Customer service is a major focus for brands using social media in their operations. After all, these networks offer fast, new ways of connecting with current and potential clients. In order to get the most out of social media based customer service, however, you may need to cultivate some new habits.

We’ve written about best practices for conducting good customer service on Facebook and on Twitter. But no matter which networks your brand prefers, here are a few regular activities and processes that will help your company, and your customers, get the most out of customer service on social media.

1. Regularly Search for Brand Mentions

Sometimes, an opportunity to serve customers on social media takes a little sleuthing. People don’t always pursue direct online communication with a company when they have a complaint — or praise. Frequently, they’ll post a general comment that names your business without linking to any of your social media accounts.

Set up a system of regular notifications or searches so that you know when people mention your company name online. That means you can reach out to those folks and offer assistance before they contact you.

Being proactive in your customer communications demonstrates that you go the extra mile for service, and that you understand how to build relationships on social media. People usually respond well to those courtesies and will likely have a higher opinion of your brand as a result.

2. Take Service Beyond Fixing Problems

Even when they aren’t actively handling client requests, great customer service personnel will always be actively engaged with promoting the brand. This is true whether you’re running a general brand account, or a dedicated customer support channel.

Service is much more than just solving problems as they arise. It must encompass everything you do in order to convince customers to join, or stick with your company. You’ll want to use the social media space to offer tips, suggestions, and other information. Take advantage of every opportunity to interact and develop a positive reputation for your brand.

3. Research and Understand Each Network’s Rules

Depending on your industry, a customer service inquiry could end up requiring the exchange of personal information. Keep in mind that clients shouldn’t need to give you or your company their email addresses or phone numbers in publicly visible conversations. It’s usually a good idea to take those discussions offline, or move them to more private channels. That means you need to know what your options are for correspondence on each network. For example, on Twitter, you can only send a direct message to a person who is following you, so telling a client to contact you that way could create frustration if you’re not careful.

You’ll also need to be up to date on the terms of use, and on any restrictions placed on businesses for whatever social networks you use. You’ll need to understand what your company and your customers are allowed to say, as well as what behavior is not permitted on the platform. It’s unlikely that you’ll see too many infractions since the rules are often very general, but understanding the rules of engagement is important in order to protect all parties. Be alert for when terms of use change, and read any updates carefully rather than blindly agreeing.

4. Keep Your Perspective

One of the perils of working in customer service is letting the negativity of dissatisfied people get to you. Especially in online communications, some people seem more likely to forgo common courtesy. It can be a challenge to see through the bad attitude and get to the heart of the client’s problem. Remember, online communication has little opportunity for inflection or context. Try to be as polite and helpful as possible, even when faced with rude behavior.

Equally important after working with these caustic people is to not let that negativity seep into your next conversation. Your mindset should be the same in social media as it is for in-person interactions — every customer marks a fresh start!

What habits do you rely on for great customer service on social media? Let us know in the comments!By Wally Xie for Social Media Today