Responding in public, resolving in private.

If you make it a habit (and you should) to respond to people’s blog posts, Twitter tweets, forum posts, etc., there is a certain way of actually responding to customers or potential customers.

1. Respond publicly. The first thing you have to do is respond publicly. Post a comment, reply to the Tweet, reply to the forum post, etc. Answer the question or address the concern briefly and generally. Then (and most importantly), encourage the customer to contact you directly. Responding publicly lets people know that you are reaching out, but doesn’t clog up message boards, blog posts, etc.

2. Resolve privately. Once the customer has contacted you privately (or you have pro-actively contacted them privately), work with the customer to resolve their issue privately. Resolving the issue over email or the phone is the best medium since it’s private, far more secure than a public communication method, and allows you to say a lot more.

3. Follow-up publicly. There are different schools of thought on this point, but many companies like to ask customers to post an “update” after the company has worked with them to resolve their issues. This is fine if you actually resolved the issue. Be weary about asking customers – if they aren’t 100% satisfied with the resolution, your asking them to update their post could backfire.

I always do items one and two and occasionally will do three. One and two are obviously the most important: showing other people you care enough to respond and then showing the actual customer you care enough to resolve their issues and address their concerns.