How to Deliver Superior Customer Service Online

How to Run a Business

By Matt Alderton

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Once upon a time, a customer who wanted to complain had to dial a toll-free phone number and spend eons on hold waiting to speak to a live customer service representative. Or else they had to write a formal letter, buy envelopes and stamps, then send their complaint to a mysterious P.O. Box where it might never be answered. Either way, it took time and effort — so only the angriest customers complained.

Today, things are different. Thanks to social media, making complaints is easy, fast and convenient. As a result, more people lodge more complaints more often.

Although no company strives for unhappy customers, smart companies realize that more complaints mean more opportunities to deliver superior customer service, according to contributor Scott Levy.

"It started off as people going online to vent frustrations about bad service, canceled flights or products that they weren't happy with. But some savvy brands have realized that good can come from interacting with people who post complaints online," he says. "Every negative comment or customer service issue posted online is an amazing opportunity to wow people, provide incredible customer service and win new customers."

To turn your company's social media accounts into well-oiled customer service machines, Levy recommends:

Replying quickly: "It's best to get back to a comment or complaint within five minutes, when possible," Levy says. "The faster, the better."

Being personable: "Humanize the experience by letting the customer know he or she is speaking with a real person," Levy says. "For example, 'We are very sorry to hear about your experience. We will do whatever we can to help you. -- Scott L.' Customers usually appreciate knowing they're dealing with a person who has a name, rather than a mystery person who's sending automated messages."

Being friendly and helpful: "Let the customer know you are concerned and will do everything you can to help them," Levy says. "This is an opportunity to not only help someone but to win additional customers."

Being honest: "Don't try to hide or manipulate the issue," Levy cautions. "Social media is a public forum so everything you post can be seen by anyone."

Going public, then private: "It's often wise to direct message the user after you've made it clear in public that you're there to help — both for the privacy of the customer and to avoid cluttering the timeline," Levy says.

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