The opportunities for businesses to interact with customers via social media outweigh the risks when you understand your customer’s needs, wants and habits and use this knowledge to shape your customer service. Businesses must understand how consumers want to use social media to interact with them, and then construct personalized customer service experiences based on those individual social media preferences and behaviors.

We spoke to a panel of experts to get their take on how social media will change the experience for customer service and sales over the next 12 months.

James Kerruish, Digital & e-commerce Manager, UK Life, Aviva

Social media engagement with organizations is set to grow significantly over the next 12 months. We will see a shift from traditional engagement methods to an expectation from the customer that social media is a fully supported channel. The naturally public nature of social media means that it is paramount organizations are prepared for this, firstly to combat any negative sentiments as customers vent their frustrations but equally importantly to seize untapped sales opportunities.

Stormy Simon, Co-President,

In order to answer that is to know what tools or options will be introduced to the future “social” landscape. For consumers, social media provides various platforms in which they can reach you or inform you of your failures or successes with them. For a retailer, social media is a constant reminder to be on our toes. If you fail the customer, the world can know about it in 140 characters within seconds.

Esteban Kolsky, Principal and Founder, thinkJar

This is the wrong question to ask at this time. It’s too late to worry about how it will change it – social media has already dramatically altered all customer interactions; it is time to worry about how to address it. If you think it has not yet changed, you are not paying attention; craft your strategy for Social Media, even if it is “no thanks”.

Aphrodite Brinsmead, Senior Analyst, Customer Experience & Interaction, Ovum

Social media has already altered the way businesses communicate with their customers and it will only become more valuable in improving the customer experience. In addition to creating better marketing campaigns with personalized offers, businesses will view social media as a customer service tool. Over the next 12 months they will gradually become more strategic, using social data and analytics to get a better perspective on customers’ needs and issues. They will use social media to engage with customers and respond to queries, send proactive notifications and, pinpoint useful feedback that will enable them to evolve their products and services.

Brooks Crichlow, Vice President of Product Marketing, [24]7

More and more, your customers expect a great social experience – one that is relevant, contextual and easy – to be a core part of their relationship with your brand. Done well, social sharing and social customer service will feel increasingly like a natural extension of the customer experience regardless of the channel or device, not something that’s bolted on. Leading companies will also begin using predictive analytics to target and engage their brand advocates in the right social interaction at the right time.