From Facebook fan groups to 140-character critiques, you can't escape it: people love talking to businesses online. Engaging with your customers positively and publicly via social media is a great way to put your brand personality into action, show your human side and help people connect with your business.

When it comes to providing quality online customer service, there's no such thing as being too prepared. Read as much advice as you can, train your staff thoroughly, and research best in class social media.

Stick to two simple principles, though, and you'll never land too far away from the ballpark: Be accountable for any and every negative experience associated with your business, and respect your customers as equals.

Here are two recent personal experiences of not-so-great online service and what they teach us about accountability, respect and, well, Jedi mind control.

Hold your hands up

The first experience was with a holiday park company. I'd booked in-cabin wifi online, but the staff on reception said in-cabin wifi didn't exist at the site.

I took to Facebook to let the company know they should change the booking process for that site. Their response? "You can't book wifi online for this site." I blushed. Had I imagined it all and publicly called them out for my own mistake?

No. They'd fixed the website and told me everything was fine without explaining or apologising. Rather than hold their hands up, they tried to change reality by recoding their mistake, and lost themselves a customer.

Join the difficult conversations

The second incident happened in a Facebook group where people chat with a cooker manufacturer, swapping recipes and tips. After a bit of confusion over missing threads, the manufacturer admitted it had been removing the ones it didn't like.

In removing conversations, they'd broken an unwritten rule of the shared space. Those customers enjoyed their premium position and direct access to the company. They felt respected, equal. But as soon as they suspected the company didn't see them as equals, some members felt so insulted they left the group. 

Sounds like an overreaction? Yours is not to question your best customers' feelings, yours is to hold up your hands and apologise.

These aren't the droids you're looking for

It seems Jedi mind control is unfortunately not a thing. You can't wave your hand and change people's thoughts or opinions of you. Delete comments or fix problems without apologising and you won't just annoy people, you could well hurt their feelings.

Online interaction represents an evolution of the customer/business relationship, from one-way street to conversation. It's win-win, as long as you get it right. Your customers will happily be your online advocates as long as you treat them as equals, respect their views, offer your own and apologise, whether it's your fault or not.

If you'd like any help with your online communications, drop us a line.

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Why not put our copywriting skills to the test? Buff Up Your Content today.

AuthorCat Wood