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Twitter, Facebook, Yelp and other social media and crowdsourcing sites are useful as more than simply avenues for promoting business. One major means of fostering brand loyalty and garnering new business is customer service. This is a lesson heard loud and clear by the best-of-breed.

Point

Forrester Research’s 2008 customer experience index ranked Apple at 80%, compared to 66% for second-place Gateway. The index rates companies on topics such as meeting customer needs and ease of use of their products. For a company known for the cache of its products, the butter to their manufacturing bread is clearly customer service.

Counterpoint

Providing a stark counterpoint was the recent United Airlines guitar destruction debacle. After his $3,500 guitar was destroyed by United baggage handlers, the airline told Dave Carroll that they were not liable and he would receive no compensation. Carroll posted a music video on YouTube with a song written about his experience.

The blog Social Media Today posted a great exposition on this, but let’s take a look at the raw numbers as of August 27, 2009:

Dave Carroll’s YouTube video
Number of views: 5,253,912
Number of comments: 21,630

United Airlines YouTube channel
Most-viewed video: 87,015
Most-discussed video: 145 comments

What about Facebook?

As of this writing, United’s “unofficial” fan page had 10,089 “fans.” Compare that with the Facebook pages of Southwest (76,076) and American (25,627). A small indie musician just dwarfed all of their social media PR efforts combined.

Large businesses like Apple invest a great deal of money and resources in customer service, resources small businesses may not have and other larger businesses may not prioritize.

Here social media is the great equalizer.

A great example is the Coffee Den in the Carroll Gardens neighborhood of Brooklyn, NY.

Recently a customer posted a negative review on Yelp, a website which features reviews of goods and services submitted by actual customers. The Coffee Den responded by posting replies on Yelp and Twitter offering that customer a free coffee on their next visit. In an amusing twist, they posted the same offer directed to the reviewer’s Yelp username on their sidewalk signboard.

There was no confirmation whether the reviewer accepted their offer and returned to the store, but what’s important here is the immediate, agile, and human response this local business offered.

Their regulars would’ve continued to be so regardless of the “free coffee” outcome, but The Coffee Den bought themselves some karma points with that segment of their clientele. New customers, be they foot traffic or those searching out coffee and pastries on Yelp, will likely look upon this exchange as proof that the Coffee Den cares about them and will do their best to create a positive experience–and give them business in a crowded ecosystem of indie and chain shops.

And all of this potential benefit at no cost to the shop.

Now imagine this interaction repeated hundreds or thousands of times over with a larger business, and the value of a modest expenditure of financial and human capital becomes apparent.

The old model that might’ve included offering a paper coupon or gift card (or writing a targeted message on your chalkboard) is not irrelevant and still has application. It’s the addition of these new tools and paradigms that adds more value for the consumer–and thus ROI for the business–by enhancing the customer service experience.

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