Twitter Should Not be a Last Resort for Your Customer Service Department

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I find that Twitter is slowly becoming a “last resort” for consumers who are having issues with businesses and cannot get them resolved through the normal means of phoning or emailing customer support.  We’ve seen it time and time again, made famous by @Dooce and the Maytag washing machine incident, but repeated by many others, including myself which I documented in my how to deal with angry customers on Twitter post, that a tweet is the most direct and quickest way of getting out your message to the world in realtime when all else fails.  As Twitter membership grew by almost 40% in the last 4 months alone, and more users begin to appreciate its convenience, one can only imagine that this trend of tweeting as a last resort will continue to rise.

Because of this, Twitter should not be a last resort for your Customer Service department.  Opening up an account to support your customers on Twitter is a natural evolution.  Here’s why:

1) Some Customers Need Your Help Most When They Can’t Communicate via Normal Channels

The original idea for this blog post came recently when I was flying at 36,000 feet coast to coast.  I was using a service to connect me to the Internet when I was flying, only to have my internet service be interrupted.  What do you do when you are up in the air and you need to contact someone at customer service?  Once internet service is restored, you tweet, of course.  Think I’m crazy?  Ask anyone who tweets, and a good number of them would probably answer the same.  If your company is an online service provider such as the company that lost Internet service, you really need to, at the least, establish a listening post on Twitter and start to think about formulating a social media strategy.

You think that this doesn’t happen often?  Just last week I had a similar problem.  Check out my tweet:

That’s right.  An urgent matter with my website going down.  Can’t get them on the phone.  You think I’m going to send an email and wait for a response?  Of course not!

Did this tweet cause one online service provider to wake up to Twitter?  Prior to that tweet, this company was not an active tweeter, only sending out a single tweet on February 24th to let the world know that they were “embracing” Twitter.  Guess when their 2nd tweet was?  The night on the same day when I sent that above tweet out.  Look at the tweets, and more importantly the date stamps in their first 2 tweets in their timeline:

What is interesting here is that, had they tweeted out the power outage to begin with, I may have been less inclined to announce the problem to my followers and more inclined to wait it out…

What about customers who can communicate via normal channels yet can’t get their problems resolved?  What do you do if you can’t buy an air ticket at the promised discount price online and yet customer service can’t remedy the issue over the phone?  You resolve it via Twitter, which is exactly what I had to do during the Virgin America Twitter Campaign.

In all of these cases, Twitter was the quickest and most reliable way of getting the ear of Customer Service.

2.) Twitter is Slowly Becoming a Mainstream Platform…for Customer Service

Twitter is becoming a mainstream platform both for professionals, helped by the LinkedIn Twitter integration of almost a year ago, and Customer Service organizations.  Late last year more than half of Fortune 100 brands had set up shop on Twitter, including famous Customer Support organizations from big brands such as @ComcastCares and @MicrosoftHelps.  Those companies that don’t support customers via Twitter may fear the potential realtime demands of customers who tweet.  This may not necessarily be the case, though.  When that online service provider responded to my tweet after Internet service was restored on my flight, they asked me to DM them my email address.  I didn’t get an email from them until the next day, but it made me feel that at least they were listening and working on the situation..  As more and more companies establish support lines over Twitter and we grow accustomed to using them because of their convenience, hopefully companies will start to understand what they be missing out on: Customer Support over Twitter can lead to a more satisfied customer.  And the praise they may give you via a happy tweet after the problem is solved is priceless.

3.) Phone Support (& Coverage) Isn’t Always What It is Advertised to Be

How many of you are satisfied with the experience of having to call the customer support line of any given company that you do business with?  Probably very few.  If you really want to provide your customers with support, you need to be where they are.  Twitter is the only major public platform for realtime communication, so there you have it.  And you know what?  I bet you that people will wait longer to receive a tweet from you than they do when they are waiting on a phone for you to respond to them!  Not to mention the cost savings that no doubt can be obtained by reducing burden on call centers…  And don’t get me started on long customer service calls that were broken up by dropped calls on a certain cell phone network only to have start the conversation all over again from the beginning…at least tweets don’t “drop!”

