Customer Service and the Internet

By Bonnie Sokoloff

No matter how big or small your company is, or what industry you are in, good customer service is essential—both for the recipient and the provider. In today’s social media-centric world, stories of poor customer service can spread like wildfire in a virtual instant. I’m sure each one of us can come up with an entertaining example or two right off the tops of our heads; such stories are that common.

So, using the same logic, it would make sense that good customer service stories would spread just as far, just as quickly, right? Now go ahead and come up with a couple of examples of those. Not quite as easy, is it?

So what can you, as a small business owner, do to make sure your company doesn’t end up the star of a bad customer service story that will live forever in cyberspace?

For starters, whether it is you or a designated employee, ensure that you have someone regularly scouring the Internet for mentions of your company. Even if you rarely (or never) find anything, it is essential to do this often, so in the event that something does come up, you will be in a position to react quickly to mitigate the damage it could cause to your reputation. If you have corporate LinkedIn, Facebook or Twitter pages, you need to monitor those frequently. And don’t just check your own accounts for posted items—actively search those sites to capture any reference to your business. There are also many other sites where the public can post comments about your industry or customer service as a whole; a regular Google search should bring those to your attention promptly. And of course, you will also need to keep an eye on your own Website if it accepts comments from visitors or registered users.

It’s also a good idea to come up with a response strategy ahead of time, in case these searches turn up anything that needs to be addressed. Obviously, you can’t know ahead of time what the complaint(s) will be about, but knowing your business as well as you do, you can probably figure out where things could potentially go wrong and create a solid plan that will allow you to respond quickly and effectively if an unhappy customer or client takes their criticism of your company to the Internet. And no matter what you find, your first step should be to respond to the customer at the same place where they have vented their concerns, just to let them know that you got the message and you are taking it seriously. You may even want to invite them to email you directly to provide more details so you can thoroughly research the issue and give them a more satisfactory resolution in the end. People like to know that they are being heard, so this simple act will go a long way in appeasing them. Plus, it will buy you the time you need to look into the problem and figure out the best way to solve it. But don’t take too much time; resolving the situation quickly (and without a lot of back and forth) will help minimize the impact of the complaint. Remember, it’s not just the complainant who is watching and waiting to see how this turns out—it’s all of his or her contacts as well, which could number well into the thousands.

Once you have decided on the resolution, contact the customer directly to convey the information. You should still post a reply on the public forum as well, but taking the time to personally respond to the individual will be appreciated. With any luck, your now-satisfied customer will go back to the Internet to express their appreciation for how you handled their complaint. You might even come out ahead in the end—after all, everyone knows that customer service issues are going to come up from time to time, but it’s how you handle them that’s remembered, even in cyberspace.

BONNIE SOKOLOFF currently works as an Internal Communications Specialist for Staples Canada. She has over 15 years of experience with copywriting, editing and print production.

By Adam

February 06, 2012