Your customers are talking about your company right now. And for the most part, you don’t know what they are saying about you. Your company is not part of the conversation. Kinda makes you a little nervous, doesn’t it? It should.

Funny thing about customers: unlike staff, you can’t make them stop talking in public about what they like — or don’t like — about your products, services, policies, practices or personnel. But you can respond in public — if you’re careful — and maybe even develop a pro-active customer care strategy that integrates best practice using the social web.

Now, don’t make the foolish mistake that social media can somehow fix a broken customer care process. In fact, if your customer care process isn’t working well, adopting social tools will only make your problems worse! However, if your customer care is strong in general, then social can only accelerate it. If your customer care needs improvement, identify the weaknesses and fix those before trying to  leverage social channels. To get on the right track, consider:

  1. Are your customer-care staff, practices and policies ready for the public eye?
  2. Does your company have a customer loyalty program or premier customer program? Are your customer databases and information systems accessible and aligned with each other so customer care staff have access and the tools they need to respond to customers in a 24X7 environment?
  3. Do your customer care representatives have the personal skills and tools they need to start engaging on the social Web?
  4. Does your organization have a set of business goals for customer care which can be used to focus the social strategy? Can you measure this performance over time? For example: improve response to customer issues? Raise customer awareness of specials offers and discount programs?
  5. Does your organization have a clear plan that follows a customer through all stages of the life cycle: new clients, key clients, at-risk clients, re-engaged clients? Do you have a clear program for how to treat customer or client issues traditionally that could be applied or adapted for social media?