For businesses, social media’s greatest asset is its ability to close the gap between the enterprise and the customer. Through Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus, and the like, companies are able to engage in productive conversations with their audience. This is an opportunity that should not be squandered--particularly when it comes to providing customer service. 

Today, businesses that are not using social media to address concerns and complaints are behind the times. Still, many companies do not put it at the forefront of their social media presence as they should. This was the message from panelists in a session titled "The Real Value of Social Media for Customer Service," at the Wharton Social Media Best Practices Conference last month. The panel was made up of 2013 Social Media Leadership Award winners selected by Social Strategy 1, a social media monitoring and analysis company. 

Here are a few of the best tips on the intersection of social media and customer service from Knowledge@Wharton’s coverage of the panel.

Don’t fall asleep on customer service 

The panelists stressed that customer expectations of social media have grown over time. Today, if a company doesn’t have a team focused on addressing the concerns of its audience, it's in trouble. 

"A year ago, when [consumers] got a social media response from a brand on a customer care issue, they were pleasantly surprised," said Dennis Stoutenburgh, co-founder of Stratus Contact Solutions, a management and social media consulting firm. "We're getting to the point now that if companies don’t respond, they will have a black mark against them."

Make it personal 

Bianca Buckridee, the vice president of social media operations for JPMorgan Chase, said that customers enjoy being able to identify who it is they are actually interacting with on her company’s Twitter feed. This makes the interaction much more personal for customers, and in the event that they need to follow up, they already have a history with a specific person.  

The panel also suggested that it might be wise to create Twitter feeds or other social media accounts specifically dedicated to customer care outside of the company’s general social media accounts.  

Be vigilant 

Social media is an ever-growing space and it's important to pay attention to what is being said about your company across various platforms. The social space extends "outside of your typical social networks, [including] Facebook, Twitter and Google Plus, to finding blogs that are influential about your business sector. It takes a lot of time and resources. There are 40 top travel blogs; there are hundreds of top blogs for credit cards. In each one, people may be mentioning your brand, and they’re not necessarily specifying '@Chase' or '@BarclayCard US,'" said Brain Mook, assistant vice president for social media at Barclaycard US. 

Watch your tone 

This is something that many companies overlook, but it is important to keep in mind that you are trying to have a conversation with your customers on social media. So keep it conversational. 

"Using the right tone with customers is not a 'set it and forget it' model," said Buckridee. "You have to do almost continuous daily coaching and training. My team might say, 'Yeah, we really hit it out of the park with this one, because we got 67 retweets on this reply to someone with a funny response about QuickPay.' Well, we did not hit it out of the park: If I was a person receiving this from my bank, I might even be a little offended. It's difficult to do…. You have to keep monitoring."

Stay engaged

A company must interact with customers throughout their entire experience with the company or product. That is how you will get them to come back. "Every company wants to do social selling--everyone’s looking for ROI. When we show them their data, they say, 'There’s an audience I want to sell to,'" said Stoutenburgh. "But on the customer care side, they're not responding. I tell them: If you engage here, you need to engage over here, too. If you're not engaging customers during the entire product life cycle through social media, you're missing out. Because someone else will."