Businesses have long understood the value of social media for marketing their brand. Capturing more Instagram followers, generating a Facebook presence, and getting your product and logo noticed on Snapchat are all important aspects of using social media as a marketing tool. Many businesses, however, have yet to discover the significance of using social media platforms as improved customer service protocols, and, since customer service is at the center of building a reputation as a trustworthy and responsive company, this can truly be a missed opportunity.

Ultimately, exemplary customer service leads to increased consumer loyalty. Nothing will help you maintain a consumer base like showing your customers that you care about them and their needs and wants. Active listening and consistent engagement with consumers can be accomplished by capitalizing on how social media platforms connect people and build a sense of community.

If you’ve decided you need to beef up your customer experience and deliver an improved and more effective service, surveying your social media feeds and using those platforms to deliver timely one-on-one responses might be part of the answer. We’ve gathered some suggestions to help you consider ways in which social media can help you engage and provide your customers with the best in customer service.

Put positive customer relationship at the center of your plan and make it your primary objective.

While using social media as a marketing channel matters, businesses who focus their attention on self-promotion often miss the mark with social-conscious consumers. In business, you’re often only as attractive as the last thing you did.  Telling customers what you did for them yesterday means very little if it isn’t backed by continued responsiveness. When customers comment on your posts or tweet at you, it is important to reward those efforts with feedback so that they are aware that you are listening. Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram accounts can provide valuable and viable opportunities to engage in conversations with your customers and develop real and trusting relationships with them. Use your customers’ positive and negative posts and tweets as starting points for improving your product and developing a real and ongoing relationship with them.

Go where the consumers are.

Picking the social media platform that works for your business means developing a heightened awareness of where your customers are engaging with your product or service. Not all social media platforms will work equally well for every business. Surveying your customers or using a form of social media analytics will help you make informed choices about where the most activity is occurring. Focus your time and effort on these platforms, and concentrate your energy on methods that work well for you and your product or service.

Consumers will mention you in a variety of ways and contexts. Monitoring your social media mentions may require you to use one of many free tools that are available for businesses. These tools and apps are designed to help you achieve an understanding of what people are saying about you, where your mentions are concentrated, and to coordinate your efforts in developing true social listening skills that will make your presence known to consumers and make them feel they are a valuable part of the conversation.

Provide measured responses that take the right approach.

Responding to positive social media mentions can be a wonderful part of a customer service protocol. But navigating and negotiating feedback from those with a complaint might create issues. Regardless of whether the comment is positive or negative, simple responses like “thank you,” “we are glad to be of service,” and “we appreciate your feedback” let your supporters and detractors know that, at the very least, you have heard them.

Sometimes, a simple and quick response with not suffice. It’s important to approach negative comments with a positive, peacemaking approach that opens up, rather than shuts down, a conversation. The goal of customer service is to resolve conflicts or issues and move toward a resolution that provides a positive outcome, hopefully for both parties. Use your active listening skills to consider what is at the heart of the complaint, without letting your emotional response color your understanding of what the consumer is trying to say. Avoid words like “not” or “don’t,” and take your time in constructing a thoughtful response before posting it.

Don’t be afraid to problem solve offline.

Social media can mean a host of issues, especially since reading and understanding tone is difficult in text. Knowing when to take things offline and resolve them directly is important. Requesting contact information from a particularly angry or dissatisfied customer will allow you to provide a follow-up phone call or email to deal with the complaint or concern. It also allows you the time and opportunity to de-escalate a situation if it has become contentious, and airing a “battle of words” on social media is likely to damage the relationship you have with loyal consumers. Instead, offer to contact the customer, and work quickly and efficiently to resolve the issue. Nothing is more important than dealing with customer concerns both online and offline.

Customer service can be an integral part of your social media campaign if you plan carefully and remain consistent in your social media interactions. What ideas do you have for using social media for customer service? Feel free to share here.