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Nice to tweet you: 3 ways to use Twitter for customer service

Does your company “do customer service” on Twitter? No? Here’s the thing: if your followers are engaging with you on Twitter and using your Twitter handle in tweets, or direct messaging you, then you are in fact running an extension of your regular customer service department on the platform.

Consumers are taking to Twitter either to ask product and service-related questions or to air complaints with increasing regularity. A study by Sprout Social found that social media messages requiring a direct response from companies had risen by 178 percent from Q4 in 2012 to Q3 in 2013. At the same time, the average response time increased to 11.3 hours. A study conducted by Eptica found that 39 percent of companies who established a presence on Twitter were unable to respond to customer service requests there.

All of this begs the question: Are companies setting themselves up to fail on social media by establishing a presence but not following through with the social aspect? In the rapidly moving social world, customers expect a quick response to any question or comment they raise, unless they really want to just rant – but that’s still a service opportunity for you! If you aren’t monitoring and responding to messages as they come up, you can very quickly end up with a PR nightmare on your hands (see #AskJPM, or the guy who bought a promoted tweet to complain about British Airways).

So how can your company realistically keep up?

1. Devote customer service time to social media

The term “social media manager” may have been coined only recently, but it’s an increasingly important role now and will continue to be in the future. If your company has a strong Twitter presence, it’s no longer good enough to simply manage social media content. In fact, at the recent Wharton Social Media Best Practices Conference, attendees discussed social media as such an integral part of culture that “customer care is now moving from a cutting-edge concept to a business necessity.”

Airlines receive a barrage of requests or complaints, but have managed to successfully communicate customer service messages via Twitter.

2. Use alert tools

If you want to stay ahead of the game with your customer service on Twitter, then you need to know exactly when and what people are saying. Using an alert service such as Twilert or Mention makes monitoring what’s being said about your brand a lot easier. Use these tools to set up alerts for your brand name, certain hashtags, keywords or even other criteria such as location, so that you will be informed as soon as any of them come up.

Your expedient and appropriate response is critical for managing your online reputation – over 1 million people view tweets about customer service every week, while roughly 80 percent of those tweets are negative in nature. You should also keep in mind that customers really don’t care if you have a handle or account devoted to customer service or not. They will expect that if they mention you in a tweet, you will find it.

3. Can the canned response

Automatic, scripted or canned responses are unacceptable in terms of customer care. Today’s socially savvy customer wants — and expects — a personal response. Just like any form of customer service training, any of your team members who respond to social media inquiries or complaints should be trained to use a tone that is appropriate for not only the type of message they receive, but for the type of customer they receive it from. You might be able to be light-hearted with some, but, for example, would you want a smart-aleck response from your bank? Remember that any response you make may also be shared!

Social media customer care is not something to put on the back burner for the future, it is happening right now. Brands who fail to acknowledge this and put steps in place to manage their customer messages will be in danger of falling behind the pack and possibly opening themselves up to PR disasters. It does not take much to set up: your first step (if you haven’t done so already) is to make sure you have alert services set up to monitor your brand mentions. From there, you will need to decide if you should devote more customer service team members to social media.

Responding to customer service messages through social media can be broken down to 3 P’s: prompt, personal and proper. Respond promptly, with a personal message that is proper in its content and tone. Remember that complaints can be an opportunity for you to show how well you respond, creating an opportunity to actually draw more business your way.

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6 thoughts on “Nice to tweet you: 3 ways to use Twitter for customer service

  1. Brodie Tyler

    I believe that the best way to both waste time and at best be ignored by potential customers (at worst, to alienate them) is to have an auto-Twitter thing set up, dropping spammy, soulless Tweets. One of the benefits of Twitter- the posts FORCE you to leave short responses, which means they can be personalized quickly.

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