The second post in SmartBrief’s Spotlight on Customer Service series is brought to you by First Data, a global leader in electronic commerce and payment processing. Check out First Data’s white paper on using e-gifting to drive your social-marketing strategy and improve customer relationships.

Not only do people care about customer service received from businesses, but they also care more than they did last year, according to the American Express Global Customer Service Barometer survey released this month.

Seventy percent of Americans said they are willing to spend more money at businesses that provide good customer service, according to the February survey. That’s up from 58% who said the same in 2010.

Today, social media are an important vehicle for interacting with customers, but not in the way you might think. Ninety percent of survey respondents said when they have to have concerns addressed remotely, they prefer to speak with a representative on the phone rather than via social media, a chat program or another newer form of communication.

So where does social media come into play?

People like to talk about their experience with customer-service representatives, and social media are used to spread the word. Social tools can help comments spread faster and further than with traditional word of mouth.

The bad news is that the survey says consumers tell more people about a bad customer-service experience — an average of 16 — than about a good one — an average of nine. Think how much further those comments travel when they’re posted on social networks and can be seen and reposted.

Luckily, businesses can monitor what customers are telling others via social media and use that information to improve their customer service, something you can’t do with people’s comments to friends on the phone, during a baseball game or at a bar — unless, of course, you have the money to deploy a vast network of covert operatives. But you will need a little software to get the job done.

If you don’t want to invest much more than time, you can get started with a free, basic version of software by companies such as TweetDeck and HootSuite that lets you track comments posted on various social media from one convenient dashboard, available on your desktop and smartphone.

Another free option, InboxQ, allows you to find out who is asking questions about your business — or any topic you want — on Twitter. So if someone is wondering your location, you can tweet back your address. Or if someone is looking for customer service, you can ask the person to direct-message you a phone number, then call to help out.

If you want to be serious about monitoring what customers say about you online, you should consider paying for software by a company that offers a more comprehensive and customizable approach, such as Radian6 or Sysomos.

These tools are nice when you can give a customer an unexpected hand with a minor issue. But they become vital when a customer has a serious complaint, because social media have led to the expectation that people will get a response — and fast.

Consider the fallout of Domino’s Pizza a la “YouTube Boogergate,” which blew up spring 2009 after an employee posted a video of a co-worker blowing his nose into sandwiches and doing other disgusting things to customers’ food. Domino’s waited to respond and suffered because of it.

It’s a good reason to seriously consider taking advantage of the software available to avoid a similar fate.

Image credit: JohnnyLye via iStockPhoto.com

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7 Responses to “With a little help from technology, you can harness the power of social media for customer service”

  1. [...] further those comments travel when they’re posted on social networks and can be seen and reposted.Show original No [...]

  2. Allison says:

    In addition to Radian 6 and Sysomos, I would add Actionly to the list. They are much more affordable for smaller companies, and still offer a lot of the features that Radian 6 and Sysomos do. I love them!

  3. rand says:

    It is also very important for companies to be able to distinguish between monitoring the web for instances where they can help improve a customers' experience and monitoring the web with an application that allows them to respond and interact with their customer…Regardless of Channel.

    Assistly's help desk offering allows not only monitoring over Twitter and FB, but includes email and more. It also allows 100% full interaction and conversational reply capabilities. This is key for the organization moving towards the next level in service.

  4. Hi Brooke, good starting point. I guess Google Alerts is another on the list of free options.
    If someone is looking for a more comprehensive solution, Online 1984 is an online tracking tool that empowers organisations and individuals by capturing and manually reviewing all internet mentions of a brand, product, subject, individual, trend or competitor. It's manual review rather than automated.

  5. 40deuce says:

    It's so important for companies these days to be watching what people are saying about them, not just in customer service, but in every aspect, as social media moves fast and one wrong message can spread faster than most people blink. If a company doesn't have their finger on the pulse they miss something or a chance to respond in a timely fashion that could wind up severely damaging their brand.
    Thanks for also mentioning Sysomos as a tool to look at!

    Cheers,
    Sheldon, community manager for Sysomos

  6. [...] With a little help from technology, you can harness the power of social media for customer service Your customers probably already talk about you on social media channels, but do you know that? And do you know how to find what they’re saying about you? [...]

  7. Thanks all for the comments and additions. It's great to have a community out there offering additional helpful suggestions!