Business is constantly evolving, but too many companies are still relying on traditional methods of providing customer service. Where customers once took their complaints to their immediate friends and family, they can now spread the word about their unfortunate experiences to thousands and potentially millions with the help of social media. How can companies combat negative publicity with this overwhelming force of word-of-mouth? Just how important is social media to customer service?

Companies including JetBlue, H&R Block, Dell, and Comcast have started using services like Twitter to provide customer support outside of their traditional call centers and walk-in centers.

JetBlue, with over 1.6 million followers, uses Twitter to give direct updates to its passengers and answer questions posed either directly or indirectly through the social network.

H&R Block answers questions through its Twitter account, and regularly scans the network for mentions of its brand to find out what people are saying about it. In many cases, it’ll reach out to unsatisfied customers to find out what’s wrong and provide a solution.

Comcast has several customer service agents that take over its Twitter account(s) as they go on duty. Instead of a company logo and branding, the company’s Twitter account reflects the name and image of the person on duty.

Dell has an interesting approach to how it uses social media to connect with customers. Its public relations group each has its own Twitter handle, and it uses it regularly to connect with people that mention its productions, for better or for worse.

Moving forward, companies that wish to earn positive word-of-mouth would be smart to utilize social networks like Twitter and Facebook while signing up for services such as Gripe, a location-aware app that reaches out to merchants to resolve customer service issues in the public realm. These tools provide brands — both large and small — an incredibly cheap way to improve their image and get positive word out about their products and performance.