Use Social Media to Turn Customers into Friends

Customer service builds relationships
I just finished listening to an episode of Under the Influence a radio show/podcast hosted by Terry O’Reilly.  The topic of this particular episode was Customer Service. While the entire program focused on some of the standards we know and love – like Zappos providing mind-blowing service, Apple’s retail experience being one of the best in the electronics industry, and Ritz-Carlton doing everything to exceed customer expectations, I couldn’t help but think in terms of social media.

Why do you want someone to follow your business on Twitter or Facebook?

There may not be a correct answer to this question but the answer will tell you a lot about the nature of your business. Are you looking for customers or friends? Okay, the bottom line is you are looking for customers because customers pay the bills. If you look at the people following you on Twitter as piggybanks that need to be busted open to get a few extra dollars out of, you aren’t cultivating a real relationship.

Hold onto your hats, things are about to get convoluted. Terry O’Reilly talked about the book Small Giants written by Bo Burlingham who wrote about Danny Meyer, owner of Gramercy Tavern in New York. Danny is relevant because his restaurant is considered one of the best in New York and the customer service stands out.

Terry O'Reilly speaking about Small Giants which contained a story about Gramercy Tavern

Sometimes I need to map out what I’m trying to say.

Part of the reason why the customer service stands out is Danny decided to hire for skills that aren’t easily taught. Traditional customer service are actually skills a person can learn. A person can learn organizational skills. A person can learn the timing required to keep pace with a table through a dinner service. What can’t be learned, at least not easily on the job, is the ability to make the customer feel like the staff is on their side. Empathy.

Social media is a great place to demonstrate empathy.  After a company has set up a social media presence they have a choice to cultivate their followers, engage with them as a friend or treat them as an audience. On any given day someone following your brand will send out a Tweet about having a bad day.  Do you respond? Do you engage? Do you care? You can’t fake empathy and customer service that seems robotic is just gross. The company that expresses genuine interest and concern with its followers, its customers, will be held in high regard. Trust me, the brands and companies that see me tweet about a bad day  and commiserate with me wins a lot of points in my book. Ditto for those brands and companies that celebrate my successes as well. If they want me to be a part of their life, they have to be a part of mine.

Here’s the bottom line – people create relationships and memories with people, not products. I’ve shopped at places not because they had the best prices but because they had the best people. I often joke that I don’t go to favorite bars, I visit favorite bartenders. When one of my favorite bartenders moved to Brooklyn from Chicago I felt the loss and didn’t go back to that bar as often as I had in the past. (Thanks for moving, James. You’ve saved me hundreds of dollars a year, but now I don’t know what beer to drink!)

Through social media you have the ability to be more than a brand.  You can look at your customer not as entities to squeeze one more dollar out of but as part of your community, your friends, people you actually care about and want, in Zappos terms, to deliver happiness to them. To reiterate what Terry said on his program, Zappos will go out of the way to find a product on a competitor’s website if they are out of stock, even though they will lose the sale. The following words struck me because it feels contrary to some of my retail training where every associate was encouraged to ‘sell one more thing’ or ‘guide the customer to a higher price point’. Zappos isn’t trying to maximize the transaction, they are trying to build a lifelong relationship.

Business always boils down to relationships and social media can be a tool to help maintain and (here’s my word of the day) cultivate those relationships.


Great customer service builds great relationships with customers. It can’t be faked, it has to come from the heart, from a real sense of empathy and in the end the businesses that do it right will be rewarded for it through amazing word-of-mouth promotion and eventually increased sales. Social media can be a tool to build relationships or a tool to blast out the daily sale.