Sunday, January 18, 2009

Twitter and Customer Service - Potential PR Nightmare

Your company may have just started down the path of using Twitter as another communication channel. (If you're not there yet, that's cool but keep reading because there are some items to be aware of. Now back to our story). You may use it to highlight upcoming events, press releases and product/service updates. Using it for this purpose is fairly straightforward. It's mostly a marketing function and is controlled typically by the marketing team.

The question that you may be grappling with is this: How should Twitter be used for customer service? The answer: It's not your decision because Twitter is a two-way conversation and your customers will use it to post comments whether you like it or not. Therefore, the decision has been made for you and your company's customer service department needs to determine how Twitter will be used to create the best customer experience possible. If you are not monitoring Twitter and/or you provide poor follow up via Twitter, the results can be catastrophic for your company's brand.

Twitter and Customer Service Recommendations

This topic is a new one and this post is more of a brainstorming session then "best practices". I have seen and read about a few experiences and will share these here. PLEASE add your own experiences by commenting on this blog. Here are my recommendations:
  • Decide when to respond. David Meerman Scott write an excellent post on how the US Air Force decides to respond to any social media comments. If you notice, it's recommended that all customer blog posts be followed up on. It even provides guidelines on the type of response.

    I don't believe that it's as cut and dry as that - there may be times when just listening is the best response. Frank Eliason of @comcastcares (a Twitter account designed for Comcast customers) mentions in a video interview that it's important to listen to customers and at some point engage in the conversation. If you have a corporate Twitter account and someone sends you a message, you better respond and quickly. However, at times when a twit is sent in general about your company by a customer, you may just want to monitor the conversation at first rather than just responding. Twitter is a community and you may find that other customers may respond for you which is typically more powerful then having someone from your company respond. It all depends on the nature of the request.

    I would tend to be more on the side of responding to any customer mention of your company - this is for you to think more about. Frank mentions the importance of Comcast's Twitter presence in "being there and helping". This should be central in your decision making process on Twitter - how can I best help my customer. Here is a post by Melanie Seasons on a successful customer resolution via Twitter: Frank Eliason: Helping Comcast suck a little bit less. Notice that the response time of Comcast was a big factor in customer satisfaction. If you see a customer mentioning your company on Twitter, even responding with "Is there anything I can do?" is recommended.

  • Respond to the twitterer directly. I have an example where a customer saw me on Twitter and posted a message on Twitter with my Twitter name (@chadhorenfeldt) on a product issue. I didn't reply via Twitter (which everyone can see) but sent a direct message (can't remember if it was via Twitter or email) letting the person know that that their customer representative would follow up with them soon. The customer responded very positively via Twitter (so everyone could see) that their customer rep got in touch with them. I took the conversation "offline" as my Twitter account is not a corporate account and I would rather deal with the issue privately. This is another decision that you'll need to make - what's the best channel to respond to customer.

    This example was a positive story. However, you need to watch how you respond to customer tweets. Some twitters are not aware that when they twit about your company that people are listening. If you respond via email to a negative twit, cc a few other people from the customer's company and cite their complaint, you may run into some issues. Don't assume that because the person twitted about you, they want others in their company to know that they twit (especially that they twitted during working hours). The recommended approach is to message or email the person directly or respond via Twitter to get the issue resolved. I don't recommend citing the original twit in an email. Emails can get forwarded on quickly and your customer may get into trouble by their superiors if their twit is against their own company's web policies.

    You may want to break down the type of customer requests and decide if certain requests can be handled immediately via Twitter while others should be taken offline. Here is a great example by Bank of America Twitterer David Knapp (@BofA_help) who handled a customer complaint over charging fees for an allegedly "free" chequing account. He responded with the following:
    @miacupcake I'd have to look into the circumstances to really understand the situation. Can you send me a DM with your contact information?
    For those non-twitters, DM means direct message. David decided to take this conversation offline and get it resolved (response time was about 45 minutes after the initial complaint for those who were wondering).

  • Set the right expectations. Valeria Maltoni wrote a blog post on her experiences with Skype. She had an issue using Skype on an important family call on Christmas and tried to get it resolved. Skype customer service responded to her quickly on Twitter. The issue is that while the communication was sent via Twitter immediately, the issue wasn't resolved for three days. Valeria expected the issue to be resolved instantaneously (like Twitter). Same day response may have been impossible for Skype but since Skype did not set an expectation for resolution with Valeria she ended up being extremely angry and wrote a negative blog post. If you are going to use Twitter for customer service, ensure that you set the correct expectation when responding. You may want to use Twitter to point the customer to your regular support channel and let them know that someone will follow up with them in the near future. This is something else to think about.

  • Get a Twitter customer service plan in place. As I mentioned previously, your customers will talk about you and if you are a large or small company, you need some sort of plan in place to prevent a "Twitter free for all" at your company. What I mean here is that not only are your customers twitting about you but many of your employees are on Twitter and are twitting away about your company. For the most part, this is only beneficial - it's like you have an army of company supporters doing the PR work for you. However, this army can quickly start taking flak by making some social media mistakes based on my discussion above. You may already have a social media policy in place. It's time to add to it to consider how you should deal with Twitter mentions. Here are some items to think about when creating your plan when a customer mentions your company:
    1. When is a response needed?
    2. What should be the turn around time for a response?
    3. Who should respond?
    4. What channel should be used for the response should be provided? (email, phone, Twitter etc..)
    5. Who should receive the response?
    6. What is the message of the response? What should customers be instructed to do?
    7. Are expectations clear to the customer on a resolution?
    8. What is the escalation path at a company for dealing with Twitter complaints?
    9. Other items to consider: Is a designated twitter customer service account needed? I personally don't believe this to be the case and it depends on the size of the company and the nature of the business. I think that responding "by committee"should suffice. What is important is that it's clear as to who should respond and when a response is necessary.

    When it comes to these types of plans, go easy on your employees and focus on and what it will take to best support customers and not on restricting employees' freedom on Twitter. Companies like @zappos have the following policy: "just be real, and use your best judgement". I don't recommend enforcing such items as ensuring that the company twitters have a company logo etc... - Twitter is all about personality and that shouldn't be restricted.
I hope that you have found this discussion helpful and I highly encourage you to share your thoughts and experiences by commenting on this blog post.

Chad H.

PS: If you found this useful, please tweet about it.
PPS: Here is a good post on the subject: How to Get Customer Service via Twitter

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