Social Media & Customer Service
Over the past few months I have been (un)fortunate enough to have experienced some very poor customer service in the context of relatively high value purchases. In each case after failing to have the problem acknowledged by the appropriate customer service channel I have put up a direct tweet or two, and the reactions have been curious.
From a direct point of view I have had everything from very quick resolution through to being completely ignored. However one thing is clear – if a company has a Twitter presence, and other channels have failed – then contacting them via twitter has some interesting results.
One factor that seemed to trump many others was the fact that twitter accounts are either run by or contracted to a marketing/ PR function, rather than operations in the way that the customer service function often is. This means that more often than not it is in the PR interests of the company to reach resolution faster than using normal customer service routes. Now while twitter should not be the first channel for communication to a supplier if you are unhappy (best to use local formal channels first), but it is one not to ignore if other channels appear to be failing.
What does this mean for suppliers?
Well the key thing is that if you are on twitter at all, you need to have a system to monitor activity or comments. this can be done in some of the client applications, Hootsuit for example or even using Google alerts for your company or product name with a hashtag attached (#) .
Please be careful here – twitter is NOT like other marketing channels and works best when fully integrated with the business. One example I can give was with a national (international) chain – the twitter account is run by a social media marketing company, and when they engaged with me they asked for my contact details – so I private messaged them (DM) and waited.. and waited… and waited. Nothing. I later found out that they had passed this information on to their local customer service/ operations teams – but no-one told me that the communication had got through. To me as the customer it looked like communication failure. Actually the opposite was true – but i did not know! This caused me to put more negative comments into the public arena – not good for them. So the bottom line is, if you are going to use these tools – make sure they are fully linked with “the way you do business”.
In my opening paragraph I said… “I have been (un)fortunate enough to have experienced some very poor customer service” – what diod I mean?
well from a personal point of view having the poor service led to several delays, personal cost and additional stress I did not need – on a fortunate basis, I learnt a lot about how many firms miss-manage their social media ptresence. It is clear they think they “should be doing it” but do not really understand how it is different from traditional marketing strategies – and how close it actually is to customer service team roles.
While all of this was going on I became aware of a blog post by heather Townsend on a similar issue – below I have added some “lessons” she included in the piece.
Some interesting lessons and ideas from – Heather Townsend
Heather is known as the Efficiency Coach and her original article can be seen here
Use searches on twitter for common keywords connected to your products and services to hear ‘real time’ what your customers are saying about you on twitter. If a provider had a permanent search for ‘<company or product name>, they could have been talking with you before you start talking openly talking about your challenges/ frustrations.
Use twitter to communicate outages to your customers. Everyone knows that sometimes stuff happens which shouldn’t happen. But we are all human, and all we really want to know is what is going on, and when your service is going to be back up. Don’t try and hide your problems – the internet has meant that it is almost impossible to try and hide now.
When communicating outages to your service, be honest with your customers about the time it will take. Don’t communicate an hour, if it is going to actually be out for two hours. Regularly update your customers, using Twitter and your website, (and apologise) if it is taking longer than planned.
If you operate a cloud computing service have a business continuity plan for stuff like scheduled server maintenance, and don’t turn off your system unless you really have to in a peak user time.
Your customers will now communicate with you via a range of different communication mediums – e.g. e-mail, Twitter, phone. Make sure you have a (CRM) system which can cope with the different methods, and train your customer service staff to properly use the system.
If your customers or potential customers mention you on twitter, either thank them or apologise immediately (depending on their tweet). Do not defend your product or service, empathise first.
Before jumping in with a solution, read the tweet stream of your customer. It may give a hint as to their current state of mind.
At the first sign of any customer service issue, use twitter to openly acknowledge the problem, and apologise. But aim to get the customer to e-mail or phone as 140 characters is too limited to properly try and solve problems. Plus this gets the negative tweets out of the public domain quickly.
So how to use Twitter for great customer service?
- Make sure your twitter users are linked to customer services
- Be human and not procedure bound
- Be honest
- Respond in a timely way – not days later!
- Close the communications loop
- Have real people that are passionate about your business tweet & communicate
- Twitter is an extension of customer Service – not marketing or PR
- Do your best to have some presence 7 days a week – not just 9-5 Monday-Friday!