friend, author, consultant and entrepreneur Peter Shankman. Peter was at an airport getting ready to board a plane. A huge fan of Morton's Steakhouses, he was craving some steak and jokingly tweeted about it: "Hey @Mortons - can you meet me at newark airport with a porterhouse when I land in two hours? K, thanks. :)"

He was joking. He boarded the plane, shut off his phone, and landed at Newark International Airport two and a half hours later. He looked for his driver, saw his name, and waved to him. As Peter greeted the driver, he in turn was greeted by a guy in a tux carrying a Morton's bag.

Peter said, "Alex, from Morton's Hackensack, walks up to me, introduces himself, and hands me a bag. He proceeds to tell me that he'd heard I was hungry, and inside is a 24-ounce Porterhouse steak, an order of colossal shrimp, a side of potatoes, one of Morton's famous round things of bread, two napkins and silverware. He hands me the bag. I was floored."

So Peter proceeds to tweet out this: "Oh. My. God. I don't believe it. @mortons showed up at EWR WITH A PORTERHOUSE!"

Twitter and social platforms went crazy for the story. Peter was interviewed and told this story numerous times, on major news and TV networks, and at speaking engagements. Morton's probably received more than $5 million worth of free PR from this incident.

The moral of the story is that going above and beyond sometimes can give you a hundredfold ROI. Don't expect it to, but if it does, it could make for the greatest customer service story ever told.

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