Your business can be severely damaged in 140 characters or less, thanks to Twitter. Sure, it can be boosted by positive tweets from loyal fans both old and new, but the results of a recent study by TOA Technologies show that’s more the exception than the rule. According to Billing & OSS World Magazine, “The survey found that more than 1 million people per week view Tweets related to customer-service experiences with a variety of service providers. More than 80 percent of those Tweets are critical of the company or reflect a negative customer experience.”

All businesspeople, especially those working for small-to-medium businesses, know the power word of mouth can carry, and it especially holds true for field service and HVAC firms. What if that same concept was increased by exponential levels, spreading not just among a close group of friends and family, but hundreds — check that — thousands of like-minded individuals? That’s what’s happening on social media sites like Twitter and Facebook, so we at The SmartVan have some advice for those wondering how to navigate the ever-changing, and rapidly growing, world of social media.

1. Regularly monitor what people are saying about your company.

Setting up a Google alert for your business isn’t enough. If you have a Twitter account already, always keep tabs on any mentions that might come forward. (And if you aren’t on Twitter and/or Facebook, you might want to consider joining the social media masses … and maybe even follow The SmartVan, too!) However, when people are upset they usually won’t mention your Twitter handle directly, so it’s a good idea to search any variations of your company’s name on a daily basis.

2. When someone complains on social media, do something.

One of the ways social media has changed the conversation is consumers — formerly known as the “little guys” — feel like they have a voice. And with Twitter (and Facebook, too), they do. If you catch a customer telling their followers how they were wronged, try to make it right. Respond promptly and courteously. Ask what the problem was. A lot of times it’s easy to alleviate concerns simply by listening and doing everything in your power to remedy the situation — whether it’s offering a refund, a gift card or just an apology, making some sort of effort while keeping communication in a calm, professional manner can often turn the most irate customers into loyal ones.

3. Get your employees to buy in.

Just like customers can get aggravated and torch your firm on social media, your service techs are people too, with tempers that can get hot. But with the stakes so high in this age of information, one tech who reaches their boiling point with a customer can indirectly repel a staggering number of potential customers who, once they read a complaint by someone they follow on Twitter, will decide your company name is “M-U-D.” Make it crystal clear to service techs (and anyone who answers the phone or deals with a customer in any way) that they are brand ambassadors. It doesn’t cost anything to be kind, but it can cost a business its chance at survival if techs act in an unprofessional way — even if the customer was acting like a jerk at the time.

4. Fix inefficient or outdated processes.

One of the most common complaints found in TOA’s report centered on cable repair technicians’ arrival times:

While the average appointment window for the cable carriers analyzed was four hours, some customers related waiting times on service windows of more than 20 hours. Tweets ranged from sarcastic, “If I was a cable Guy I’d call into work like one too, ‘I’m be late today…I’ll be in sometime between 8-1,'” to resigned, “Now begins the vigil of waiting for the cable guy in an unreasonably wide window of time. Sigh,” to frustrated, “Day 2 in the apartment: waiting for the cable guy. Let’s see if he really comes.”

Let’s be honest: while some customers are almost impossible to please, it’s not the customers who are at fault in a lot of these cases. No one wants to wait longer than they should, and nobody likes broken promises. Everyone knows the old standard, “under-promise and over-deliver,” but if your company can’t handle the bare minimum requests — like arriving within a 4-hour window — it’s time to take a look at what’s wrong and fix it. For field service companies, which often build their entire business model on fixing things, it only makes sense.

Read more about Customer Service on The SmartVan