Over the last few years, we have seen an explosion of small business social media activity. The affordable and easy-to-use platforms make it easier than ever for small business owners to present their company to prospects, stay in touch with clients, conduct market research and resolve customer service issues.

Unfortunately, while customers have been quick to embrace social platforms to complain and share feedback, many business owners have been slow to respond to their cries for help. This is surprising when you think about how much you spend to get a new customer.

In our 2012 Small Business Social Media Survey, only 11% of the companies responding indicated they use social media to resolve customer service issues. This is a huge mistake since today’s customer wants to talk about your service, and they will either talk to you or about you. Here are just a few examples:

A Bank charges a $50 service fee when you close your account. Personally, I think this is ridiculous and told them so when I closed my account. They didn’t see my point, so I took the debate online to both my Twitter and Facebook communities. I copied them on my comments, and even posted a link on their Facebook page.

They did eventually agree the fee was unreasonable.  And I posted a thank you. Unfortunately the firestorm created by my first comments had taken on a life of their own as more and more people share the link and their own experiences. If the bank had been paying attention and jumped into the conversation quickly, most of the negatives could have been avoided.

A Local Service Company left a basement a mess after installing a new water heater.  Phone calls to their support line did not resolve the issue, so the customer put a comment on her fan page. They deleted it. So  she put the comment on her page, and linked to the company page.  Her friends were more than happy to share the link.

As a consumer, I use social media to express my views and I appreciate it when a company responds. While I am comfortable complaining I am also quick to recognize great customer service and responsiveness.

How should you handle customer service issues and complaints which arise on social media? Alex Hisaka, writing for Social Media Today. boiled the process down to four steps:  Listen, Create, Engage and Measure.  Here are a few more ideas to get you started:

Add feedback forms to your website or Facebook page. This makes business owners nervous – what if someone says something bad about me? My response: Get over the fear. Angry customers are going to talk about you.  The only choice you have is whether they tell you they are unhappy so you can address it, or they simply complain to their friends.

Be responsive:  There are some great tips in this post by the Social Media Examiner on how to use Twitter to provide timely responses.

Acknowledge Concerns: If you get feedback from an unsatisfied customer, acknowledge their concern.  I am sorry goes a long way. Invite the customer to contact you directly and privately.

Do Not Battle Publicly: You do not have to resolve the issue publicly. Take the conversation offline so you can dig into the details and make take appropriate steps. Also, you may not agree with the customer. That should be a private, not public, conversation.

You Can’t Please Everyone:  Sometimes, a customer is going to be unhappy. If you have tried and cannot resolve the issue, it is ok to move on. But if you have an active community on your fan page, you will see many of your clients and fans providing supporting comments to shift the focus from the negative.

The benefits of incorporating customer service into your social media program are obvious, you can distinguish yourself from your competitors and create happier customers talking about you and your products.

Your customers are talking about you. Isn’t it time you joined the conversation?

At Roundpeg, we believe there is a connection between marketing and customer service.