Social media has completely changed the way brands communicate with their customers. Consumers are no longer trapped on their phones, either on hold or cycling through ridiculously long menus just hoping and praying a customer service rep would soon pick up the line. Instead, a customer can hop on his computer or pick up his smartphone to fire off a quick tweet voicing dissatisfaction with a company.
Twitter is a breeding ground for customer concerns, questions, complaints, and (sometimes) compliments. These customers expect to be given something of value in exchange for their loyalty, and they expect that something to happen soon. Above all, brands on Twitter need to be responsive.
The Eptica Multichannel Customer Experience Study found that, on Twitter, the average response time to a customer service question is eight hours and 37 minutes.
What do users think about this? Data from the 2012 4th-quarter The Social Habit research report showed that 32% of respondents expected a response from a brand within 30 minutes, while 24% still expected a reply within 30 minutes even if they made contact at night, on weekends, or during the business’ off-hours.
This evolution in consumer behavior is changing not only the way brands interact with their customers, but also how they do business at a base level. How can businesses keep up with their customers and better use Twitter as a platform for customer satisfaction?
Have the right people for the job
A properly trained customer service team is worth its weight in gold, as they are the first line of defense in dealing with an unhappy consumer. It’s vital to hire the right people and train them well, as they will be representing brands and interacting with customers on a daily basis. There’s no room for hotheads or Luddites on a brand’s social media team. Twitter customer service reps should be allowed to show their human sides and relate to customers. (For example, reps can sign their initials after their tweets, such as on VirginMobileUSA Care). Creating a sense of trust between customer service and the consumer will build brand loyalty.
Be online when customers are
A customer can tweet at any time of day, including outside of business hours. If they tweet at a corporate handle, they will expect a response and they will expect it now, even if it’s 3am and the social media manager is asleep. Businesses are expected to provide around the clock support, but this isn’t always practical for the businesses. Instead, a brand can clearly state the days and hours that someone from customer service will be answering tweets. It would also be prudent to give customers another way to get in touch, such as through email or phone.
Don’t wait for a customer question or complaint to come in. Instead, be enterprising! Post tips, tricks and other useful resources that customers can use to solve their problems. With tweets like these a business might be able to reduce the number of customer complaints that come in each day.
If a brand fails in a particular instance of customer service on social media, they may be tempted to delete the post. Don’t do this. People will remember what a brand said and they may have already screencapped the response, making it possible for the incident to make the rounds on other social sharing sites. Remember, nothing is ever truly deleted from the Internet. Instead of creating an atmosphere of perceived impropriety, own up to the mistake and correct it quickly. Users will appreciate the correction more than they will a perceived deception.
Always be monitoring
Stay ahead of the game. Brands should use monitoring tools and alerts to be notified when customers are talking about their products on Twitter. Users expect companies to find them rather than the other way around. Companies should also consider sentiment analysis along with their monitoring. Are customer comments positive or negative? Set up these alerts to track brand name as well as related keywords and hashtags. A timely, appropriate response will be greatly appreciated by consumers.
Keep it simple
With only 140 characters to utilize, it can be difficult to answer more complex or personal questions on Twitter. Businesses should know when to move the customer to another mode of communication like email or a phone call. Take the time to identify what types of complaints or questions should be elevated to the next level of customer service and outline a response for your Twitter team to use to notify the customer. Twitter is best used for short and simple responses to straightforward inquiries.
Treat customers as individuals. Nothing irritates the Twitter audience more than a generic response. Rather than replying to tweets with the same canned message, personalize each response. The tone of each reply should be appropriate for both the message received as well as the customer herself. The response will not exist in a vacuum – others will be able to see it and the tweet may be shared with others.
Consider starting a separate customer account
Rather than crowding a brand’s Twitter timeline with customer service responses, consider creating an entirely separate support account and pointing customers in that direction. For example, Nike operates a separate @NikeSupport account to address customer concerns and complaints. The account is incredibly responsive, having sent over 312,000 tweets while the branded @Nike account has sent just over 15,000 tweets. A separate customer service account also better allows brands to use social media management tools to monitor and organize the customer support account. Team members can filter with keywords and hashtags, and better study the analytics.
Twitter can be a great tool for providing exceptional customer care as well as cultivating customer loyalty. The social media analytics company Simply Measured found that, as of March 2013, 99% of brands are on Twitter and 30% of these have an account devoted to customer service.
The numbers don’t lie – it’s critical for brands to solve customer problems on Twitter.
About the Author
Dave Landry is an online business journalist, personal finance manager, and debt relief counselor in Southern California. When he’s not writing about debt management, he enjoys researching and sharing his knowledge about social media techniques, business communications, and globalization.