Socially StephanieDear Socially Stephanie, 

I'm in a bind. I run a local gift shop and I have always prided myself on our fabulous customer service. It's the kind of store where, when you enter, you are greeted with a smile, and if you are a return customer, that smile is accompanied by a "Hello, Mrs. Smith."

When people want to return something, we go by the motto, "The customer is always right." We were even voted Friendliest Shop on Main Street by our local newspaper. Just recently, we launched an online version of our store, in which we sell a limited number of our store items. Last night my friend emailed to let me know that we've been bad-mouthed all over the Internet by an angry online customer. To my surprise, it was because our staff wasn't responsive on Twitter to this particular customer's complaint. I managed to smooth out the situation, but I am in utter shock. Are we not good at customer service, like I once thought? And how do I take my in-store customer service to the Internet?

– Confused in Columbus

customer service on Twitter

Dear Confused,

Welcome to the Internet. Bahaahaaa! No, no, don't be scared. Because luckily, you've found me—Socially Stephanie, your personal guide to the dark and dangerous waters of the World Wide Web. Now, there are some things you need to know, but when we're done, you'll be taking that Midwestern charm of yours and sprinkling it amongst complainers everywhere. 

Customer Service TwitterWe have no time to waste, so let's jump in. First of all, you need know which people complain online and why people complain online. Let's tackle the who of it first, shall we? Let me give it to you straight. The answer is: Everyone. Everyone is capable of complaining online; older men are the ones most likely to do so.  The reasons they complain vary. 23% post purely for vengeance, which might seem like a lot, but the majority of people complain as a result of failing traditional customer service.

The good part is knowing that, no matter how sweet, caring, kind or nice you are, people are going to eventually say something bad about you, your staff or your store online. Hmm...okay, actually, here's the good part: you have the ability to respond. And luckily, that can mean life or death on the Internet. It's what people expect you to do. 

But here's what I want you to start doing. Being ready to respond at time of attack is your best defense. So, you need to start monitoring your reputation online. Set up Google alerts for your business name, your employees' names, your name, and for proprietary products you offer. This should give you a good idea of what's being said online on websites and blogs.

Now it's time to arm yourself with Twitter intel. Set up keyword searches within your social media monitoring tool. I use Hootsuite, but you could use SocialMention or some of the tools mentioned here

Now that you're prepped and ready for battle (or praise), it's time to work on your response strategy. The easiest thing to do is address the situation front end. Apologies work well. We're human after all. Think of how you would address someone who was complaining in real life. Now take that strategy to the online world. Most often, that will ease the pain, but if someone gets really nasty, it might be best to take the conversation offline where it won't be searchable. But that's not going to be the likely situation. You'll be surprised at how people respond when they feel that they matter. And that's what good customer service is all about.

Now, if you want to get really fancy and knock the socks off of people talking about you, follow my lead. First, create a Vine account. Use this to create personalized "Sorry! We're Here To Help" or "We Want To Fix It" videos when someone reaches out. Not only will this put a face to your business, but it will also allow you to use your natural Midwestern friendliness to let the complainer know that you're real. Plus, with Twitter's new visual update, people will be able to see a real live person in their newsfeed, become intrigued and click on your video. My money's on the fact that putting a human face to your message, added to the fact that you are small business owner who really cares, will work wonders for your new online image.

Good luck, missy. I'll be watching.


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Illustration by Jesse Wells