By Marc Duke, Founder at Marc Duke Consulting

As part of my role as Marketing Director at Sentiment I recently went to the Social Customer Service Summit run by Our Social Times. The event was attended by major brands and technology providers in the social customer service space and looked at all angles of the topic of social customer service in relation to larger organisations, but if you are a small business or for that matter an entrepreneur is this relevant to you?

Let’s assume you have a social media strategy in place, no doubt you have read plenty of hints and tips about social media etiquette, how Facebook and Twitter differ from LinkedIn how Pinterest, Instagram and Vine will transform your business and you are totally up to speed with what you need put on to You Tube. But you may still be wondering is social customer service really relevant to me and my business?

Some pointers to get you thinking:

• Recently Good Housekeeping ran a feature on how to complain its first piece of advice if you want to get noticed by an organisation – tweet!
• 53% of people who engage with a brand on Twitter expect a response in 1 hour or less (Social Media Today)
• By 2020 90% of customer service will be done via social media (Gartner)
• 82% of customers stop doing business with a brand after bad service (Harris Interactive)

While the stats make the case clear, what needs to be done to make social customer service in your business a reality?

Well this depends on who your customers are and how they behave. As a small businesses the chances are you know exactly who they are, whether they are active on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn and you also know how they like to interact with you so will prefer email others phone or - lucky them – face to face. As a small business you can control exactly what sort of customer experience your employees give your customers, and the fact that you treat your customers in such a personalized way is something they value as almost as much as you.

The challenge for providing effective social customer care comes when your business starts to grow. At present you probably use twitter and Facebook to get the message out and hope that people ‘hear’ what you have to say. The main issue being what do I have to say and how do I say it. The question of how do I deal with customers who complain Facebook on twitter is probably isn’t front of mind at the moment. But as your business grows it has to be.

So think ahead to avoid disappointment and consider the following:

• People – make sure your employees know what the code of conduct is on twitter, Facebook and other social media as soon as they join the businesses. You might have to provide training before letting people loose on line as you would on the phones or when responding to email.
• Process – make sure you have a series of steps in place to deal with a complaint logged on Facebook or twitter. Don’t ignore it, a person with 3000 twitter followers who posts something negative equals 3000 complaints!
• Place – social media is a public domain, any good business owner that has a disgruntled customer in their shop will look to deal with the situation in a private and discreet manner. Online the rules are exactly the same.
• Personality – ultimately social is an amazing platform that lets you and your business show it’s personality to the world don’t go all corporate people are expressing their views and feelings on twitter/Facebook so respond in kind
• Plan – try to plan for a crisis, as the saying goes we don’t plan to fail but we will if we fail to plan.

With the above pointers you are well on the way to mastering social customer service as your business grows.