Nearly a third of brands responded to tweets I sent them over a six-month period, a large increase from the paltry 6% in my previous unscientific study. But that number is still surprisingly low, considering that most brands have a Customer Service department that responds in other channels. Why does it continue to be OK to ignore customer comments and complaints on Twitter when it would not be considered OK to do so on the phone or via e-mail?
Let's look at the 13 brands that did not respond in my most recent study; the 6 brands that did are chronicled here.
1. Hilton Hotels: When I asked both American Airlines and Hilton Hotels about a confusing co-branded e-mail offer I received, only American responded. Furthermore, Hilton has not responded to more than a half dozen other Twitter comments from me. I have since learned that Hilton has a separate handle for service-related inquiries, but therein lies a danger: How is the customer supposed to know which handle to mention? I always default to the main brand handle and assume the company will figure it out. Only some companies do.
2. Degree Deodorant & Unilever: I thought I'd mention the clever advertising I saw in my local supermarket to both Degree and their parent company, Unilever. While their packaging says to "Buy 2 & Save", the price of two is exactly double the price of one. Sadly, neither Degree nor Unilever responded to my tweet.
3. Gillette: Staying in the Personal Care department, I contacted Gillette after noticing a confusing ad for a competing product on the razor blades I purchased. No response.
4. Walmart: After a particularly infuriating experience at my local Walmart, I vented my frustration on Twitter to no avail.
5. Sam's Club: Apparently Sam's Club, which is owned by Walmart, follows the same Twitter rules. In this instance, I acknowledge that the tweet is a little tongue-in-cheek, but it was indeed very timely as CVS had just announced that it was stopping sales of tobacco products in its stores.
6-10. Sometimes you just have a simple question that requires a simple answer, but you're not sure where to turn. There has been much discussion as to whether Twitter is the customer service of last resort, or perhaps that of first resort. For me, it is often the channel of first resort because it's quick and easy, and doesn't require me to hunt through a brand's website for contact information. Though I've highlighted Facebook and Yahoo below, similarly simple questions to BMW, ExxonMobil, and Diamondback (a bicycle company) went unanswered as well.
11. 5 Gum (Wrigley): It's always disappointing when one of your favorite brands ignores your cry for help. In this case, 5 Gum did just that - a surprising move given their noteworthy Facebook marketing campaigns. While I didn't ask a direct question, I purposely left an opening for a response with the praise at the beginning of the tweet.
12. Sports Illustrated: I've noticed that newspapers and magazines, while adept at posting tweets, don't appear to employ anyone to respond to them. Should they be held to a different standard than other brands because they are in the publishing business? I don't think so, because they are just as dependent on customer loyalty as any other industry. In this particular instance, a simple retweet would have sufficed; a thank you would have been even better. Note too that the Chicago Cubs ignored the tweet too.
13. McDonald's: The only repeat offender on the list, McDonald's has made headlines recently with an excellent video series in Canada that answers customer inquiries (like "Why does the food in commercials look so much better than in real life?") in a transparent and honest way. I just wish they'd pay more attention to their Twitter feed, especially if they are going to make a big promise in a major magazine advertisement. As a massive international company they must get thousands of tweets a day, but that doesn't lessen their obligation to interact with their customers and address questions and complaints.
The first step to succeeding in customer service on Twitter is to actually respond to your customers. Nothing is more frustrating for a loyal customer than to have their question, complaint or compliment ignored - the equivalent of letting the phone ring for hours on end. Each type of interaction is important in its own way:
- Questions: Twitter is a fast and easy way to get questions answered, but only if both sides are communicating effectively. Those who don't get answers to their questions must seek alternate channels or never have their situation resolved.
- Compliments: These are the easiest responses; a simple thank-you or even just a Favorite or retweet will do. Remember that these are customers that have made a conscious decision to say something nice about your brand to their followers. That's better than any paid advertising.
- Complaints: Most brands fear complaints, but they shouldn't. Many complainers are looking for attention and/or problem resolution, and when you give one or both to them, you can often convert a negative situation into a positive one. I've seen countless instances of angry customers later tweeting about the same brand's amazing customer service.
I remember as a kid writing letters to companies and beaming with excitement when I'd receive a letter back (usually with a coupon), even if it was just a form letter. It was confirmation that someone was on the other end listening. It's that same basic communication that is required on Twitter, only faster and more frequent. Companies that understand this will have loyal customers for life. Those that continue to ignore it do so at their own risk, especially in industries where switching costs are low.