One of my first jobs was waiting tables. Working in the fast-paced restaurant industry made me realize quickly the importance of good customer service. In fact, I distinctly remember a sign hanging in the restaurant kitchen that read: “A satisfied customer tells five people—a dissatisfied customer tells 20.” Back in those days, people would leave the restaurant, and I’d never hear what they said about my service and/or the restaurant. In this social media age, it’s a whole different ballgame.

More Power to the Consumer

Social media has granted a great deal more power to the consumer to be publicly vocal about his or her experience. But you, as a business owner, also have the more power and can monitor, track and address the things being said about you. Whether you choose to seize that opportunity is up to you, but regardless, people are voicing and will continue to voice their online opinions about your business.

So how can you adapt to this social shift? First off, revisit the old saying “If you can beat em’, join em’.” In other words, have a social presence and actually participate in the conversations regarding your business. Secondly, up your customer service ante. Because your clients have the technology to share their positive and/or negative experiences about your business in a matter of seconds, you have a greater responsibility than ever before to deliver the most stellar, legendary service possible.

According to the 2012 American Express Global Customer Service Survey, it turns out that sign in the restaurant was right. Americans will tell an average of 15 people about positive experiences, and an average of 24 people about poor experiences. But there’s more. Results also showed that consumers who use social media tell three times as many people about service experiences compared to the general population. With hundreds of millions of people on social networks, that is a statistic that cannot be ignored.

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Amy McIlwain is a professional speaker on social media and president of Financial Social Media, an online marketing firm specializing in the financial industry. She can be reached through her website at www.financialsocialmedia.com  and on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter.