Picture a perfect customer experience: you walk into a store and are greeted by a friendly clerk who asks if they can help you find something. You tell them what you’re looking for and the employee promptly leads you to its location.

When you get there, they realize they’re out of the product you asked for, but have a similar, more expensive model available. Without hesitation they offer you that product and price match it with the original product you were looking for.

You’ll likely tell your friends about the great customer service you just received, with glowing reviews for both the employee and the store. You’ve become a return shopper and brought new business to the store.

A recent study on customer service statistics for 2012 states that customers who engage with companies via social media spend 20 to 40 percent more money with those companies than customers who don’t engage through social media.

So how do we provide exceptional customer service through social media when many relate great service to face-to-face interaction? The customer can’t see your face, they can’t hear your voice, they aren’t even sure if you’re real, but for businesses today, providing exceptional customer service through social media is a necessity.

Here are a few ways to translate face-to-face service to online customer service:

Be Active

Whether your social media efforts consist of a website, Facebook page, Twitter account or Pinterest, be active in your online presence. Provide immediate responses to questions, concerns and comments, letting your customers know that the lights are on and someone is home.

Being active online includes posting and updating your Facebook page as well as answering questions and interacting with fans as quickly as possible. People expect a response through Facebook within hours. If you wait more than a day to respond to a post, you may have just lost a customer.

Twitter works even faster, with customers expecting a response within minutes of posting their tweet. Consider Twitter as a trade-off to how you would treat phone support. If you have a phone support agent you should also have a Twitter agent.

For a website this could mean having regular blog posts and consistent content, news blurbs, listings of upcoming events -- anything besides a copyright date that is from 2005.

AMD offers numerous blogs based on what the consumer is looking for and they offer news feeds from their Facebook and Twitter accounts.

Be Human

Finding the balance between being professional and being human is key in offering exceptional online customer service. It’s not always about business, it’s about letting your customers know there’s a real person behind that computer screen. It’s also about finding the balance between professional and fun.

On a website a business can be 80 percent professional and 20 percent fun, but when it comes to social media those percentages should really be switched. That 80 percent of “fun” content shouldn’t just be random ideas, but interesting content that relates to your business but isn’t necessarily self-promotional.

Social networks are friendly gathering spots for you and your customers where you can hang out and have a chat, not a place to sell. Once you engage in an awesome conversation with a customer, they can be directed to your website to buy your product.

When chatting with your customers online, talk as if you were face-to-face. Just because we constantly hear customer service via phone saying “we apologize for the inconvenience, how may I assist you” doesn’t mean you have to talk like that online. Being more “human” in your online conversations could even defuse a negative situation at times. People are more forgiving to a real person than an automated response.

1-800-Flowers does a great job of posting a mix of self-promotional and non self-promotional but relevant information. In this post they share a photo of April’s Birthday Flower and simply ask fans to “share” the flower with any April birthdays they know.

Give Your Support Team Power

Give the people who are engaging and responding with your customers the ability and power to make things right. Give them the power to make changes, give discounts and offer a solution on the spot. If your employee has to get approval from a higher up, make the system a quick one and make it appear to your user that it’s a one-on-one interaction.

According to RightNow.com, 50 percent of consumers give a brand only one week to respond to a question before they stop doing business with them. Businesses can’t forget that even online it’s all about the customer’s experience.

Spend Time Reading Suggestions and Feedback

Now, more than ever before, customers have the ability to make or break your company with a single post that could potentially reach millions of people. Take the time to read suggestions and feedback that are sent from your customers. Whether it be an email, Facebook post or tweet, it’s your opportunity to say, “Hey! Thanks for that great suggestion, I’ll discuss your request with our product team!”

Letting your fans know you’re listening to them can ultimately bring you more business. More importantly, if someone asks for something you know you’ll never offer, let them know. Leaving your customer thinking a new feature or product is coming that never will could leave a bad taste in the customer's mouth.

If you find yourself on a sensitive topic, positive or negative, bring the conversation offline, or at least out of the public sector. Facebook now offers a direct message feature for businesses which can be used for personal messages, unsatisfied customers or sensitive topics.

In the customer service study referenced earlier, it states that US$ 289 is the average annual value of each customer relationship lost to a competitor or abandoned. Great customer service can save your company a large sum of money.

Poor online customer service can trump your business just as quickly if not faster than poor face-to-face customer service. Taking the time to listen to your customers, engage with them as if they were a friend, and offer solutions to keep customers happy, is well worth the effort. Their satisfaction with your company will bring more customers and more loyal fans.

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