Q: Hi, Steve. My question is this: We are going online in a big way this holiday season and I am wondering how I should handle customer service issues that arise? I know what to do in my store, but it seems to me that there must be ways we can be more proactive online. I don't want to just wait to get a nasty email when someone is upset about something or whatever. — Zack
A: Great customer service is one of those business things that we all hear about, that we all deal with personally, and even is something to which many small businesses aspire, but it is equally, sadly and unfortunately, something that few small businesses ever really integrate into their daily way of doing business.
Why is that?
For some, offering great customer service is difficult because of company culture, or maybe things are too hectic. For others, customer service simply is not important. And yet, that said, treating customers right is one of those key details that can distinguish a small business from the competition. The good news is that it need not be expensive or cumbersome.
By trying something new, you just may find that you end up with both more sales as well as a more loyal clientele.
If we are talking an online experience, one thing I would like to suggest is that you consider try using Twitter for your customer service. Lots of big businesses do this already and it's an idea that my small business brothers and sisters should strongly consider too.
To help us figure out how, I recently spoke with Jeff Lesser, who spearheads the customer service experience for Twitter and asked him to give us some tips. According to Jeff, there are several things that make Twitter a unique and valuable customer service tool. These include the fact that Twitter is
• Live: Customers get answers and feedback in real time
• Affordable: One staff member can handle multiple inquiries
• Public: People can see when you and how well you take care of customers
That last point is not insignificant. When you handle customer service using a phone for example, the customer knows she was well taken care of, but no one else does. But when you do it via Twitter, everyone can see it, and you can even re-tweet it.
Maybe that is why, according to Lesser, Twitter has seen a 2½-fold increase in its use as a customer service tool in the past couple of years. Why do big brands like using Twitter for customer service? Consider:
• Consumers are 19% more likely to feel like they've reached a resolution with a brand after a personalized customer service interaction, and
• Of those who had a personalized interaction, 77% are likely to recommend the brand
So, how can you use Twitter for your business? Lesser gave us a few tips:
1. Define the experience you want customers to have: Spotify for example uses Twitter to create a “positive active” experience with customers, that is, they engage in a positive way in order to resolve issues. The key is to stay positive, engage actively with the customer, don't fight, and work to resolve the problem.
Here is an example provided to me from Twitter, whereby Spotify (using the moniker @SpoitfyCares) actively and positively resolves a problem for a customer.
2. Listen and respond: Listen online and on Twitter for tweets mentioning your business and respond promptly. Do not just look for unhappy campers, but rather people looking for information like holiday store hours, inquiries about upcoming holiday deals, and respond to those too.
3. Be authentic: “Twitter can humanize a brand, ” says Jeff. “Be human, friendly, empathetic, and personal,” he advises. Use people's first name if possible.
4. Respond beyond the text: You need not just rely on words with Twitter. You can tweet tweets that include pictures or video for instance.
5. Share gift ideas: Be proactive; tweet gift ideas and sales for instance.
Yes, customer service is more important than ever. And you just might be able to take yours to the next level by trying out some new strategies.
Today's tip: Looking for someone new to follow on Twitter? I tweet what I hope are few great small business ideas, tips, and strategies, every day — @SteveStrauss.
Thanks, and I hope you had a great Thanksgiving!
Steve Strauss, @Steve Strauss on Twitter, is a lawyer specializing in small business and entrepreneurship and has been writing for USATODAY.com for 20 years.