Customer Service on Twitter, Should You do it?


The bar for customer service is admittedly still not very high across the board. In many, if not most cases, it's because of business issues that keep an organization from focusing on the product or service — hence the need for extra support.

Many organizations are still looking at customer service as a cost center, when they could be taking a different view, especially with social media. The best way to communicate about something being better is by letting people see satisfied customers.

We started this conversation a couple of years back, when we said that customer service is the new marketing. Social media is a
first-hand means of finding and responding to customer
problems, needs, and also documenting satisfaction, trends, and product suggestions. If you're willing to listen, customers will help you refine
your current marketing and outreach programs.

In that sense, they're so much more than additions to the bottom line, they're your brand guardians and they will actually tell you how you
can do better.

It's simple to see why this is important — no customers, no business. In the age of relationship, when everyone is so connected with each other, the pool of people who've never heard about how your business fares may be incredibly small.

How's your Web site these days?

Some businesses are thinking about starting a Twitter account specifically to address customer issues. If your company is among them, you have the right instincts. Public customer conversations on Twitter are akin to good brand management.

Before we jump onto that:

1.) Do you have good content on your site to address known issues?

2.) Did you enable a chat button for people who need to speak with you on your site?

That would be a line of first defense in attacking the issue of support aggressively. Social media is not an excuse to abandon customers in your own digital home, is it? And you do want to come up in the default home page for any business — Google's search page — for known issues, possibly ahead of the complaints.

Customer service on Twitter

While the bar is pretty low in phone tree land, and sometimes even on
Web sites, it is set pretty high on Twitter. Blame it on Frank Eliason @comcastcares, he taught us that customer support doesn't involve automation on the front end.

For several months, Frank was the first and only responder when people had issues with their cable connection. True, he had a team behind him that could diagnose and solve the issues, and he automated listening in on conversation.

However, the powerful part is that people soon learned to tweet with his handle when they had questions and problems. In other words, he took the sting out of complaints by being very responsive. How responsive? A Twitter minute responsive.

Which is issue number one you need to address if you're thinking about putting someone on Twitter for customer service. And many companies today have done that. None of the we'll get back to you in 48 hours responses will fly in a medium where messages get old so quickly. 

What else?

What are some of the other reasons you'd hold back doing customer service on Twitter until a business is ready? Have you had good experiences with some of the companies that are doing it?

[image courtesy of Hugh McLeod. some content may be strong]

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0 responses to “Customer Service on Twitter, Should You do it?”

  1. Customer service on Twitter should be a no-brainer. If a business is using Twitter then they must realize that what is said or addressed on Twitter is as relevant as if it were addressed in the actual business. So good customer service should translate on Twitter. Your brand is still being represented and someone should be addressing issues.

  2. In some ways, I can see using Twitter for a “serious” business side, but I’m noticing more and more local biz feeds that use Twitter as the “human interest side” rather than the customer service side. Tweets like, “We’ll be at this conference today! Come meet our new sales hires Tom, Dick and Harry!” or “Jeff our award-winning top designer has been reading ‘this book’ for a fresh perspective. Find it here.”
    I’m a new user of Twitter, but I’m a bit reserved when it comes to trying to solve service problems on the feeds.

  3. I like to look at social media as a communications tool. Sure everyone can use it, but it takes a communicator to do it well. (I sound like a broken record, I know) However with that said social media needs to make companies respond in real time.
    My company cross-trained our staff on customer service in a program to put us in tune with the audience a few years back. That helped when I jumped into social media. After running the program for a year, we brought customer service into the loop and now they respond to all CS issues, but it is still a small fraction that is help-driven rather tan educational.
    For companies, you also need to cater to customer expectations, offering times that you are online and responding. Otherwise you may have folks PO’d that you are not responding quickly enough.

  4. Valeria, thoughtful post and comments. No question inability to control social media and Twitter is a huge issue for companies/brands. Balanced against that is trying to manage the out of control train when issues get away from you a la Motrin Moms, United Airlines breaks guitars, etc.

  5. Great post Valeria. As a Forrester analyst, I cover online customer service and have found the evolution of Twitter and customer service to be really interesting. We surveyed online retailers at the end of 2009 and 16% said they were using Twitter for customer support and another 25% plan to implement in 2010. My main advice to these ebusiness professionals is to clarify ownership. Twitter tends to sit in interactive marketing or public relations so the people managing Twitter accounts do not always have access to relevant customer service information and they aren’t goaled on resolution. The stakes are alot higher doing customer on Twitter compared to other channels: the conversations are public and consumers have high expectations for a 2 hour reply (or faster). But done right, Twitter can be a very compelling online customer service channel.

  6. @Kyle – which also makes it an opportunity, doesn’t it? It’s not always doom and gloom. In fact, usually people are more polite when you’re in the room, so to speak.
    @Andy – it’s often the customers who tip the scale in favor of addressing issues publicly, if the organization’s customer service is broken. Most people I talk to would rather had a working toll free number, or chat button on a site… when that’s not providing information or addressing the issue, that’s when they take to public spaces. Imagine being out there with a human interest feed while your customers are not getting service. At that point it looks like you don’t care or are just ignoring the issue. Does this make sense?
    @Jeff – I remember when Tom Peters stated at a conference that “its not old until it’s done!” so it does indeed take some training to be helpful in social media while assisting customers. Some people in your customer service group might be natural communicators, others may require some more attention. You want to manage customers and management expectations. And be realistic: a 24 hour wait on Twitter would probably not go well.
    @Jeff D – having an established presence and credibility go a long way when issues crop up. I’m thinking about how Scott Monty handled the issue of controversial posts about Ford a year or so ago.
    @Diane – thank you for adding to the conversation here with your research data and observations. Some of the smartest people in social media have a background that spans customer service for the reason you mention: the ability and training on resolution. However, I also find that a grounding in communications is of tremendous help as conversations can heat up quickly and you want to display poise and professionalism even as you embrace the customer issue and look to take it off line for resolution. Tome Twitter is short, fast, and get get to the point and to establishing a connection quickly.

  7. In any customer service experience whether offline or online via Twitter etc we need to still remember to show the customer not tell them! Ironically, seeing too much broadcast on social media platforms at the moment….
    Nice post as always Valeria, some really poignant points!

  8. Twitter is just another tool (like Snail Mail, E-mail, Phone, web-site) for interacting with your customers. But just because you create an account called @[mycompany]cares doesn’t put you in the SCRM business. You may start poaching customer service issues gleaned from angry customers but without a service structure in place to support it you’ll likely make matters worse (see my recent experience with Dell at
    Your point about @comcastcares really highlights the individual, not a process. While it shows value, that same level of customer service can and should be displayed by traditional Customer Service infrastructure. It’s easy to show success when there are so (relatively) few Twitter users but the process a) won’t scale, and b) is difficult to reproduce. Ask anyone who’s tried to hire good customer service reps.
    What I like most is what you have to say about customer service as a whole. Customer Service IS the new marketing. Social Media is forcing us to take a new look at a much maligned and perpetually underfunded department.

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