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4 Quick Tips for Using Social Media for Customer Service

Expert advice from panelists at New York's Social Media Week.
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With the popularity of social media, more people are veering away from traditional channels like calling or emailing to voice their opinion of companies, opting to do so over sites like Facebook and Twitter instead. The question is: Are you listening?

If your company doesn't have someone manning your social media channels for customer service -related inquiries -- and responding correctly -- you might be turning off droves of current and potential paying customers. That was the topic of a panel discussion, "Changing Expectations of Customer Service," yesterday at the Social Media Week conference in New York City.

Many customers, especially younger people, don't want to sit on the phone with a company's customer service rep for an hour trying to resolve an issue, said Richard Guest, president of digital advertising agency Tribal DDB. And they're expecting businesses to be responsive over social media. "That interaction [customer service over social media] is what's going to define a brand," he said.

Here are four quick tips from the discussion on how you can get started using social media as a customer service tool:

Related: 3 Social Media Lessons from Ford

1. Have a separate customer service account.
Create an account that's separate from your company's main feed or page that can specifically handle customer service-related messages and requests. The customer service account should have the same voice and similar branding to your main account.

"This can make it easier to separate marketing from customer support," said Erin Robinson, social media manager at AOL. For example, AOL handles customer service issues on Twitter from its @AOLSupportHelp account -- not any of its main content and marketing handles. It can also give customers a specific place to contact, instead of hoping their messages are seen over your business's main account.

2. Aim for single-contact resolution.
For some business owners, the desire to resolve inquiries the come in over social media offline, by phone or by email, might not always be the right move, said Laurie Meacham, manager of customer commitment at JetBlue Airways. If a customer has a simple question, don't make him or her get on a phone to get the answer.

"Do everything you can to resolve an issue over whichever system they reach out, including social media," she said.

3. Be smart when handling a crisis.
Sometimes your website goes down. Or you experience a production issue. When trouble like this happens, social media can be a useful tool for communicating directly with your customers.

But a crisis can also cause an explosion of messages over your social media channels. It can be especially difficult for smaller teams to respond to messages individually. In those situations, Robinson recommends sending alerts to all your fans and followers -- not direct messages but regular status updates -- letting them know what's happening, that you're aware and that they will receive more information as it becomes available.

4. Train your staff.
You never know who on your team you might need to handle social media at some point. And during a crisis or heavy customer service times, you might need everyone helping out. Employees fromyou're your departments should know how your company handles customer service issues over social media, said Scott Gulbransen, director of social business strategy at H&R Block.

And don't assume that someone who deals with customers over the phone will know what to do over social media, said Jen Rubio, head of social media at Warby Parker. "Some people who are really great at customer service might not necessarily understand a brand's voice on social media, she said. "That's where training comes in."

Related: 3 Ways to Turn Social Media Followers Into Promoters of Your Brand