Customer Service on Twitter? Maybe Not Just Yet.

Customer service is a large and important task. You need to be a good listener, identity needs, make customers feel appreciated, help people understand how your company works, know how to apologize, and give feedback so the company can improve. Can you say that you provide all of that to your customers over the phone or email? Now, are you ready to extend all of those things your Twitter account? Probably not. Here are some things you need to consider before you take this leap.

Opening the floodgate to have people complain about your company on Twitter

People are going to say want they want about your brand on the Internet. But once you let your Twitter handle become a customer service tool, you can never turn back. Once people use Twitter to complain and get a faster response there than via your phone or email system, they will go straight to Twitter the next time they have an issue. You might be conditioning the customer to use this mode to fix their issues. Note that some companies like Amazon.com and Apple do not offer customer service through Twitter. When people complain on Twitter about the brand, they redirect the customer to more appropriate channels.

If you respond to one, you have to respond all

You can’t pick and choose who to respond to. Good, bad, and ugly complaints will all have to be handled in some way. Because if you answer one customer and not the other, the un-answered customer is only going get more upset, creating a larger problem than you already have. So, it’s all or nothing.

People complain in real time via Twitter, so you need to respond in real time

Responding 10 hours later is like responding 10 days later in the social media world. Your customers use Twitter because they believe they will get an answer quickly. If you can’t have someone manning the Twitter station at all times (or a least during business hours) don’t do it.

The best thing to do…

People are going to complain about your brand on social media sites like Twitter. The best and first thing to do is actually try to get them off the social networking form and on to a private conversation like email or phone. It is probably going to be easier to help someone with a problem through email or phone than by trying to solve a problem through 140 character tweets (though there are exceptions).

The phone is the best way to go..

Forture.com did a test of 9 major companies customer service asking for help over Twitter, on the phone, through email and website. The companies were Zappos, Delta, Rubbermaid, Hyatt, Dell, Microsoft, Comcast, and Bank of America. The final verdict, even though many of the companies’ Twitter handles were responsive, was that the old fashion telephone call was by far the quickest and easiest way to get help.

Twitter is a great very to connect with people, share links, and get caught up on the news, but be sure you have a plan in place before using it for customer service.

  • http://www.jasonfpeck.com JasonPeck

    I couldn’t agree more with some of the points in this post. These are things that companies definitely need to think about if they’re looking to do customer service through Twitter. One thing that also may be helpful would be to identify the different types of problems that people may have. Some of them may be easily addressed through Twitter while others may require longer conversations. Knowing the types of potential problems can help companies plan accordingly for how, when and where to respond. It may even make sense to establish an online forum or owned community where people can ask questions and get help. If people are going to complain/ask questions, it may be better for them to do this in a more private area than on Twitter, where they have to complain to all their friends in order to be heard. Also, people who participate in these communities may be able to help answer questions so the customer service dept. doesn’t even need to get involved. This definitely can help save companies time and money.

  • http://www.darrenheitner.com Darren Heitner

    I think Twitter is a great medium for customers who wish to provide suggestions. As appropriately stated by the author, it is tough to thoroughly solve a problem when limited to 140 characters or less. But it is easy for a customer to spend little time and recommend a product, service, change, etc. to a company in the form of a suggestion on Twitter.

  • http://twitter.com/LisaSullivan Lisa Sullivan

    GREAT post! I think it’s all in the planning, what goals for the medium the company has, etc. I’ve seen customer service work well with Twitter…and not so well. Being anticipatory of the problems that could arise, having a process in place in which to handle them, and being open to suggestions/changes going forward are the keys to any successful customer service approach using Twitter as the backdrop. It can be done effectively. It just needs to be planned that way as well. My two cents. :)

  • http://twitter.com/jakespotter Jake Potter

    These are excellent considerations, particularly the cautionary note against “opening the floodgates” for customer complaints. The road to successful customer service on Twitter (and, really, most social channels) is littered with companies who treat it like a faucet you can simply turn on and off.

  • Anonymous

    In some cases Twitter can work for customer service but you are 100% right, the company needs a very well thought out plan. Thanks for the comment.

  • Anonymous

    Thanks for stopping by the blog and I like your faucet analogy!