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Using Twitter for Customer Service

In my previous posts on using Twitter for your small business, I covered off a lot of basic information, and I also explored how to effectively use Twitter as a marketing tool. In today’s post, I’d like to look at using Twitter as a customer-service tool.

It’s a reality in today’s social media world that consumers will often turn to platforms like Twitter to vent their frustration – or to share their praise – in the wake of an interaction with a business. At first glance, this can seem daunting to companies that aren’t used to seeing their customers vocalize their thoughts in such a public forum.

Here’s the beautiful thing, though – your customers have always shared their experiences with their friends and anyone else who would listen. However, unless they voiced their compliments or concerns directly to you as well, there was no easy way for you to find out what they thought about their interactions with your company. Now that these conversations are out in the open, you have a new and powerful way to address them and use key learnings from the experience to improve your business.

So, embrace social media channels like Twitter for their ability to let you engage directly with both happy and unhappy customers. Here’s how:

First and foremost, be sure to deal with them (ideally as quickly as possible)
Do not ignore bad reviews, negative feedback and other customer complaints when they happen on social media platforms like Twitter. Instead, view them as an opportunity to set things right with the complainant and to demonstrate to the rest of your followers that you care about your customers. Similarly, acknowledge online compliments with the same immediacy.

A 2012 survey by Edison Research found that 42 per cent of consumers who complained on social media expected a reply in a hour or less. Twitter operates virtually in real time, and the sooner you respond, the more quickly you’ll resolve an issue and (hopefully) prevent it from spiraling out of control.

If necessary, take it offline
If the conversation on Twitter is getting unpleasant or overly personal, or if resolving it requires either you or your customer to reveal sensitive information, you always have the option to take it offline by inviting your customer to get in touch via email, telephone or in person. This has the advantage of getting the discussion out of the public eye while still demonstrating to the rest of your followers that you are serious about dealing with complaints.

Experiment with humour
When something has gone wrong, lots of brands have found success in falling on their swords in a humourous way. One of the best I read about recently was by British grocery chain Sainsbury’s, one of whose customers tweeted, “The chicken in my sandwich tastes like it was beaten to death by Hulk Hogan.” “Really sorry it wasn’t up to scratch,” the grocer responded. “We will replace Mr. Hogan with Ultimate Warrior on our production line immediately.” Humour is not universally understood, however, so tread carefully here.

Be the same online as you are in person
You should behave the same when dealing with your customers on Twitter as you would if they were standing in front of you. In fact, behaving this way will come across as the most sincere and authentic. Would you offer a refund to someone who brought back a broken product, or a discount to someone who told you in person they had had a negative experience? Then do the same on Twitter. Would you give a polite but firm “no” to someone whose in-person complaint you believed was invalid? Then do the same on Twitter. How would you react to someone who praised an employee? Again, react the same way in on Twitter as you would in person.

Consider a separate customer-service account
Lots of brands separate their customer-service Twitter accounts from their main accounts. This can be a good practice, especially if you find that a lot of your tweets are about customer-service issues. One caveat, however: Don’t expect customers to go through the trouble of figuring out that you have such a separate account. Although you can promote its existence on your main account, you should also expect that customers will continue to talk to that main account for customer-service issues.

And when the news is good…
Of course, not all the comments and feedback made about your business on Twitter are going to be negative (at least, you sure hope they’re not!). When someone tweets something nice about you, thank them for it. And it’s perfectly good Twitter manners to retweet their compliment.

The bottom line
Even the most attentive approach to responding to customer complaints on Twitter will not save your business if there is something fundamentally wrong with your product or with how your employees treat customers. This is another of the beautiful things about customer complaints on social media channels. Although it may not look like a good thing to have your laundry aired in so public a fashion, a raft of complaints is the surest way to wake you up to some larger underlying problem and give you the opportunity to fix it. Then, as the nature of the public conversation about your business shifts to a more positive tone, you will start to reap the results. So pay attention to Twitter!

Have you seen an interesting customer service issue play out on Twitter or have you done so in your own business? Let us know about it in the comments below.

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