Today, we tweet about the latest books we’ve read. We let our friends know where we’re eating lunch via Facebook. We Instagram pictures of our latest purchases. We post reviews of the businesses we frequent on Yelp, TripAdvisor, and Angie’s List. We love telling people about our latest experiences, and we love hearing about what others have experienced so we know what to do this weekend and what to avoid. Unfortunately this social reality is something that few companies have fully embraced. Until they do, they’ll be missing out on the social power of satisfied customers.

The voices of your customers can contribute immediately and powerfully to a better service experience. Engage them. Tell happy customers to go ahead and be social about their great experiences and encourage unhappy customers to come to you via social media so that you can make it right and improve your overall service.

By engaging your customers to help each other, you can defray your costs, improve your customer satisfaction, and stimulate a loyal community by encouraging people in your online social space.

It is not unusual for a customer with a problem to use Google to find an answer before approaching the actual company responsible for the product or service. A quick search brings you tons of answers via user forums or message boards. The truth is customers like helping other customers. They’ll go out of their way to help a fellow customer find a solution, but for companies to do that backend customer service there would be a cost.

The trick, of course, is encouraging your customers to use social media in the most beneficial way for your company. How do you keep them spreading great things about your company while bringing their complaints only to you?

Make it easy for them to go social. Say thank you. It sounds simple, but showing a little love for the love your customers show you goes a long way.

Invite them to reach out. Imagine the number of flights that took off today. Each had a captive audience of approximately 200 people or so, but it’s unlikely that very many of them were encouraged by the flight staff to tell their social networks about their flight. Now think of all those people arriving at their destinations and opening the doors to their immaculate hotel rooms with great views. They love it. But yet again, there’s nothing in the room encouraging them to share it with their network.

It’s amazing how rarely companies acknowledge their customers’ social networks during service delivery. The time of delivery of your product or service is a great time to capitalize on your interaction with your customer. Create a ‘Thanks for Being Social’ promotional piece that includes the company’s Twitter handles, Facebook pages, Yelp and TripAdvisor pages, helpful Twitter hashtags, etc.

Put it on the desk in a hotel room, in the backseat pocket on airplanes, beside your cash register, whatever works for your company. The positivity you receive from customers will be priceless.

You should encourage your customers to bring their complaints to you. Always explain to your customers that you are looking for ways to serve them better and that their feedback matters. Hear them out, provide them with great service, and then THANK them for sharing their experience.

Encourage customers to recognize great one-on-one service. United Airlines recently began its “Outperform Recognition Program,” which its MileagePlus members can participate in via the company’s mobile app. The program encourages customers to let United know when its employees have provided great service. Customers simply enter the employee’s name via the app and then both the customer and the employee become eligible for a random drawing for cash prizes, mileage points, and even roundtrip tickets.

Social programs like these boost employee morale, get customers focused on what employees are doing right, give employees another ‘measurable’ feedback for giving great service, and create a lot more ‘social input’ from customers to the company. An added bonus is the content—for example, specific complimentary comments—that can be used in internal and external publicity campaigns.

Your customers’ voices are vital to your organization. Social media provides an incredible opportunity to engage those voices, to turn one customer’s great experience into an advertisement that attracts new customers and gets current customers thinking positively about you. It’s an incredibly advantageous way to address customer concerns and improve your company’s service culture in real time.

  • Dave Stewart

    Ironic… I’m dealing with customer service on Twitter right now. Hoping for a good experience but you never really know. It’s a shame more organizations don’t treat customer service as a function of marketing. IMHO it’s worth investing some serious marketing dollars into.