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How to use Twitter for customer service

Author's avatar By J-P 23 Dec, 2010
Essential Essential topic

Is Twitter the canary in the coal mine of customer relations?

Despite the buzz surrounding it, Twitter is not the fastest growing customer service option out there. It"€™s understandable if people have that impression but the numbers don"€™t appear to back it up.

According to a recent post by Diane Clarkson of Forrester data show the number of online consumers to use Twitter for customer support to be under 1%. (Source: North American Technographics Customer Experience Online Survey, Q4 2009 and US Online Omnibus Q4 2010.)

Twitter is not an effective full-fledged customer service platform yet, simply because it doesn"€™t allow for in depth interactions and thus, clear paths to a resolution "€“ yes, you can point people in the right direction, but you can"€™t walk them down the path. Twitter and social media in general are gatekeepers for customer service. It can be extremely effective for customer relations if it is applied correctly.

Twitter is a front door for customer service and support

By way of analogy, let"€™s say you are in a store and you over hear someone telling a friend how disappointed they are with the company you work for. You work in customer service or sales and you decide to offer the person a business card and give them a contact to call to resolve the issue. You ask them to let you know if it is not resolved to their satisfaction, so that you can follow up.

Hopefully this impressed the person and saves the relationship with them. But it"€™s not only about that person, it"€™s about that friend and anyone else who was within earshot to hear your interaction with them. That in a nutshell is what customer support is about on Twitter.

The scenario above is why Twitter is important for customer service even if the numbers don"€™t indicate that it is anywhere even near being as popular a channel as the more traditional options are!

In the end it really is about projecting a sincere commitment to all the others out there that might not be talking, but are certainly watching, reading and listening. Forgetting about this is something which can hurt you and your brand.

As Ms. Clarkson points out, Twitter is a valid front door for customer service and support. It"€™s your canary in the coal mine of customer relations! It"€™s the greeter at Wal-Mart whose smile sets the tone for your shopping experience. It"€™s a door and when someone knocks, you should be dang sure that it gets answered.

Cross-channel customer service experiences: choice and integration

It"€™s about demonstrating consistently that you are there where your customers are and showcasing your commitment to them across all channels. It is also one of the main reasons why listening on social networks such as Twitter is so important: you have to know what the cross-channel customer thinks in order to serve him better.

  • Directly, through customer service follow-up
  • Indirectly, by optimizing and personalizing multi-channel marketing and communication efforts.

Online support preferences

You certainly can"€™t fix most problems on Twitter, but you can direct people to the right resources to resolve their issues. You can also use automation to make sure a customer"€™s issue is directed to the correct person to fix it. Note however that, unless your online and automated help systems are extremely user-friendly.

According to a report, called "€œLive Help: Global Consumer Views & Trends"€ and  commissioned by ATG, consumers want and appreciate live online help in their various customer service interactions with businesses.

  • 94% of US consumers and 77% of Europeans ranked click to call as "€˜useful to extremely useful"€™.
  • Regarding click to chat this was respectively 90 and 83%.

Obviously, there are differences regarding the reasons why consumers seek customer service and live help.

  • 76% of European respondents prefer click to call instead of click to chat, when it comes to a purchase or a reservation of a product or service which costs more than five hundred dollars.
  • 76% prefer click to call instead of click to chat, when it comes to delicate information such as credit card details.

Good old FAQ and online self service sections are still consulted by 42% of European respondents and 49% of US consumers.

Given the increasing demand for 24/24 7/7 support and the important role of customer service in word of mouth, it is no surprise that, earlier this year, Forrester found that retailers planned to expand their online customer service channels.Forrester wrote "social customer service is poised to grow" and the report showed 16% of US retailers in the survey already offered customer support via Twitter and a further 21% planned to do so over the course of this year.

When looking at how online, social (Twitter in the case of this post) and offline support services are used in function of customer preferences we again, inevitably, have to conclude that it is again an integrated story where all channels are interconnected.

Personal interactions rule in customer service

Nevertheless, people still by far prefer personal customer support. This certainly plays a role in the fact that channels such as email and telephone still lead the way in customer service. According to the same ATG report, in most European countries email rules and the telephone is an often selected method as well.

Another survey, dating from end of last year, by Trinicom, a Dutch vendor of Customer Interaction Management and web based self-service solutions, found that the main functions that customers expect to find on a website are"€¦an email address and a telephone number.

  • Email, the research, said, is still the most popular tool to ask questions to a company.
  • A fax number was the least important in 2009, in 2008 the last place was for chatboxes.
  • The traditional customer service channels are the most preferred but here as well people are demanding: when sending an email to the customer service of a company, 54.5% of the respondents expected at least a notification that the mail had been received and in what timeframe it would be answered.

The key here is offering choice and prioritizing in function of the channels your customers use.

The real way to distinguish yourself is to combine all data you acquire through different contact moments in order to provide a consistent customer service help, whether it"€™s in a store, by telephone, via email or on Twitter.

A single view on the customer is essential, as is an accessible customer service. Businesses can"€™t afford to put customers on hold when they seek assistance anymore. People become increasingly demanding in that regard and the price you pay for poor customer service, whatever the channel is, is ironically enough criticism in the public space, like on"€¦Twitter.

Conclusion: although the impact of Twitter for direct customer service purposes is moderate, the micro-blogging tool must be used to listen to customer requests or issues and to follow up on them. If you don"€™t, the result will show on Twitter and beyond.

It's like Joseph Jaffe wote in his Customer Service Manifesto: "€œan unhappy customer will tell a million of their closest strangers"€.

Author's avatar

By J-P

J-P is a 360° customer-centric digital transformation consultant at i-SCOOP.

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