According to a recent survey of over 1,200 customer complaints on Twitter, only 29% of those gripes got a response from the company involved. I have to admit that as disappointed as I am with this number, I’m not entirely surprised since I constantly encounter very smart business people who still discount the power of social and word-of-mouth. I’m at a loss to account for why some people don’t want to accept the new reality of the social media consumer. If customers are so frustrated that they are taking to a public forum to vent about an experience with your brand, that should be a red flag for better customer service.

Using Twitter effectively for customer service is much like being in a check out line at the local store and overhearing two people loudly talking about a negative experience with your company. If you’re smart and you care about your brand, you will step up, introduce yourself and offer them your business card, inviting them to contact you so that you can clear up any misunderstandings. Aside from the sincere desire to make it right, you are also doing some PR damage control by making sure other people in that line are aware that you do care about customer service.

The study also found that a whopping 83% of respondents reported that just getting a response from the brand involved and knowing they were listening was a big positive — some even said they loved the fact that they got a response. No surprise there! Real or not, there’s a feeling of being directly connected to a brand when you interact with them on Twitter — kind of like sitting down for a mint julep with Colonel Sanders (if he was still with us).

The world has changed and if you are not effectively using Twitter and other social channels to engage and interact with your customers, you are in danger of being irrelevant to them. Customers want to connect with brands on social media and after decades of fretting about how to yank people into a store or get them to buy products or services, one would think the new reality of pull marketing would have companies falling over each other to leverage it. It simply does not make sense to ignore the customer service  power of social channels such as Twitter.

If you are worried about using Twitter, here are five things you should do before responding to a negative tweet.

Also, read this post about how you can be more creative with your content sharing via Twitter.