There’s no doubt about it, social media has changed the rules when it comes to customer service. Does this mean that every company needs to purchase a complex system that captures every mention of them on the web? The short answer is no. There are products that make internet monitoring pretty simple these days, but the ethics and implications of this practice are still being flushed out. For every organization that chooses to monitor and respond to every mention of their company or product on the web, there are those who consider this level of engagement teetering on voyeurism. Perhaps some people just want to vent and don’t want companies peering into the comments they share with their friends. On the other hand, it is important to know if an issue with your company is escalating on the web, and to become part of the conversation. Whether you’re just dipping your toes into this vast sea of data or have jumped in completely, it’s important to not get distracted by the potentially limitless amount of information floating around. The main focus has always been, and continues to remain, on the customers with whom you are directly engaged.

No Need to Go Fishing for Unhappy Customers

Many of the same people who air a complaint on their personal Twitter or Facebook page will also give you–the company–a direct indication that they are not happy.

Say for example, that Joe is standing in line at the front desk of a premier hotel in Vegas, anxious to check-in and meet up with his colleagues before his conference starts. There are a few people in front of him and it feels like it’s taking forever. Joe takes out his phone and posts the following Tweet to his personal account, “Could the service at XYZ Hotel be any slower?” This is a personal comment that may have Joe feeling violated should it result in the hotel contacting him. Had Joe sent the message to the hotel Twitter account, it would be an entirely different story. Complaints received on a company social media site need to be treated as formally as those coming in from a customer hotline or email account, beginning with recording the complaint and then responding to the customer using the same channel that the customer used. Depending upon the seriousness of the issue, it might be necessary to take the conversation off-line and finish it over the phone or by email.

By the time Joe gets to the front desk, he’s brimming with frustration. When the associate asks how he’s doing, Joe shrugs his shoulders and says, “Could be better.” XYZ Hotel may not ever see Joe’s personal Tweet, but the associate does see Joe and there is a clear opportunity to engage.

The associate responds by apologizing for the delay and asks what brings Joe to Vegas. When Joe gives a one-word answer without any warmth, the associate asks if there is anything she can do to make his stay more enjoyable. Joe softens and asks if there is any fresh fruit available. The associate gets Joe an apple and reminds him that she is happy to help with any needs he has during his stay. Joe may or may not post another Tweet, but his frustration has been fully replaced by the taste of the crisp, fresh apple he’s enjoying after a long day of travel.

Just before leaving, Joe turns around and says, “By the way, are check-in lines always this long here?” The representative takes the opportunity to explain that there was a problem with the computer and lets Joe know that she’s entering the incident and his feedback into their complaint management system for further review. Joe leaves the front desk knowing that this hotel is serious about providing good service.

Some Things Never Change

Businesses, like humans, are imperfect. Sometimes people have to wait. Mistakes happen every once in a while. Good service does not require perfection, but it does require intention, attention, and engagement.

The intention to engage and serve customers needs to be in the hearts and minds of every employee. Establishing a company-wide commitment to excellent service supports employees as they make choices to uphold this value. Service needs to be put first. Profit is good, but profit without customers is impossible. Service, first and foremost, is what drives profit.

Providing good service requires that employees pay close attention to the verbal and non-verbal cues that customers send. Some people will come right out and tell you their complaint, but others will show you their dissatisfaction. It’s critical to pay attention to both the spoken and unspoken messages that customers provide.

Once the message is received, the opportunity to engage has arrived. Engagement leads to emotional connection. Let’s face it, we all want to feel seen, heard and valued by the people around us. This is done by acknowledging the customer’s concern or complaint and making it right. Sometimes all that’s required is a conversation in order for the customer to feel heard and served, while at other times more action or follow-up is required.

So what are the new rules of complaints management?

  • First things first: Make sure you have a social media presence. This shows customers that you are forward thinking and interested in engaging. At a minimum, have a Facebook page and a Twitter account so that customers can contact you via social media if they prefer.
  • If you’re interested in knowing what people are saying about your company, set up a Google Alert or use a low-cost product such as HootSuite or Sprout Social to monitor your internet mentions. That way, if something related to you is blowing up or going viral, and not simply a person ‘having a moment’ with friends, you can join in the conversation and potentially diffuse the issue.
  • Address and record every complaint that comes to you directly, whether you receive it through one of your social media pages, one of your more traditional customer service channels, or get it straight from the customer, either verbally or non-verbally.
  • Finally, it’s critical to have a simple and effective system in place to capture and manage customer complaints. A simple spreadsheet does not allow you to harness the full power of customer feedback. Organizations need a solution that will not only capture information, but provide options for responding, reporting and using the data to grow and improve. Simple and affordable solutions are now available for those companies that want to capture the voice of the customer and use it to grow.

While the rules of customer service and complaint management are changing, customer service itself is very much the same. Social media simply provides increased communication channels. At the end of the day, our job is still to put quality and service first, pay attention to what customers are saying, and be open to all forms of customer engagement. If anything is changing, it is the need for companies to have an organized system in place to manage and respond the ever-increasing feedback coming from customers.

Kimberly Kingsley is a writer specializing in business and personal growth and working in association with C3 Touch Solutions. http://www.C3Touch.com