If your business has a web presence, then your customers expect a certain level of online service – but are you alienating customers by failing to respond on Twitter or to blog post comments, forum posts, emails, or other online communications?
Although a number of companies have set up websites, many don't move beyond that first step online.
But once you have an online presence, your customers will increase their expectations accordingly.
They will expect you to respond rapidly to online communications. If you fail to do so because you're not monitoring the channel they use, then they will feel ignored and snubbed - they won't assume you simply don't know about their comments.
Here are five ways your online business could be failing to deliver.
You Don't Respond on Twitter
Many people use Twitter to complain about problems they've experienced with a company, and they aren't just sounding off to their friends.
It's simply accepted that large brands will be monitoring for mentions and will respond to complaints made through this public platform.
Even if you don't actively use Twitter to engage with your customers, you should have searches set up for your brand. That way you can ask dissatisfied customers to direct message you their contact information and look into their complaints.
Actively responding online can turn a furious client into a satisfied one; it's amazing the difference a bit of proactive customer service can make.
No One's Replying to Comments Left on Your Blog
I understand that blogging can take time - you have to come up with ideas, write them up, proof them, and publish them.
But that's not where the work ends. If you've published an article on your website and a customer responds with a comment or question, it's important to respond.
After all, they have taken the time to read your thoughts – it's only polite that you do the same when you're using a sociable platform like a blog.
Make sure someone from your organization is responding to any questions raised; it's just good netiquette.
Otherwise it looks as though you think the online conversation should only flow one way, and that's not really the point of a blog.
They Get no Response to Emails
I recently purchased a toy for a friend's baby through a well-known supplier and then emailed to check it was safe for a newborn.
After a week, I'd still had no reply, so I phoned and was told: "Well, we get hundreds of emails, so we don't always get a chance to respond."
This is unforgivable in any sized brand. If you share an email address, you are inviting people to contact you that way and so you have to be ready to respond.
It tends to be smaller brands with less of a web presence that offend customers this way, but it's avoidable with just a couple of hours of extra admin time.
You Ignore Their Forum Comments
When the great online social revolution began, many larger businesses set up forums for their customers.
The idea was that customers would interact with each other, filling the pages with unique content and linking to interesting discussions, which is great for SEO.
But it didn't quite work out like that. Many such forums ended up filled with spam, inflammatory comments, and rants, so companies quickly shut them down or simply backed away.
However, if you do still have a forum, then you can't simply ignore it. Not only does a spam-filled mess of a forum harm your brand, you risk missing serious questions and complaints from real customers.
Either shut down your ineffective forum or ensure there is someone policing it, sparking genuine discussions and responding to real complaints, comments, and questions. Otherwise your visitors will feel ignored.
You Treat Online Communications Less Seriously Than Letters
This attitude seems particularly prevalent among smaller businesses. Because it's easier for people to complain via the web than by writing a letter, they take online complaints less seriously.
Perhaps 10 years ago this might have been understandable; important communications were still predominantly made by mail.
But this has changed over recent years and many people routinely communicate by email, whether it's casual or formal.
So don't assume that their query is less important than one made by post - any customer who has bothered to contact you expects a swift and serious response.
It's also a bad idea to ask them to put their complaint in a letter once they have contacted you by email - most people will feel that they are being ignored and delayed.