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7 Tips for Doing Customer Service Right Over Social Media
By: Christine Geraci
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Customer service is a tough gig. People are rude, obnoxious, and just plain stupid sometimes...no, make that a lot of the time. And I'm talking about both customers and customer service "professionals."  
But you know where things can get especially rude, obnoxious, and just plain stupid? Online social networks. When people aren't physically face to face with another human being, they can become downright inhuman in the way they treat others — and particularly in the way they talk about businesses. 
These are not reasons for businesses to avoid social media.
Let me repeat that.
These are not reasons for businesses to avoid social media. 
At best, these are tepid excuses, usually mixed in with cries about no money in the budget and a lack of proper skill sets on staff. Yes, this still happens. 
We're in 2013 now. Time to move your cheese, people.
Still don't know if you should? Respectfully, here's some advice: 
If you know people are talking about your business online, it is your business' responsibility to join the conversation. Further, if you don't know if people are talking about your business online, it's your responsibility to find out if they are. Do good research, or find someone who can help you do good research on who's talking about you and where. Then strategize from there.
Once you have set up an online presence, whether it's a blog, social media presence or (preferably) a combination of both: 
Establish ground rules. Community guidelines make your expectations clear to online community participants and give you back-up when you need to delete a comment or block a person who violates them. 
Always respond. No matter how snarky, nasty, or blatantly untrue the comment or post, you need to respond gracefully with a sincere desire to help. Want to know why? Because once you show that snarky, nasty liar that someone is there listening and sincerely wants to help, their tune usually changes. People often take to social media to complain because they think the public embarrassment will make companies spring into action to give them what they want. That's only partially true. They also want to see if other people feel the same way they do. Respond to them before others do, and others might not be so inclined to join the bashing. 
Respond as quickly as possible. This is not voicemail or email. Unfortunately, you can't just get to comments and tweets when it's convenient for you — even if they're not customer service-related. People using social media expect real-time interaction. Ideally, turnaround time should be within minutes. If it turns out you can't respond within the day, let's hope it's because you need to make sure your answer is as accurate and helpful as possible. 
If you're not sure how to respond, run it by a few people first. Ideally, you'll have a team of people you can quickly rally to weigh in no matter their location. Responding quickly is important, but in my opinion, it's not so important that you should risk making a serious gaffe. It's important to note, however, that another person or team of people you depend on to OK social media posts when you're stumped should believe in a culture that makes such correspondence a top priority. 
Don't delete negative posts or comments, unless they violate ground rules. Deleting negative comments simply because they're negative — again, no matter how snarky, nasty, or blatantly untrue — is never, ever appropriate. Social media isn't about PR or image. It's about making connections with people. If you hide someone's voice, they will attack with a vengeance backed by others who would have otherwise thought you were great, had they not known you deleted someone's negative comment. Deleting the stuff you don't want to hear makes your business appear childish and arrogant. Not to mention completely clueless about how social media is supposed to work.
If the demand is there, compartmentalize customer service as its own social entity. If you find you're spending a lot of time answering customer service issues via social media instead of creating great content that helps you tell your brand story, perhaps it's time to create accounts devoted solely to customer service issues and staffed with customer service professionals. This can help people get what they need faster and allow you to focus more intently on proactively driving engagement with original content. 
How does your business handle customer service over social media?

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About the Author
Christine Geraci is the Social Media/Promotions Specialist at MVP Health Care in Schenectady, NY. Connect with her on Twitter @christinegeraci.
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