4.) Your Customer is Already Online

We spend about as much on the Internet as we do watching TV, with 22% of our time online spent engaging in social media.  Why force that person to have to make a telephone call from another device or send an email in hopes of getting a response someday when Twitter allows for realtime communication directly on the computer?

5.) Your Customer is On the Go

If you have a problem when you’re outside or on the go, it is just more convenient to tweet out to a branded Twitter username from your phone than to have to find the customer service number on the tiny text that appears on most cell phone browsers.  Don’t even think of asking mobile users to find an email address, either.  With 46% of active Twitter users regularly tweeting from their cell phones, setting up shop on Twitter may be one of the easiest ways to support your mobile customer.

6.) Reputation Management

This may go beyond your Customer Service department, but those in your Executive Team should be worried about any negative tweet that goes out about your company that is not monitored.  Anybody has the potential to be an “influencer” because anyone can ReTweet their message to any number of followers.  Sure, negative things will be said about any company because you can’t please everyone…but, you can stop multiple tweets that could hurt your reputation and instead actually engage and communicate with the person having the issue to resolve it before tweets get out of hand.

As realtime communication, whether it be LinkedIn Status Updates, Facebook Posts, Tweets, or even FourSquare & Yelp Check-ins, increasingly permeates our lives, it’s time to take a step back and really reconsider how Customer Support organizations should be strategically utilizing social media to support their customers where ever they are.  First priority, especially for all of you online service providers, is to start getting serious about Twitter.

Is you company already supporting customers or have you had positive customer support experiences through tweeting?

Neal Schaffer
The Founder and Editor-In-Chief of Maximize Social Business, Neal Schaffer is a leader in helping businesses and professionals strategically maximize their use of social media. Neal is the author of three social media books, including the recently published definitive social media strategy book Maximize Your Social. Forbes lists him as a Top 35 Social Media Power Influencer and AdAge lists his blog, Maximize Social Business (formerly known as Windmill Networking), as a top 100 global marketing blog. Neal provides social media strategy consulting and coaching, having worked with Fortune 500 companies and a Grammy-award winning musician. He has presented worldwide on social media at more than 150 events and also teaches social media marketing at Rutgers University. +Neal Schaffer
Neal Schaffer


Author, @MaxYourSocial | Founder @msocialbusiness & @socialtoolssmmt | Trilingual Social Media Strategy Consultant, Coach, and Speaker
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Neal Schaffer
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  1. says

    Awesome points, Neal! You nailed it with this line:

    “I bet you that people will wait longer to receive a tweet from you than they do when they are waiting on a phone for you to respond to them!”

    I bet that’s true.

    • says

      Hi Ari, An honor to see you on my website! Yes, companies often think that they need to immediately respond to a tweet, but those who regularly tweet understand that it might take you an hour or two at least to get back to you…with a phone, you can’t put someone on hold that long. I have waited a day after the “please send me a DM with your email address” and felt immediately appeased that there was some response even if it did not immediately resolve anything. With a phone call, you expect results…quickly. Twitter is a realtime paradigm shift, but you don’t necessarily have to respond the same way in realtime to satisfy people. That’s been my experience…

  2. says

    Great article. Companies should not overlook social media platforms like Twitter/facebook. I was having dinner the other day with a group of colleagues at an above average restaurant and the service wasn’t so satisfactory because I waited a long time due to a misplacement of my order. They gave my order to someone else instead. So after a long time, the staff realized her mistake and came apologizing. So the thing is it didn’t cause me great harm and I did let it pass but if I were to tweet it as a form of feedback for my friends who follow me on facebook or twitter, I can see potential damage to the restaurant if they don’t react to it or worse still if they don’t even know about it. Hence I think businesses these days should put effort in implementing their social media strategies.

    • says

      Thanks for the compliment Joo! Yes, experiences like you have, just as you would talk about them with your friends, are slowly finding their way into social media conversations. Companies can’t control word of mouth, but they can try to minimize the potential dangers to their brand by confronting the issues where they are being said, and this is often Twitter.

    • says

      Andy, I read your post, which I thank you for linking to, and agree with your approach. Social media should not be used for spot fixes but instead for long-term relationships. That being said, the way that consumers use and their expectations on social media is very different, and this is where enterprises need to understand and have a strategic approach to engaging with their customers whatever channel they are on, including Twitter.

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