My boss jokingly refers to my position as a Social Media Marketing Strategist as the company’s ‘Bartender in the Sky’.  I don’t think he’s too far off base with that title actually.  I’ve talked about customer service in social media before, but this time I’d like to talk in more specifics.

I put myself through undergrad doing a lot of waiting tables, cocktailing and bartending.  It’s through those experiences that I not only funded my higher education but also learned many invaluable lessons on customer service.  Customer service is more than just being polite and giving the customer what they want.  Customer service is about relating to people on a level they feel comfortable with and making them feel good about their experience with you and your company.

bartender

Here are some of the more valuable lessons I learned as a bartender that I find translate very well to social media management

Know your stuff: When bartending and dealing with the public in nearly any fashion its important to know your product/service.  Be prepared with as much information as you can possibly fit in your head, so regardless of the question, you are ready with an answer.  This will increase your credibility with the customer and positively impact the level of confidence they have in your ability to provide them with the level of service they expect.

Now that you’re a certified genius you’re all set. Right? Nope.

Customers are all different and there’s no way you could realistically be prepared with every answer to every question they could possibly ask.  Confidently humble is the next face you wear.  Be willing to say ‘I don’t know’ but always ALWAYS follow that with ‘But, I know who to ask’.  Don’t ever lie when asked a question you don’t know the answer to.  The truth will undoubtedly come out and you’ll be left with your pants down (figuratively speaking hopefully.)  Know your coworkers and what their roles are well enough to know who to go to when a question is posed that you don’t have the answer to. Then go find the answer quickly and get back to your customer.

Read your customers:  This is perhaps one of the most important parts of bartending, and surely participating in social media.  When a customer walks into your bar you’ve got very little time to figure them out.  You need to figure out what kind of mood they are in, what their personality and sense of humor is like, what their tolerance levels are and most importantly what their expectations are.  You might think that sounds an awful lot like psychic mind reading and you’d be partly right.

In person you can tell a lot of this by body language, tone and inflection of their voice and how they interact with you.  Online things are a little different.  Online you have the benefit of looking at the interactions that person has with other people.  You might even be able to get a gander at some of their sites and profiles before you’re forced to interact.  This is a huge advantage that your typical bartender does not have.  Check out and take note of things like their sense of humor and issues they may be sensitive to.  Also as important are factors such as age, gender and even their level of education if you can tell.  Before you yell at me for that last sentence, remember we’re talking about relating to and reading people.  We are not judging these people based on any of these factors, simply finding the best way to relate to them.  Big, big difference.

Be prepared to go above and beyond when necessary:  Some people are easy to please.  Some are not.  Some people’s drinks are never strong enough and their steak is never right.  Some customers are always going to bitch about the product or attribute problems they’ve caused to you and your business.  There’s no getting around these ‘problem customers’.  See the previous section on reading them and figure out what it will take to make them happy.  Sometimes this is as easy as asking ‘what can I do to make your experience a positive one?’ Sometimes it takes working with them a bit longer.  Hopefully you’ve taken the time to figure out what your customer lifetime value (CLV) is.  This is one of the times that number will come in to play.  When dealing with someone who seems impossible to please it’s important to know what your limits are.  When it’s appropriate, be prepared to go to your limit to make them happy.

Now, in social media your CLV has a greater variety of factors than it does offline.  You have to take in to account this person’s reach in the variety of spaces they occupy online.  Do they have a great deal of followers on Twitter? How many friends do they have on Facebook? What’s the traffic like on their blog?  Be prepared to bend over backwards to keep your brand presented in a positive light in their world.  The greater reach they have, or the greater attention the issue is getting, the further you should probably go.  (This is of course assuming the customer isn’t being so incredibly ridiculous you will look equally so for bending to their will.  Use your brain and make decisions accordingly.)  Don’t ONLY base your decisions on “reach” though.  Remember that every customer is worthy of excellent service.

drunkard

Don’t over serve: The life of a bartender can be short lived if they can’t watch their customers and know when they’ve had enough.  When over served customers will start to get sloppy and their expectations can rise to unreasonable levels.  This is of course true in social media as well.  Don’t be so worried about making them happy and meeting their every desire that you are compromising your professionalism, reputation and standards.  In bartending you get drunk and dangerous customers.  In social media it’s not a whole lot different.  If you give of yourself/brand too much your customer’s expectations will rise to unreasonable levels and you run the risk of them getting drunk on their power to control you.

Know what your limits are.  Take into consideration the negative perception you could be attributing to your brand by being inflexible, but also take into account the fact that you don’t want to be a slave to unreasonable expectations.  Do what you can to make people happy without setting these unreasonable expectations across your entire customer base.  Other customers will see what you are doing for ‘that guy’ and will most likely expect the same treatment.  Don’t go so far that your response isn’t scalable.

Be ready to cut people off: One of my favorite parts of bartending was that everyone played by my rules.  I would do what I could to make people happy, but at some point you have to draw the line.  Those are the rules of the game.  I set the rules in a manner that was befitting the establishment and my level of comfort.  (Disclaimer: as a bartender my level of comfort played a big role.  This isn’t necessarily the case in social media as personal safety doesn’t really come in to play.)

Now, you’ll remember previously when I was talking about bending over backwards for your customer and considering the CLV and reach of that particular person….Well this is the part when you’ve reached your breaking point.  You can’t make everyone happy.  Some people are highly unrealistic.  At some point you’re going to have to make the hard decision to cut them off and move on.  If you are unable to reasonably please them it may be time to cut your losses and let them go.  Humbly admit that perhaps your service isn’t right for them and channel your efforts on the ‘wins’ you can actually take home.

If you can manage these points, you’ll be in business.  You can pour drinks with the best of them and even better – address your customer needs appropriately and in a way that both parties are comfortable with while not overextending expectations on either side.  Make mine a double!!