The use of social media by companies to relate to their customers is more essential now than ever, and it gets more widespread every day as yet more businesses realize its value.

As a customer, using social media can be a great way to get in touch with a company as it usually promises quick responses and thorough care; but as a business, social media provides even more of a customer-relations goldmine.

Social media is immediate and personal

When a customer is having trouble with a product or service, they don’t want to wait for days while a company processes their email request, nor are they going to be whistling happily while they’re kept on hold for half an hour.

If they are contacting the company at all, they will either by looking for important information on the product they’ve bought, or they will be reporting a problem, and those situations call for speedy responses.

Social media makes this possible by allowing a customer to type out their problem in a few seconds, send it to the company (who will receive it instantly) and go about their lives, confident that the complaint’s presence in the public eye of Twitter or Facebook will motivate the company to a rapid response.

On top of this, social media is a uniquely personal platform for both the customer and the company, as the customer speaks as an individual and the company representatives have the opportunity to humanize their brand in their response.

A copy-and-pasted “Dear Customer” email template is useless on Twitter, as is an automated reply.

Simply put, the customers on social media platforms won’t stand for it.

Each response has to be personal, a factor that is sorely lacking in other areas of customer service and which can massively alter the outcome of a customer service call.

A customer calling up a customer service line wants to be empathized with and helped, and while automated phone menu trees completely fail to achieve this, canny customer service reps manage it on Twitter constantly.

This ties in with an equally important aspect of corporate social media use – how the business presents itself on social media. It is in many ways the perfect customer relations medium, as it is fast and personal, but also informal, and allows the CS reps on the other side of the screen to draft a response.

Usually short and sweet, these responses can be drafted and redrafted in no time at all, meaning that the business can be both informal, friendly and human in its interactions, while still maintaining a unified brand voice.

Brand identity can be preserved, while still being informal and personable – which is downright impossible in any other form of communication, leaning either too far to the corporate and cold or too far to the individualistic and human.

The conversation is in the public domain

This is both a blessing and a curse for companies, in truth. If they fail in their dealings with an upset customer, their failing is out in the open and will possibly be viewed by millions of people.

In the digital age, however, transparency is more valued than ever, and even a showing that the company does its dealing with dissatisfied customers out in the open is something to be admired.

If that customer is left happy, the company benefits twice: first for being confident enough in its customer service to carry out the conversation in the public eye, and second for their public success.

Dealing with customer service online in the public eye also benefits a company by encouraging brand mentions, allowing the company to raise its online profile by showing off their ability to deal with customers and leave everybody smiling.

Even if the interaction ends in disaster, the increased public attention and online activity will do wonders for a business’ search engine rankings- small consolation as that is.

Customers are more likely to recommend the company afterwards

On social media, a customers’ online interactions with a company are likely to pop up in the newsfeeds of their friends or followers, allowing the company a sort of organic promotional opportunity.

If the customer is then left happy, they are more likely to share their success story with others than those using other communication methods simply by virtue of already being on social media.

After all, that is the exact reason social media exists – for these people, telling others about their success couldn’t be easier. They’re already on their platform, they’re still happy from the interaction, and sharing their happiness is as simple as pressing one button, whether “retweet” or “share.”

This means companies that deal with customer service on social media get recommendations. Lots of them.

It eliminates the funnel

Customer service on conventional channels can sometimes seem like jumping through a series of hoops.

The process of jumping through a number of these irregularly-spaced, sometimes-on-fire hoops is often called the most frustrating part of customer service, and with email or phone interactions, it is often a tragically necessary step.

Known as “the funnel”, this is used to narrow down customer issues so that the correct department can be assigned to them, but it is a huge cause of woe for customer service, since customers sometimes feel like they aren’t being treated as individuals, or even as people.

Except, of course, where social media is involved.

Social media eliminates the funnel, scraps the hoops, and allows customers to have their problems aired and dealt with immediately.

The reply will be specific to the customer and the problem, and the customer will walk away feeling valued as an individual by the company, which has incidentally improved its online presence and created a piece of potential viral marketing for itself.

Author Bio: Dan Goss is a writer, editor and researcher at Customer Service Guru. When he’s not writing about or hunting for great customer service, he plays the cello, drinks too much coffee and is an armchair philosopher.