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Recently I had a phone conversation with a potential client that provides luxury home services. He said to me, "My clients don't really care about social media." My response: "Well, no one cares about billboards either but they work."

 Are you making assumptions about the desires of your clients and target audience? Do you believe they like the same things you do? I hate to break it to you but they probably don't. It's not that what you prefer isn't great but it's your preference, not theirs. They may want something completely different. Pay attention to the needs of your audience rather than simply giving them what you like.Customer service everywhere

The term "omni-channel customer service" is the joining of traditional service strategies; call centers and in-store, to new digital channels such as mobile, social, and kiosks. Service via social presents vital opportunities and challenges, but it must be integrated with your existing customer service operating model.

If not, you run a high risk of creating a fragmented service channel, an incomplete view of customer interactions and ultimately, an inconsistent customer experience. Twelve percent of U.S. online adults agreed that complaints made about customer service via social media strongly influence their image of the company. At the same time, seeing that an issue has been resolved on social media negates the damage, according to TechRadar.Benefits of using social for service

Social media insight drives real-time improvements of your products and services by allowing customers to ask questions, complain, give praise, and provide feedback while the issue is top-of-mind. It's also wide-reaching through communities and networks. Organizations must listen and react in real-time to match the needs of the audience.

Social customer service also has an effect on your bottom line. When companies respond to requests of customer service via social media, those same customers spend 20 to 40 percent more with the company, according to Bain & Company.

It provides the opportunity to proactively inform customers rather than allowing them to stumble across issues on their own. This can result in frustration, wasted time, and an unhappy customer. Informing them through preferred touch-points can only increase their sense of connection with your brand.

An additional route to provide online customer support is via video. It can add a personal touch to the digital experience and can be used to educate customers when staff isn't available to talk to them directly. The use of video is already extremely popular and will only continue to grow across all industries.Change is scary

You may feel unprepared for this new endeavor or uncomfortable with your perceived loss of control and increased risk. Remember that empowering your teams to respond to customer service issues via social media with both your brand and their own personality is essential. It builds trust with not only the individual customer but also with the possible millions watching. We must learn to embrace, empower, and train our teams to respond responsibly. One way to do this is to be very selective around the people recruited to respond via social media channels and to invest in training and education.Pick up the telephone

Do you use a telephone because you love it or because it's required in business? A mentor of mine once said, "Forty years ago when we went into business, we got a location and a phone line. No one ever asked the return on investment of a telephone." As a result, I regularly challenge my clients to think of social media as another telephone line. Social media is simply another way to communicate with your customers and for them to talk back. It may not be your preference but it is a must have. According to J.D. Power & Associates Social Media Benchmark Study, consumers ages 18--29 prefer to use a brand's social media site for customer service interactions (43  percent) than for marketing (23 percent).

Pay attention to data instead of your emotions. If your clients and customers are using it, so should you. Nearly three quarters of online adults are using social networking, according to Pew Research Center's Internet and American Life Project. Clearly your customers are online and they've been trying to engage with you. They are in your place of business, searching for you online, visiting your website, dialing your call centers, and finding you on social media. Answer their calls....

Kerry Rego (707-520-4572, kerry@kerryregoconsulting.com, kerryregoconsulting.com) is a social media trainer, technology consultant and keynote speaker in Santa Rosa. She is the author of What You Don't Know About Social Media Can Hurt You: Take Control of Your Online Reputation.