In today’s digital world, people use social media to talk about almost everything. They tweet about their favorite restaurant, send pictures of their pets via Instagram and post reviews of their recent purchases on Yelp, TripAdvisor and Angie’s List. Nowadays, consumers love to share their opinions of products, services and businesses. And they also love to hear what others think, especially when they are in the market to buy.

It’s too bad, then, that many companies have yet to fully embrace social media as a marketing tool, says author and Bloomberg Businessweek columnist Ron Kaufman in his new book Uplifting Service: The Proven Path to Delighting Your Customers, Colleagues, and Everyone Else You Meet. Until they do embrace this powerful tool, which has the potential to expand their marketing reach exponentially, they will continue to miss out on the power their satisfied customers can wield on their behalf.

“Just think about the last book you bought on Amazon,” says Kaufman. “Did you read the publisher’s comments first or did you read the customer reviews? Most likely, it was the customer reviews. That’s because people trust people like them. Companies that aren’t embracing social media today are missing out on huge opportunities to capitalize on the voices of their customers.”

According to Kaufman, customers’ opinions can help build a better service experience for everyone. “Companies should be saying to their customers, ‘If you did not enjoy our service, please tell us. If you did enjoy our service, please tell someone else,’” he explains. “Engage them. Tell happy customers to go ahead and be social about their great experiences and encourage unhappy customers to come to you via social media so that you can make it right and improve your overall service.”

Kaufman’s book covers the innovative ways companies such as United Airlines, Mercantile Capital Corp. and Ritz-Carlton have encouraged their satisfied customers to spread the word about their positive service experiences. But regardless of the tactic, says Kaufman, companies must always remember to thank their customers when they take the time to offer feedback, even—or perhaps especially—when it is negative.

“Create a ‘Thanks for Being Social’ promotional piece that includes the company’s Twitter handles, Facebook pages, Yelp and TripAdvisor pages, helpful Twitter hashtags, etc., with a line that reads, ‘If you enjoy our service, please let the world know.’ Put it on the desk in a hotel room, in the backseat pocket on airplanes, beside your cash register, whatever works for your company. The positivity you receive from customers will be priceless,” says Kaufman.

“Companies might be afraid that customers will say bad things about them online,” says Kaufman. “But really, you should encourage your customers to bring their complaints to you. Always explain to your customers that you are looking for ways to serve them better and that their feedback matters. Tell them, ‘We appreciate it when you share your experiences with us. Please don’t hesitate to let us know how we can improve.’ ”

You already know your best clients come to you through referrals. So, why not harness the referral potential of the social-media world and shift your lead generation into overdrive?

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