What happens digitally affects what happens in real life, and vice versa.
Many businesses still don't understand that.
Customers and prospects will begin their experiences with you either in writing (digitally or not), or in person. They want help, yes, but just as importantly, they want to be heard. The quality and speed with which you both help and hear them should not differ between the two realms of communication. If it does, you risk setting off a chain reaction of missed opportunities. Case in point:
A good friend of mine recently had a bad experience at a big-box retailer whose name happens to rhyme with "Schmarget." She emailed the company to express her displeasure and, some hours later, still had received no response. So, she ended up going back to the store to speak with a manager, because as she put it, she "just wanted someone to hear her." Thankfully, the manager solved her problem, and even sent her on her way with a gift card for her trouble.
Had she not been helped and heard by the manager, her next step would have been to post her complaint on the company's Facebook page for all to see and comment on.
Incidentally, I knew what was going on because she posted about her ordeal on Facebook two separate times. Those posts received a lot of comments. And eventually, she did get an email response, but it was, as she put it, "an obvious form letter."
In the end, the customer spoke to a real person and left satisfied, therefore preventing an angry Facebook post on the company page. But...
The customer had to take time out of her schedule to get in a car and travel to a store just to be heard, because...
No one responded to her email in a timely manner. And for that matter...
Maybe she wouldn't have even written an email if the staff had gone the extra mile in the first place.
Interactions should be as thorough, thoughtful, and speedy as possible. Double-underline the "speedy" part when it comes to social media or email.
Every customer's starting point is going to be different, but we know for a fact that an ever-growing number of customers prefer communicating initially through social media. Many of them will only be doing so if they aren't happy. That's just the way it is.
How you help and hear that engagement will set the tone not just for them, but for everyone they tell, whether it's in a person-to-person conversation or discovered through the algorithms of Facebook.
That is why it's so important to be consistent no matter the communication channel. Don't say one thing and do another. You'd think this would be a no-brainer by now but clearly, it's not
Make sure someone capable is always monitoring. This is most definitely not the company intern. No offense, interns, but you simply don't know enough about the company's inner workings to make sure complaints and inquiries get to the right people as quickly as possible.
Give employees response guidelines. I would argue that social interactions should be responded to within minutes. But I'd rather see a company post something thoughtful and informed. If that takes a few hours or even a day to do, so be it. But that doesn't mean you can't say something like, "We're looking into this for you and will be back in touch ASAP."
Don't always buckle. Because people talk. Yes means yes, no means no, whether it's in person or in writing. If you say "no" (for good reason, of course) via one communication channel, but "yes" when they complain on Facebook, people will begin to spread the word that all people have to do to get what they want is publicly shame you via social media. HOWEVER, if people provide compelling reasons why you should change your mind, listen to those reasons. If they make sense, don't be stubborn: honor them.
Are you being consistent both online and offline?