Social media marketing seems to give us control. We decide what content to post; we decide when and where to post it; and analytics tell us what the result will be. It’s all precise, rational, and scientific … until one of your customers doesn’t behave as you expected. A marketer can fumble an online customer service opportunity by ignoring a customer’s message or by responding inadequately. Your customers don’t care what your plans and perceptions are regarding Facebook and Twitter. They will use social media for customer service whether you like it or not. It’s the available way they can get your attention quickly and publicly. Here are some tips for turning customer service situations into positive marketing opportunities:

1. Take personal responsibility. Whether you’re the person who will actually “fix” the customer’s issue is unimportant. If you can address the issue, do it. If you aren’t quite sure how to address the issue, here’s a trick; pretend the customer is your mother! Would you tell Mom to fill out a customer service form at your company’s main website? Of course not. You would ask questions, make calls, and do what it takes to solve her problem. Just think of your customers as “Mom.”

2. Establish a regular procedure for handling online customer complaints. If you’ve been online for any length of time, you’ve seen business owners and managers caught off guard, responding inarticulately, sometimes getting defensive. It’s as if they cannot imagine that someone might have a complaint or issue. You need a routine method for responding promptly and routing complaints to the right person. Whoever manages your social media marketing should know both how to respond and how to make sure the complaint receives an appropriate response.

3. Identify the “influencers” in your audience and keep them pleased. Your analytics should give you the basic profiles of those who frequently engage with your brand and post on your pages. When someone makes the effort to contact you, it gives you the chance to make a genuinely good impression on everyone visiting the page. Listening to customers, and letting them know you’re listening, is imperative; solving a problem can turn a dissatisfied customer into a loyal, returning customer. Excellent customer service encourages people to share with their friends, and sometimes they’ll even get excited. (“Hey, the doohickey I bought from XYZ Co. didn’t work, so they sent me a good one AND some free samples and discount codes!”) A complaint can be a blessing in disguise, a chance to prove that you actually care about your customers.

Good social media marketing happens when we care and when we’re nice. And you already know how to do that.