The blogosphere is all abuzz with suggestions of using Twitter for customer service. News outlets report that Tweeting a complaint can provide a quick alternative to waiting on hold on the phone or wading through a company's unfathomable IVR. Organizations from Starbucks to Comcast to AlaskaAir have taken to the microblogging platform as a tool for engaging with customers and for address customer service concerns and complaints. Organizations such as Trulia have taken to the platform, using Twitter to answer everything from how to place a listing to finding a local agent to speaker requests.
Personally, I'm a fan of using Twitter for customer service outreach; when implemented properly, it can be a powerful tool for connecting with customers on a personal level. However, implementing Twitter as a platform for customer service needs to be strategized, just as any customer service initiative would be. Twitter customer service agents, like every other representative of your company, need to be properly trained and passionate about helping customers. In short, as with any other initiative, take the time to do it right. Here are five rules to consider:
- The how is important. How you interact with followers on Twitter is a reflection of your company brand. So take two to four weeks to listen before posting any Tweets. Monitor Twitter for your brand name, company name, product names, and website and blog URL. Monitor for mentions of your competition as well. (Twitter search and BackTweets are helpful with this.) Note what your customers love to talk about, what their interests are (apart from your company and products), what their common complaints are,who their friends are and what social groups they belong to. Use this information to help form your Twitter strategy. Remember that what you think customers need might not be what they think they need.
- The what is important. Twitter is an excellent channel for providing proactive customer service and building brand loyalty. In addition to answering questions, consider providing valuable content to your fans and followers: links to articles of interest, suggestions of interesting Tweets to follow, coupons and sale information, expected outages or downtime, expert advice. Use those Tweets to start conversations, and engage in conversations that your followers start. Reply and reTweet liberally. In short, use Twitter to engage in conversation with your fans.
- The who is important. Who should monitor your Twitter feed and engage with customers? An intern? An outside consultancy? A member of your current customer service team? The right answer is: the one who is most passionate about helping your customers. If you have an intern who can reflect the company brand and values while solving customer issues on Twitter, she's the one. If you have a consultant who is in tune with your customer's needs, he's the one. If you have a member of your CS team chomping at the bit to reach out to customers, she's the one. Remember that your Twitter Manager will be the voice of your company to thousands of followers; make the decision carefully. Choose someone who is amiable, open, passionate, service-minded, intimate with your brand and unbothered by slurs or being addressed in all caps.
- The when is important. As SEOSapien pointed out, "Twitter is lightening fast." And Twitterers expect responses to their queries and complaints to be equally speedy. In response to the question of Twittering for customer service, the estimate Ginevra Kirkland, Community Manager for Typepad's hordes of bloggers, asked: "From the other side of the Twitter, it proposes a challenge: ... Do you sleep?" Frank Eliason of @comcastcares doesn't seem to sleep; his phone is on at all hours, and his team answers Tweets promptly, even in the middle of the night. For you, perhaps it's acceptable for Twitter response times to lag a bit in the wee hours, but during daylight hours, Twitterers expect responses within minutes.
- The where is important. Twitter is just one channel for communicating with customers. Don't let your customer service on this channel outshine the service available through email, your web site, and the phone. As Mario Schulzke has noted recently in his post, "Is Social Media Killing Customer Service?", some organizations have adopted Twitter as a service tool while failing to address failings in traditional customer service media such as phone and email. B.L. Ochman has noted nothing else matters if your customer service s*cks--and that applies to your phone and email service, NOT just to Twitter. Using Twitter won't fix your existing bad service, so don't be surprised if you encounter hostility online if you haven't addressed other channels first.
This article is the first in a series on Twitter for customer service--stay tuned.