Excellent customer service is often the determining factor behind stellar customer retention numbers.

By leveraging social media and various software apps, the savvy small business owner can develop the kind of customer service that so often eludes bigger companies.

Small Business Customer Service

Social Media

Facebook, Google+ and Twitter are providing small businesses with tools that make it easy for them to have relevant customer service contacts with their clients.

Let’s look at this from two angles: customer-specific issues and general information.

Social Media For Customer-Specific Issues

A friend was having trouble getting off the email list of a small company that sells discount inkjet cartridges. He finally found the company’s Facebook page and voiced his problem there. He got an immediate response, and the issue was quickly resolved.

You might be thinking that you don’t want to air your company’s problems on a public Facebook page.

However, if you quickly solve customer problems, it can be very good testimony about your small business. On the other hand, if your Facebook page becomes nothing but complaints, you probably have a problem that goes beyond your use of customer service software or social media.

Twitter is the ideal 140-character cyberspace customer service hotline. Consider a @yournameherehelp Twitter account.

Print it on all your receipts, signs and paperwork. Monitor it. You will probably find that it is a fast, efficient – and therefore cost effective – way to fix problems and keep customers satisfied.

The always-busy brains at Google have been heavily promoting Google+ for businesses. Google+ video “hangouts” is one tool that can boost customer service.

Think of customer service as something more than solving problems. Proactive customer service informs and educates customers; it’s truly a “service.” Video can be used to introduce new product applications, tips, and tricks for existing products as well as provide a glimpse at upcoming new product introductions.

Before we leave the topic of video, we’ll mention Skype and Livestream. Links and buttons to initiate a Skype call, either audio or video, can be embedded within your website.

This can be very useful if seeing how the customer uses your product is helpful. However, customers must have Skype installed on their computers in order for the links or buttons to function.

Livestream.com is a great way to do a web broadcast of an “event.” For example, your business decides to do a series of tutorials on various product features. Livestream could be a great way to pull it off. There are two paid levels of the software/service and one free level.

Social Media for General Information

Use tweets, Facebook status posts and emails for disseminating general information like hours, holiday closures, alerts, new product releases, monthly newsletters, etc. Offer real information that is useful to your customers.

No one likes an Inbox clogged with superfluous emails. Likewise, if you’re constantly posting on Facebook just for the sake of posting, people will eventually reset their account preferences and filter you out.

However, for solid, useful general information, these can be excellent ways to communicate with your customers.

Customer Service Software Packages

Uservoice is a smart web-based customer service environment that supports email, a public support site with knowledge base articles and forums.

Depending on how many customer service agents you require along with various feature upgrades, Uservoice plan pricing ranges from free (one agent) to $125 per month per agent.

Other options among the web-based customer service software packages are Assistly, TenderApp, Zoho Support, Freshdesk and ZenDesk. Typically, they all offer a free level or a free trial.

You’ll find that many of these, at least in their paid plans, integrate support on social media such as Twitter and Facebook.

If you’re planning to take the plunge into one of these paid software packages, talk to others in your industry to see if you can find similarly-sized businesses that have some actual experience with any of them.