Social media has evolved customer service…

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One of the best outcomes from the social media explosion is that the customer service bar has been raised. Now that more people are freely sharing their customer experiences—both good and bad—with the world, quality customer service has become imperative.

Yet with everybody stepping up efforts, the customer service function has to evolve for a small business to further differentiate itself. This is why the next logical step in the customer service evolution is customer engagement.

You’ve likely heard lots of recent talk about engaging customers as if it’s a new fad. Yet as a small business owner, you learned long ago that personalized service and in-depth expertise are the two main factors that inspire customers to return time and time again.

What’s different now is the business owner’s ability to foster these connections inbetween customer visits through social media. We’ll get to that shortly. For now, let’s clarify the difference between customer service and customer engagement.

Going beyond exceptional service, customer engagement is about delivering more personalized experiences based on authentic relationships with customers.

For example, in the traditional customer service model, a hardware store owner would provide recommendations on power drills for a do-it-yourself-er (DIY). The recommendations would be based on the business owner’s knowledge and would map to the customer’s expertise, needs and budget. If the store owner steered the homeowner in the right direction, the DIY would likely return.

Bringing this same experience up to the level of customer engagement, the business owner would come to learn more about the customer beyond the transaction. This might include information about the specific renovation projects underway, future projects and perhaps a bit about the DIY’s home life.

Based on these nuggets of information, the store owner can make recommendations on additional tools, offer information on how to save time or money on certain projects, and provide other advice based on industry knowledge and first-hand experience with home renovations.

The more the storeowner knows about the customer, the more personalized the customer experience will be. This, in turn, leads to repeat sales.

Yet sustaining these types of engaging relationships with hundreds or potentially thousands of customers is an impossible task. In fact, the “Dunbar’s Number” theory substantiates this claim by pointing out that human beings can only hold about 150 meaningful relationships in their heads.

This is why you’ll focus the majority of your engagement marketing efforts on your top customers as defined by repeat sales and word-of-mouth referrals. A number that’s likely to be far less than 150. (Concerned about all you need to remember? You can also leverage online tools to help you manage all of this information.)

You’ll want to cultivate stronger relationships with those top customers by providing insider deals, private showings and other perks not offered to your larger customer base.

As you read articles here on the Open Forum, you’ll find lots of advice on how to harness social media for building good customer relationships. In a nutshell, effectively engaging your customers both online and offline comes down to:

  • A passion for your business that comes through in the way you interact with customers, talk about your products and services, and freely share your expertise.
  • Sincere interest in helping customers make the right purchasing decisions based on their particular needs.
  • Enthusiasm for building and sustaining authentic connections with customers.

The ability to move beyond traditional customer service and engage customers will make all the difference in driving a more profitable business.