Whether or not you like it, your most important customer service touch-points in 2017 are your social platforms.

Quite simply, social media platforms force brands to behave well.

A simple case scenario: Buying jeans.

You go into a shop. You buy a pair of jeans. You take the jeans home. You notice they have a tear on the back you didn’t notice in-store. You return the next day, with your receipt, explain the situation and the store attendant refuses to give you your money back or exchange the jeans.

You feel this is unfair, you ask to speak to the manager. They say she’s out. You go home. You make a call, leave a message. You don’t get a response. You email the head office using the website contact form and receive a ‘we will be in touch soon’. They aren’t.

Now you’re cranky. You go to their Facebook page and write a strongly worded post explaining your dissatisfaction. All of a sudden, there is action. Somebody personally calls you, you’re apologised to, the jeans are exchanged and you’re given a discount voucher for your next pair of jeans.

The damage is done though for the brand. While they might have responded appropriately in the end – the disconnect between what they thought they could get away with and what they actually can get away with, has been exposed. The dissatisfied customer has taken the power of word of mouth, mixed it with the steroid called social media and pushed it out in the world. It’s now out of the brand’s control – the conversation is happening without them now.

Social media is not the bad guy here. It’s a poorly implemented customer service policies. I bet you any many every single brand you deal with – from the corner store to your global household names – have some kind of statement about being the good guys. If they’re big enough they might even have a mission statement, values and a commitment to customer satisfaction they stick on their walls.

But all that matters jack diddly if you don’t follow through. And good customer service should not be a surface gimmick. Your commitment to customers should start with your hiring. You should be hiring people who are the right fit for your business. Then you have your policies, your procedures, your culture, your branding and so on.

Despite the fact that we live in an increasingly digital customer environment, the majority of people don’t use a public social media posts as their first contact with a business when they have a problem. Invariably they have used more traditional avenues and more private ones. They go public when they are frustrated or they have run out of other options.

And brands need to start treating their social media platforms as genuine customer service channels. They need to be responding in a timely fashion, they need to be acting with integrity, they need to have appropriate risk management policies and a solid understanding of managing privacy without compromising connection.

They need to understand that today – nobody comes to your brand cold. Ever. They might have seen you about on the street, or heard of you via a work recommendation but by the time they meet with you they have googled everything they can. Their research will include the time to check out reviews, make a snap assessment on the appeal of your website, seen what people say about your employees, see how you respond to people on the platform, find any media releases, do some price comparisons and if this doesn’t give them what they’ve needed they’ve done a general shout out via their channels saying “Anybody done business with X – looking for feedback good and bad.”

This is a unique opportunity for brands at the moment to set themselves apart by implementing a robust customer service approach which is inclusive of their social media platforms. The digital revolution has put the power into the hands of customers. They are driving innovation. They are driving expectations. They are documenting your successes and your failures even when you are not.

So embrace it. If you believe in your brand, in your products/services, your employees and what you do – throw open the doors. Learn to love feedback that comes via your social channels. Invite it even.

But also learn to love yourselves. Back yourself. Back your brand. Do the work – align all your customer service approaches to be consistent with the customer centric approach you’ll be forced to use on social media.

And let people love you stupid for it, all over your social media platforms.