The concept of using social media as a communication channel for your brand isn’t new. However, as we’ve learned, listening is only one piece of the puzzle. Your customers want to be heard, yes, but they also expect you to respond — and quickly. In a 2012 report, information technology research firm Gartner predicted that “engaging with customer inquiries via social channels will be as important as phone and email” by 2014. The new year is here, but that doesn’t mean organizations are waiting until midnight to start helping customers; they’ve been doing it all year long.

2013 has been a huge year for the expansion of customer care on social media. More businesses are realizing the power of real-time platforms like Twitter and Facebook. As a result, they’re also discovering how critical it is that social and customer service teams work together. The lines between the two are becoming increasingly blurred, and people who once were tasked with building an online community are now just as likely to handle incoming customer inquiries or complaints.

If you’re considering using Twitter or Facebook for customer service in 2014, or if you’re looking for ideas on how to find-tune your existing support strategy, try implementing some of the tactics used by these social service rockstars in the new year.

Know Your Response Time

One of the most common causes of customer frustration is travel delays, especially air travel. Not only is this something that occurs often, but people waste little time vocalizing their feelings on social channels. Airlines like KLM and JetBlue know a thing or two about how important communication can be when providing a time-sensitive service.

Although many airlines now monitor Twitter and Facebook for customer feedback, what sets JetBlue apart is that it continues to be extremely responsive to tweets and DMs mentioning the brand, regardless of whether the sentiment is positive or negative. And in the case of the latter, JetBlue’s social team makes it a point to respond as quickly as possible.

Earlier this fall, international air carrier KLM introduced a live response time display for its social media services on Twitter and Facebook. By doing so, the company shows that it lives up to its promise to respond to questions and requests within one hour. We should note that this service is not offered by either social platform. Instead, KLM is updating its cover photo ever five minutes with a new estimated “hold time” as part of the background.

Provide Dedicated Customer Support

One of the best ways to help your customers is to create a Twitter handle or Facebook Page that is separate from your business’ main account. Not only does this approach prevent dilution of brand messaging, but it also gives you a way to provide meaningful content and tips from a valid source.

Research from social media analytics firm Simply Measured found that more than 32 percent of top brands now have dedicated customer service handles on Twitter. This method is especially beneficial for huge companies that have several different products, departments, and so on. A brand that does an outstanding job of this is General Motors.

In May, we chatted with Michael Savoni, who oversees the @GMCustomerSVC, @ChevyCustCare, @BuickCustCare, @GMCCustCare, and @CadillacCustSVC accounts. As you can see, each handle focuses on a specific subsidiary of the main corporation. If this is something you plan on implementing in the future, it’s important that your social media and customer care teams are working together.

Tweak Existing Tools to Fit Your Needs

The easier you make it for people to get in touch with you, the better. If you don’t have a dedicated Facebook Page for customer service, use the features of your existing page to your advantage.

For example, AOL has created a “Get Help” app that allows customers to submit questions directly from the social network. Not only does the app help keep support related conversations off of AOL’s Timeline, but it also streamlines the contact process, ensuring the customer inquiries reach the right departments within the company.

2013 has also given rise to more “do-it-yourselfers” and in response, Scotts customers turn to the company’s Facebook Page for help, posting their own photos and helping each other with common lawn care and garden problems. Additionally, through the “Scotts Garage” app, customers can access videos, tips, and tools in a variety of relevant categories.

With 73 percent of U.S. adults now actively engaging on social networks, customer inquiries and complaints are sure to increase in the new year. The first step to creating a rock solid customer care plan using social media is knowing where your performance currently stand and build from there. With your team and strategy in place, make sure that you’re using the best tools to manage and monitor your online presence.

[Image credit: Garry Knight, GM]