Are you providing real customer service?

I was recently sitting at a cafe, halfway through my meal, with an empty glass of water, when I looked up and couldn’t find someone to refill my glass. Finally I flagged down a server, but it wasn’t until my mouth was dry and my meal was now cold that I received the refill.

A lot of people define customer service as helping current and potential customers when they need or ask for help. And yes, perhaps that’s an average type of customer service.

Real customer service, on the other hand, is anticipating and fulfilling someone’s needs and wants before they request help.

When I was 17, I worked as a busboy at Brent’s Delicatessen & Restaurant in Los Angeles. As part of the training process, I was told very explicitly: If you see a customer’s glass that is even half-full and the customer hasn’t finished their meal (let alone received it), don’t ask if the customer wants more of whatever their drinking; just bring them another full glass. That’s real customer service.

The hotel mega-brand Hilton runs a Twitter account called “Hilton Suggests” in which they search out people on Twitter who are asking for travel recommendations. They respond to each tweet, regardless if the person is one of their hotel guests (most of them are not) and offer local recommendations, with directions and other relevant info. Here’s a real example:


That’s real customer service. (You may be asking yourself: Why would Hilton invest in helping non-guests? Well, ask yourself this: The next time each person who they helped is traveling again, which hotel do you think they’re going to stay at?)

There are several more examples and several different ways to provide real customer service, both online and offline. As a social media consultant, I should tell you that providing real customer service using social media isn’t just about Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other platforms; social media is the overarching process of sharing information in digital spaces (blogs, eBooks, mobile apps, etc) that provides an opportunity for two-way communication. As such, “social” customer service can come to life in a variety of different ways for a variety of different purposes.

Ultimately, you need to anticipate the needs and wants of your current and potential customers, and then figure out the platform (social media, blog, app, etc) and content presentation (text, visuals, video, etc) that will maximize effectiveness. Hilton chose Twitter because of its immediacy and real-time communication functionality. The toilet paper brand Charmin uses a mobile app to help people find clean public restrooms. The do-it-yourself graphic design software Canva uses a glorified blog to help everyday people learn more about graphic design.

The bottom line is that the ability to foresee and provide real customer service creates a relationship between business and customer based on immediate and long-term added value, positive experiences and ultimately, trust.

Just like we spend more time with people who we consider more trustworthy, we spend more money with businesses that we consider more trustworthy.

Josh Hoffman (better known as Social Media Josh) is an international social media consultant, instructor and speaker, as well as the creator of The Social Media Freelancer. Connect with Josh on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn, and sign up to receive his weekly column.