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How to Succeed in Customer Service in 140 Characters or Less

Image“70% of companies ignore customer complaints on Twitter.”

This oft-cited statistic, from a 2011 study by Maritz Research and evolve24, is even more incredible when you consider that the same study found that nearly 85% of customers “liked” or “loved” when a company responded to them.

Two years later – a lifetime in the world of social media – companies must have learned their lesson, right? Wrong. In fact, in my own (unscientific) study of 26 tweets to 18 different brands, just one brand responded – meaning that 70% number should be more like 95%.

Over the course of six months, I tweeted compliments, complaints, questions and general references to big brands like Starbucks, Coca Cola, Hilton Hotels, and McDonald’s. I also tweeted to smaller brands like Skittles, Maker’s Mark, and Play-Doh. None of these brands – nor 10 others – chose to respond. Even Twitter ignored one of my tweets, a complaint about a forged account.

Why do brands miss such great opportunities to interact with their customers? Surely these same brands would respond to a customer phone call, e-mail, or even snail mail. With so many companies talking about the importance of customer experience and customer-centered design, it is shocking that ignoring customers in a public setting has become so commonplace.

Let’s look at a few of the tweets in my study. First, a positive:





My chat session with AT&T was so surprisingly easy and satisfying, I just had to tweet about it. Unsolicited public praise from a customer is a gift any company would be happy to receive. But AT&T didn’t bother responding, which eroded my initial satisfaction with the service interaction.

Next, a positive combined with a question:




I was hoping that the positive comment would increase the odds of McDonald’s responding to my related question about healthier options, but both the compliment and the question were ignored.

Here are a couple that are clearly negative (I’m passionate about my candy):








In this case, I am only one of hundreds if not thousands of people complaining about the same thing, so I’d actually understand if Skittles couldn’t answer me personally. But a search of the brand’s hundreds of outbound tweets since the switch from lime to blech shows that the issue was never addressed at all. Hiding from your problems does not make them go away, and Skittles missed an opportunity (actually, hundreds if not thousands of them) to engage what is clearly a passionate fan base.

This last one is a bit bizarre, but I was really surprised that it did not garner a response because it just begs for a funny, creative retort. We all make mistakes, and sometimes we just have to laugh at ourselves. If I were Coke, I would have done just that.
















So, which was the one brand who actually did respond?  The answer may surprise you, and what’s more, they responded twice during the study – once in a tidy 38 minutes, and once in an incredible 9 minutes.  Both tweets were compliments, but my loyalty to this brand skyrocketed when I received the responses.


















Now that’s how you succeed at customer service on social media. You don’t need 140 characters, or even close to it. And it doesn’t have to take a lot of time, especially compared with other customer feedback channels. You just need to follow these simple guidelines:

  • You must actually respond. Positive tweeters will love you even more, and negative tweeters will most likely be satisfied that you bothered to respond at all. I’ve seen countless cases of negative tweets being turned into positive tweets just because the poster is so pleasantly surprised that he received a response.
  • Acknowledge the customer. Personalizing the response by referring to the customer’s first name makes him or her feel special, and is a reminder that you are answering a specific question.
  • Keep it relevant. Answer the question or comment directly, but don’t try to sell something extra or ask for a follow or referral. Be gracious about a compliment (and consider retweeting it for extra brownie points), and respond to questions or complaints clearly and concisely. If necessary, refer a question or complaint to an offline channel if more details or personal information are needed.
  • Remember the need for speed. According to a 2012 study by Edison Research, 42% of customers contacting brands on social media expected a response within an hour. That may seem quick, but consider having to wait on hold on the telephone for that long!

Hopefully when I conduct my next study, more brands will have figured out that customer service in social media doesn’t have to be scary, but it is a reflection on the brand and needs to be handled with the same urgency and dedication that is given to other channels.

Join The Conversation

  • dgingiss's picture
    Sep 23 Posted 3 years ago dgingiss

    Thanks for all of the great comments! Appreciate the feedback and additional examples. 

  • Sep 20 Posted 3 years ago Nickie_H

    I totally agree!  I've tweeted brands/companies before and not got a response which I find really frustrating.  Those who do interact and respond have a much better company reputation in my opinion and care about what people and their customers are saying about them.  

    A good company will address positive and negative comments, using this as an opportunity to engage with their customers. 

    A recent good example I had was after I encountered problems with my car.  I'd stopped off after a long journey to grab some food and when I got back in my car, the lights wouldn't work. I went back into the place where I'd bought my food and the staff tried to help me out with the car.  To say thanks after the event, I tweeted them to say that I was grateful for the help from their staff.  They responded within a couple of hours and said they were pleased to help.  Always nice to feel you're not just talking to yourself on social media and companies do take the time to acknowledge any comments, good or bad.  



  • Sep 16 Posted 3 years ago imera_app

    Great Article - enhanced so much bu the case studies. Well done. Responding to people -  It seems so obvious but I guess it isn't. 

  • sarahfrancesw's picture
    Sep 15 Posted 3 years ago sarahfrancesw

    I agree with Amanda.  We just read a case study on "United Breaks Guitars" in class, and I was equally surprised that this is the company that answered.  However, this may mean that they have learned their lesson.  I don't think that it should take that much publicity for these other companies to learn.  What will it take for brands to realize that a simple response means the world to customers?  This is growing to be very important for brand loyalty, and I think it is essential for companies to follow United's example.

  • Sep 15 Posted 3 years ago amandakittle

    Great article! I find it quite interesting that the one brand that responded to you was United.....I guess they have learned their lesson from the "United Breaks Guitars" debacle. I am still amazed so many companies do not respond to their consumers, though. Haven't they heard the story that one person's negative experience with a brand is usually told in-person to an average of 11 people, but on social it's more like 11 million? I guess some of these large corporations feel that they cannot possibly respond to every single consumer. I had a classmate try this same experiment with JEEP, who actually claims to respond to their consumers on social. Guess what? They don't. Companies need to realize that by tweeting back, they can change a negative experience into a positive one, simply by acknowledging the complainer. If we're already saying positive things about you, a response just corroborates why we love the brand and why we will continue to be great brand ambassadors. Honestly, companies should really look at these statistics and make an effort to change, before a competitor who does respond takes their place in consumers' choices. 

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