For years, Apple has been held up as one of the top companies for customer service, yet their refusal to have a presence on Twitter was conspicuous.
The company that introduced us to the Genius Bar for outstanding in-person service, the same company that has one of the most comprehensive online support forums in the world, finally joined the 21st century this week by offering customer support on Twitter via a new handle, @AppleSupport.
"We're here to provide tips, tricks and helpful information when you need it most," the handle's profile says, adding that the team is "available every day to answer your questions, from 5am - 8pm PST".
By the end of its first day in existence, the handle already had more than 100,000 followers and a Twitter "verified" check. It also had tweeted more than 2,000 times.
Apple's also using the service handle for outgoing messaging, and as with most things Apple does, that seems like a smart idea. One of the problems with splitting up brand handles and customer service handles is that companies can lose the benefit of customer service becoming "the new marketing". Apple's approach is unique, in that it looks like the handle will operate both as a marketing function for user tips while simultaneously responding to inbound questions and comments. The pinned tweet, with more than 1,500 retweets, says "Tips and tutorials from the same Apple Advisors you know and trust - now available on Twitter. #AppleSupport". The extension of the massively successful Genius Bar experience makes sense, and it may set a new standard for other brands with separate service handles to be providing proactive tips and tricks instead of "just" answering customer questions.
The majority of responses to customers so far asked them to DM their iOS version, suggesting that Apple's strategy is to resolve issues outside of the public space. That's a curious decision given the success of the public help forums (most issues are experienced by more than one customer, so others could benefit from seeing the answers) and given that one's iOS version isn't exactly private information akin to a credit card number. This is balanced by multiple links to Apple Support pages, which is a good practice because it helps speed up responses and makes it easier to answer repetitive questions.
The service is only available in English to start, with questions in other languages being pointed (in English) to a support page where the customer can contact an Apple Advisor in their own language. It would stand to reason that given the popularity of Apple's products around the world, foreign language support is on the roadmap.
The timing of @AppleSupport's introduction is curious, given that the company has long been a Twitter holdout. But as Twitter has added new functionality to aid in customer service support, and even established a direct connection between customer service and revenue, it makes sense that the world's largest company by market cap should be a participant.
Here are some of my own Twitter customer service "tips and tricks" from leading a social care team at a large company and from interviewing many brands of all sizes on the Focus on Customer Service Podcast:
- Answer everything - questions, complaints, and compliments. Questions are obvious. Complaints are critical, as Jay Baer discusses at length in his new book, Hug Your Haters. Compliments are often the most forgotten, but a customer who has taken the time to publicly thank a brand certainly deserves a response.
- Service the customer in the channel of their choice - no one wants to tweet at a brand and then be asked to call a 1-800 number or e-mail the company instead. DM's and external links are fine, but the goal is to resolve the inquiry in the customer's preferred channel.
- Make it easy for customers to interact with you - My guess is that besides from offering multi-language support, Apple will also have to staff its Twitter handle 24/7. With customers all around the world, and products where issues could arise any time and generally require speedy answers, this will be a key enhancement. Not every company needs to be 24/7; if you do not have an international presence and/or your products or services aren't used 24/7, having limited customer service hours is perfectly fine as long as you set proper expectations in your profile.
It will be interesting to see how @AppleSupport evolves over time, but it's good to see Apple aboard the Twitter customer service bandwagon. The accolades the company receives for great customer service are deserved, but will now make more sense given a more complete offering.