Using twitter for customer service

Twitter is a great customer service tool

Twitter can be a great way to keep in touch with your customers … great for pushing notices, special offers, product updates, or just a bit of ‘personality’ out to your followers.  But it’s also a great way to handle customer service.  It allows you to deal with customer service out in the open – in front of everybody.  Whilst daunting, this can be a great opportunity to show people you care, that you can handle whatever is thrown at you, and that you are responsive.

I recently had support questions for some software I’d purchased from Panic, and some purchased from Cultured Code.  I sent both companies Tweets, and both companies responded within 24 hours.  (What’s more, because I was restricted to 140 characters, I had to really nail my problem – no fluff.)

… and then:

Nicely done.  Smoothly handled, promptly resolved, and all done in public.  So, Twitter is a great tool for customer service.  Execpt when it isn’t …

Twitter sucks as a customer service tool

A problem with using Twitter for customer service is that people who use twitter often do so expecting an instant response, and often do so without too much thought.  Firing off a tweet is about as easy as falling off a log. And people familiar with twitter will often be expecting the company to fire back an instant response.  Email was bad for this, twitter about 100 times worse.

Sending a customer support tweet has the potential to suck resources from the recipient company that could be spent on providing solid, phone based, customer support. Plus, it can be hard nailing your problem in 140 characters … yes, you could add a screenshot (which then becomes a publicly searchable item), but it’s getting fiddly at this stage.

How to go about it

So … pro’s and cons.  In my experience though, I have figure a couple of good rules of thumb – both for users, and for companies providing customer service on Twitter:

  • if you send a request for customer support via twitter, don’t expect an immediate response
  • use the appropriate medium.  If you’re angry, frustrated and bitter about a product or service, don’t air that in public – pick up a phone.  You’ll get a better response.
  • companies – you should really only use twitter as a customer support channel to supplement existing support channels, not to replace them
  • learn from Dell.  Dell have a huge twitter customer service initiative; Forbes documented 6 lessons learned including ‘Define a response process and make sure to follow up’ … a consistent process for handling responses is key
  • twitter (and other social media tools) are about building relationships, use it effectively for customer service and you’re likely to strengthen the bond with a customer.