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By B.L. Ochman

Nothing else matters if your customer service sucks

Listen-to-customerToday, any customer with access to the Internet can use social media to cause an unresponsive company pain and a direct hit to its bottom line.

Love us or hate us, but don’t ignore us.

Successful customer complaints abound, from Dave Carroll’s 209 United Breaks Guitars – viewed close to 16 million times – to Comcast, to Delta, to scores of others that went viral.

Yes, the customer can be wrong, but most customers who get to the point of making online complaints have a point. And a following.

Here’s what smart companies need to do:

1. Monitor social media mentions of the brand 24/7.

2. Respond within 3 hours to complaints in social media (Internet time is like dog years: one hour is like 7 in Internet time!).

3. APOLOGIZE and say you’ll work to solve the problem.

4. Speak in a human voice (not corporate speak) in the platform where the complaint was posted. If it’s on Twitter, respond on Twitter; on Facebook, respond there, etc.

5. Do not say, “You’re the only person who ever complained about this,” because that just pisses off the wronged customer. By the time most people take to social media, the company’s representatives have already treated them poorly.

6. Do not try to take the conversation offline to email (as almost every big company does) because you think that’ll make it less public. It won’t. (Ok, to go to direct messages to get account numbers, phone numbers, other personal info, but then go back to public to resolve.)

An angry consumer will just post your offline responses in social media if they aren’t satisfied.

7. Over-deliver on the solution. Send a coupon, send flowers, but send something that makes the person feel better.

Your goal is to have the complainer say “I just got amazing help and service from XYZ Company.”

The bottom line: Customers matter. Treat us like you know that. Make sure that someone who has the power to solve the problem is the one who responds, apologizes and then over-delivers on the solution so the customer walks away happy.

B.L. Ochman is a uniquely experienced digital pioneer who has been helping blue chip brands incorporate social media into their marketing strategy since 1996. She co-hosts and produces the award-winning Beyond Social Media Show podcast and contributes to AdAge DigitalNext. On Twitter, she’s @whatsnext.