Guest post by Debra Ellis, founder of Wilson & Ellis Consulting.

Every marketer should ask, “How do conversations increase sales and improve service for our company?” The answer may not come easy because there is a major roadblock preventing companies from creating highly engaged communities. Their customers don’t want to talk to them.

People want to complete their business transactions with minimal effort. Conversations require effort. Sometimes, they require a lot of it. Of course, there are exceptions to the rule, but the majority of your customers want you to fulfill their needs without requiring their participation. In most cases, the only time someone will reach out to a company is when they have a service issue. Even then, their first step is to try to resolve the issue without assistance. A study by the Corporate Executive Board found that 57 percent of inbound customer care calls come from people who first tried to fix the problem themselves on the company’s website.

If you stop to think about it, this makes sense. When something exciting in your life happens, do you feel the need to tell XYZ Company? Or, if the company provides exceptional service, do you rave about it online? A few people may do this, but most aren’t looking for a relationship. They simply want their business transactions easily completed.

Social media strategies that focus solely on conversations and engagement will fail most companies. The exception to this are the few who have unique products or services that inspire a cult following. Everyone else needs to use social networks to make things easier for customers and increase the company’s exposure. Conversations are a bonus, not a necessity.

Making things easier for customers requires feeling their pain. This begins with listening. If they are chatting about it online, respond quickly, resolve the issue, and fix the process that created the problem. If the challenges aren’t public (hopefully!), then listen in your customer care department.

Customer problems begin with poor processes, ineffective communication, or a combination of the two. Listening to complaints is the easiest way to identify issues.

While processes require internal fixes, communication improvements can happen online. Use your blog, website, and social networks to provide answers to the most common questions.

Once you get started, your customers may join in and provide their insights, too. If not, don’t presume that no one is listening. Use analytics to measure traffic and monitor effectiveness. Reductions in complaint calls and returns are indicators that your social activity is working.

Social media isn’t just for resolving customer issues. It can also increase sales. People are increasingly looking online before making purchasing decisions. According to research by BIA/Kelsey and ConStat, 97 percent of U.S. Internet users use online media and 90 percent use search engines when researching products and services.

Real-time indexing of social networks by search engines provides an excellent opportunity for attracting traffic from both customers and prospects. Including information about discounts, new items, and bestsellers keeps your customers informed and expands your marketing reach exponentially.

Debra Ellis is a speaker, consultant, and author of the integrated marketing guide, “Social Media 4 Direct Marketers.” She is the founder of Wilson & Ellis Consulting, a boutique firm that specializes in integrated marketing and customer care.