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How to Provide Customer Service on Twitter

Posted by Michael Reynolds on 2/6/12 2:06 PM
Michael Reynolds

TwitterAs I've mentioned to many people before, Twitter is my favorite social network. It's simple, fast-paced, and encourages concise communication; all things that I find very appealing! No matter where you fall in the 5 Stages of 'Getting' Twitter spectrum, there's no denying that it's a powerful network with many practical applications.

One of the most interesting ways to use Twitter is as a supplement to your organization's customer service systems. Many people are tired of waiting on hold or jumping through annoying hoops to get customer service so they are heading straight to social media to try to get relief.

I've had mixed success with using Twitter to get customer service from various organizations but one recent situation illustrates some of the principles of using this network to provide customer service.

I recently traveled to Florida for a conference and had a layover in Atlanta–a common stop since I was flying Delta. After getting off the plane, I headed to one of the airport restaurants for a quick lunch. After ordering, I got out my trusty MacBook Air and planned to knock out some email. However, much to my disappointment, the wifi in the Atlanta Airport was not working. The login screen never appeared and I couldn't get logged on.

Bummer, right? Since I didn't know exactly how to report this problem, I pulled out my iPhone, went to the ATL website and found the airport's Twitter account. I then had the following exchange with whoever was managing the account:

ATL-Twitter-Convo

As you can see, it wasn't exactly a shining example of great customer service, but they did end up responding and did some things right, although the wifi was not fixed by the time I left. There are some things to be learned from this exchange as it relates to using Twitter for customer service. Here are my observations.

If your organization has a Twitter account, you are now providing customer service on Twitter

This is a simple reality. If your customers and constituents can find you on social media, they will expect you to be responsive and provide service so it's a good idea to just accept that. If you don't want to accept that, shut down your Twitter account. ATL did a good job here by providing a link to the airport's social media properties from its website and then being responsive when approached with a request.

Twitter is a fast-based medium - customers expect immediate response

Often times, people turn to social media because they are frustrated with the standard customer channels they've tried. They are tired of waiting on hold, navigating auto-attendants, and being serviced from a script by unsympathetic customer service reps. Whether we like it or not, expectations are high on Twitter since it's such a fast-based medium. ATL did a great job in this case since I got a response within minutes. Additionally, each followup was just as fast. I think the entire exchange with ATL happened in 10 minutes. Kudos!

Don't assume your customers are stupid

Although ATL responded quickly, the first reply I got was less than helpful. Notice that when I sent my first tweet, it said "Please fix your wifi." It did not say "I'm having trouble getting into the wifi" or "Can you help me get connected." I had been able to successfully get onto the wifi at the other two airport I stopped in during the trip so I was pretty sure it was an ATL problem. I was not asking for "customer service," I was reporting a problem. However, the first reaction of the ATL Twitter rep was to throw a customer service phone number at me as if I just needed someone to talk me through how to connect to a wifi network. This leads me to my next point...

Don't push the burden back to your customers

Rather than ask for more details about the wifi situation at ATL, the response from Twitter was "please call customer service." I was at a noisy restaurant eating lunch and I did not want to wait on hold while eating and then have a conversation with customer service in the restaurant. I wanted to report that the wifi was broken and I wanted ATL to run with it. Big companies do this all the time. They accept customer service requests via Twitter and then offer up "call customer service" as their default solution.

Own the customer service request

Yes, sometimes calling customer service is necessary but other times you can simply ask a few more questions directly on Twitter and get the issue resolved. Or, you can gather information from the customer and enter it into the customer service system for them. Good support systems like ZenDesk (which we use at SpinWeb) make this very easy. Pushing responsibility back to the customer is annoying and lazy. In my opinion, ATL should have replied with something like "Sorry about that! Can you describe the issue? I will open up a support ticket." This would have shown ownership and made things much easier for me. To be fair, after I pushed back, ATL did indicate that the issue would be reported to IT and they even wished me a good afternoon. Thanks!

Conclusion

So while my experience with ATL on Twitter was mixed, it does show some examples of good and less-than-good practices when providing customer service on Twitter. I hope to see more organizations treat Twitter as a true customer service channel rather than just a machine with which to spit out customer service phone numbers.

Have you had good or bad experiences when using Twitter for customer service? Please share your comments below!

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Topics: customer service, social media

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