Social media is one of the best tools for relational marketing because it's a place where you can interact with your community in a casual setting. I've talked about the basics of social media on here before (click here for a transcript of my 'Basics of Social Media live-tweet event), but I have yet to specifically address using social media as a customer service tool. This is a failing on my part, because I regard customer service to be the number one reason any organization should be on social media.
If you can't make customer service responses on your social media account, you shouldn't have one. Some companies try to compensate by writing "for customer service call ___" in their profile, but that is horrible. The reason we have social media accounts is to get in touch with all our clients, customers and members. This includes the happy ones, but it especially includes the unhappy ones.
Disgruntled people are your best gift on social media. They're likely saying in the most clear way that they can exactly what went wrong in their interaction and what they wish would have happened. This is operations gold. Not only can you see this and learn from it, you can personally reach out and make it up to them. You can turn what they saw as a faceless monolith into a real, responsive and respectful member of your community.
If you don't smile like a fool at the amazing wonder of technology and humanity that is social networking right now, go hire someone who does. Because the idea that an organization can turn a loss into a win with a few simple keystrokes is mind-blowingly amazing. And that's what you end up doing when you give good customer service. Especially when you do it for people who are already upset. It's easy to welcome friends on social media, but a true ninja can turn frustration into fandom with appropriate social media management.
As in real life, online communities respond best to consistent and consistently good behavior. Draw up guidelines for what kind of comments get answered, decide which staff people check which accounts at what times. Put your hours of operation on your profile to let your followers know when they can expect a timely response and when they may have to wait until the next day. Update your followers with anything they may want to know, both inside your organization and outside. For example, an article on how members/customers/clients may be affected by the government shut down along with links to assistance organizations would have been a great thing to post when the government shut down last week.
And most importantly, respond to your membership. Set up a search that collects every tweet that has your name in it. Do the same for any major campaigns, competitors, your neighborhood, your interests, brand promises. Basically, know what everyone is saying about anything even remotely related to you and what you do. If someone tags your account, or if they name you in a question or a statement, respond! They are reaching out to you. Savvy social media users know that every company worth it's salt has a search net that they check regularly. If they name you, they expect you will see their comment.
So many organizations want people to come to them on social media, but they don't give them anything once they get there. Be a community leader, and people will come to you first because they know you'll be there. Never underestimate the power of good customer service.