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Twitter and social media are redefining the concept of customer service. Twitter has carved out a niche as being at the sharp end of social customer support. Partly, this is due to its real-time nature, and partly it’s because Twitter is also one of the main places where today’s brands who fail their customers come under the most vocal and sustained attacks. Using Twitter as a customer service tool allows all types of organizations to promote a positive brand image and solve customer problems at a lower cost, compared to that of email and telephone service.

A study conducted by Simply Measured showed that 99% of brands are on Twitter and 30% have a dedicated customer service handle. A survey by Edison Research found that 42% of consumers who complain on Twitter expect a reply in an hour or less. What these numbers are telling us is that providing exceptional customer service on Twitter is no longer optional.  

Why Bother?

Stuff happens. Things go wrong. Customers feel let down. Whereas once this would go largely un-noted by anyone other than the customer  and a few of their closest friends, today social media has changed everything. Customers don’t just get mad; they aim to get even. And their best way to even the score is to use the power they have in their social reach. For this, Twitter offers a near perfect outlet, especially for customers who don’t want to wait on-hold for 30 minutes or trawl Google for answers. So they turn to a more direct medium – Twitter – for help.

Customers have seen companies brought down on Twitter before. They know that more businesses than ever monitor tweets. And they understand they’re more likely to get redress with 140 well-chosen characters than by wasting an hour on the phone.

For their part, smart businesses see Twitter as a way to stop small mistakes from turning into major crisises. While they try not to get into who’s right and who’s wrong, the successful ones are quick to say they’re sorry for the poor experience an aggrieved customer has received. Often, this alone s is enough to calm the waters. And some customers have a quick question and just need a quick answer.

Consumers want to be heard on social media and reward those businesses that offer social customer care. According to Sentiment Metrics ,71% of customers who experience positive social customer care are likely to recommend that company to others, as opposed to just 19% of customers who don’t get a response.

The main goal of customer service is to help people resolve their issues, and Twitter is an extremely fast medium that can answer questions in the blink of an eye. For some small issues, a single tweet can be the solution; no need to pick up the phone or open a support ticket.

These simple tips will help your organization reap the benefits of providing excellent near real-time customer service via Twitter.

How to Get Started

To start providing an enjoyable and effective customer service experience, there are two crucial first steps.

1) Train the Right People: Since these individuals will act as the public face of your company, you have to be able to trust their judgement at all times. Allow your employees to show their human side by signing their tweets with their initials and add other personalized touches. Step 4 of this infographic, by Lucy Tyerman from Sentiment, includes a great quote on why you should empower the staff who will be managing your customer service account“Social support team members must be trained to make decisions in the field and in the head of action… So give them the tools and authority to do whatever it takes to wow customers. Give them full authority to do what’s needed, when needed, where needed. Without approval.”

2) Create a Separate Twitter Account: Although it might be tempting to use your primary business account for customer service purposes, you do not want to flood your timeline with customer service- related tweets.

Best practice tips 

The key to delivering great customer service on social is to be personal, empathetic and speedy in response. Even if you have to take a customer onto a different channel (due to sensitivity of information or length of reply), or you can’t answer the query without thorough investigation, it’s important to at least state that you’re looking into it as soon as you can.

Plus, since Twitter is live at all times, some customers expect someone to be available around the clock providing real-time customer service. Yet for most businesses this is not a realistic option, which is why it is a good idea to clearly display your “manned hours” within your header image on your Twitter page to avoid any misunderstandings.

If your customer service channel is separate from the main account, this should also be clearly stated. However, if a customer contacts you on your non-customer service channel, you shouldn’t just ignore them or fob them off with the right Twitter handle.

Tell them you’ve passed their query on to the customer service team or, better still… help the customer on that channel.

Maintaining a Customer Service Twitter Account

The key to great online customer service is the quality and speed of your responses.

A dedicated customer service account should not be solely reactive; meaning it is just used to react to issues and answer questions. Tweeting proactive information such as warnings, tips and announcements will not only foster a positive environment but hopefully will reduce the number of incoming questions and complaints.

Avoid Generic Mechanical Responses

Do not copy and paste any templated response message. This practice defeats the purpose of  social customer service, especially when your consider customers who turn to Twitter expect a real human to take charge and answer their concerns.

Inevitably some queries will require the same or a very similar response, yet your staff should always try to switch up the wording, and make an effort to replicate face-to-face interaction.

Know When to Make It Private

Twitter has a 140-character limit. When a question or complaint escalates or becomes too private, the best choice is to take it offline.

Your staff should have a clear benchmark of when and why they should take the conversation out of the public sphere and carry on via telephone, email or direct message. Let your customer know you are here to help and will work on this with them step by step.

Normally, a conversation should be taken offline when a customer is extremely upset or when sensitive information such as account information is required. Taking a conversation offline may make a customer open up more, thus allowing your staff to address the issue more efficiently.

Provide Customer Service to People Who Aren’t (yet) Your Customers

Twitter is a public space, and with everyone having access to your company’s tweets (even customer service tweets) it is the perfect platform to attract new customers.

Helping people who may have a question related to your field, yet not directly about your product or service, is a great way to generate brand recognition and promote yourself as experts. Many people will check out your service offering if you just point them in the right direction without having to explicitly mention them.

If you want to take this to a new level, your team should be using tools such as Tweet Deck or Hootsuite to monitor certain terms and interact with a wider audience.

Many companies have discovered that Twitter can be a fast route to better customer relationships. They’re using it to keep customers in the loop, to help direct them to appropriate resources and to get them involved in improving products and services.

Topshop, a UK fashion Store, is a great example of using Twitter for enhancing customer service.

Topshop has racked up almost half a million Twitter followers, making it the most followed retailer in the UK. Its stream is mainly filled with @replies to customer care queries, but there are also occasional product messages and tweets about what’s going on in the Topshop office.

It takes a cunning approach to customer care, asking all customers to send a direct message including their order number and email address. This takes the conversation behind closed doors and means any complaints are dealt with in private.

But obviously not all @mentions are complaints. Topshop is also good at responding to queries about stock and product information, or requests for fashion advice.


Sainsbury’s is great at capitalizing on funny moments. Moments that people can share and make them feel part of a community. Clever ideas, which lead to great interaction with customers and non-customers alike, give the brand a more ‘human’ and relatable personality.

New Look

There are many things that make New Look a great example: speed of reply On average, it takes them 22 minutes to reply to a query. They have a dedicated customer care channel, which is linked to from the main account and its lengthy hours are clearly stated. But most impressive is the level of personalization they offer. 

Want to make your retail store stand out in the mobile world? The role of the store is expanding – according to a survey, the physical retail store is alive and increasingly influenced by digital. Sign up for our retail course and we will walk you through how to create a strategy that will enhance your retail store to offer exceptional customer service.

By Jim Kander

Practice Leader - Retail, Global Sales & Services


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