The “best tools” start with the following approach:
- Connect with your customers on a human level – understand the commitment you’re making to make it right for people.
- Pick the right tools to match the approach you want to take – match the tools to the problem.
- Keep doing it – no one’s going to do it for you.
You should connect with your customers by remembering one thing – there are people out there on the other end of the conversation. Try to set simple expectations (respond within 24 hours, make sure we resolve the entire issue within 7-21 days) and use those as a framework to respond. And remember that one “wow” experience can build an advocacy relationship for a lifetime.
Pick the right tools for you – not for someone else. If you’re a small organization, you might get by with responding solely on Twitter and recording the results in a Google Spreadsheet to share among a group. Likewise, having a fan page on Facebook may be sufficient at first.
When you’re ready to progress beyond the individual tools/services and need some products that can help you coordinate work for a group of 5-10 people, here are some useful tools that are free:
- CoTweet (http://cotweet.com) — schedule tweets, respond to messages, and share information among a group; you can also receive an email when you’ve been mentioned (very helpful)
- TweetDeck (http://tweetdeck.com) — monitor social mentions, and publish to various services
- Exportly (http://export.ly) — export Twitter followers, Facebook fan page fans, and more to a spreadsheet
- Gist (http://gist.com) — when people email you, see photos, social mentions, and more right in your Gmail or Microsoft Outlook
- Skype (http://skype.com) — sometimes you just have to see someone’s screen to troubleshoot an issue, and this is a great way to do that
Here are some useful tools that are not quite free, but very inexpensive:
- Zendesk (http://zendesk.com) — coordinate the intake of issues among a group of agents, and even creates tickets from Twitter
- GoodData (http://gooddata.com) — with a Zendesk plus account, provides a plug-in with valuable analytics to Zendesk
- Google Apps — use Google Voice as a central clearing house for your main phone number, and have the inbound phone calls transcribed to text automatically.
Once you start supporting customers, keep doing it. It’s easy to say you’re going to connect with customers in whatever medium they contact you at the time when they contact you, but it doesn’t always feel easy. So keep doing it and you will build up your customer service muscles.
If you’d like to see an example of how we do this process at Gist, check out this presentation on building a better customer experience: http://www.slideshare.net/GregAt… (and let me know what you think!)
Follow the discussion on Quora: What are the best community tools for customer service?