NEW YORK (MainStreet) — With the rise in popularity of social media as a medium for communication, customer service has transformed from a one-on-one private interaction via phone call to a public open forum published on the web. Consumers can now reach their favorite brands simply by tweeting or posting on Facebook, and these public exchanges can shape a business's overall image.

Simply put, customer service is a vital component to any sales strategy. Improve your customer service, experience a higher customer retention rate, and increase referrals by attentively keeping customers' content through social media.

Responding Quickly

Social media is fast and easy to use, and consumers have been increasingly turning to Twitter and Facebook to voice their experiences online. The Four Seasons Hotel in Palo Alto was able to turn a man's simple tweet into a fantastic personal experience. As a result, the Four Seasons was able to transform an ordinary patron into a brand advocate, who not only shares his positive experience online, but will continue to advocate for the brand in his personal life as well.

Take Advantage of Negative Feedback

According to BlueWolf, 58 percent of people who have tweeted a bad experience never hear back from the company in question. A negative tweet or post hurts the brand image if it isn't addressed, but the negative experience can become a great opportunity to turn the customer's experience around. Addressing a complaint or bad experience shows customers that their voices are being heard, and that each individual is a valued customer. Increasing engagement and value can increase customer loyalty, resulting in continued engagement and sales.

Effective Responsiveness

Customer service is a 24/7 commitment, so it's important to stay updated on every social platform. Connect with social media users on the go with mobile devices so you can get updates quickly. Having a convenient and simple way to connect with users can help build stronger customer-client relationships, thereby cementing customer loyalty and increasing referrals.

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Paid Attention to Brand Mentions

Even when the customer doesn't mention you directly, they're still talking about you. Make sure you're aware of the conversation by using tools such as HootSuite or TweetDeck to increase your online engagement. Being responsive makes users feel like they're being listened to and increases their engagement with the brand. Netflix not only responds actively to help users fix their problems, but also engages in more general mentions, keeping the brand on the customer's mind.

Proactive Knowledge

Customer service shouldn't only be reactive, so offer customers appropriate knowledge that relates to what they're interested in. For example, Whole Foods has Twitter accounts specifically for specialty products such as wine or cheese, and its Facebook provides followers with interesting recipes on healthy cooking. In addition, many local Whole Foods stores have their own Twitter account, ready to dish information on local events and customer-service-related issues. Knowledge about the local community can provide value to customers and give them a place to go if they have any problems.

Going The Extra Mile

Air travel is a hassle. American Airlines is particularly conscious about their social media strategy, even holding a connecting flight in one particular instance. Going that extra mile can change a stressful or ordinary experience into a positive one, highlighting the brand's ability to not only empathize with its customers, but to also enact real change that positively affects them as well. Personalized customer service shows that your company cares and is ready to help however it can.

In today's increasingly social world, the quality of customer service can effectively enhance a brand's image. Cultivating strong customer-client relations can result in greater exposure through organic means, such as word of mouth, and lead to an increase in sales.

Being extremely attentive, constantly connected, and following how your brand is trending by using apps like HootSuite is becoming a key component to customer satisfaction. Having a focused social media strategy will help you engage with customers and keep them happy, improving customer service and increasing sales as a result.

—Written by JT Ripton for MainStreet