I find that Twitter is slowly becoming a "last resort" for consumers who are having issues with businesses and cannot get them resolved through the normal means of phoning or emailing customer support. We've seen it time and time again, made famous by @Dooce and the Maytag washing machine incident, but repeated by many others, including myself which I documented in my how to deal with angry customers on Twitter post, that a tweet is the most direct and quickest way of getting out your message to the world in realtime when all else fails. As Twitter membership grew by almost 40% in the last 4 months alone, and more users begin to appreciate its convenience, one can only imagine that this trend of tweeting as a last resort will continue to rise.
Because of this, Twitter should not be a last resort for your Customer Service department. Opening up an account to support your customers on Twitter is a natural evolution. Here's why:
1) Some Customers Need Your Help Most When They Can't Communicate via Normal Channels
The original idea for this blog post came recently when I was flying at 36,000 feet coast to coast. I was using a service to connect me to the Internet when I was flying, only to have my internet service be interrupted. What do you do when you are up in the air and you need to contact someone at customer service? Once internet service is restored, you tweet, of course. Think I'm crazy? Ask anyone who tweets, and a good number of them would probably answer the same. If your company is an online service provider such as the company that lost Internet service, you really need to, at the least, establish a listening post on Twitter and start to think about formulating a social media strategy.
You think that this doesn't happen often? Just last week I had a similar problem. Check out my tweet:
That's right. An urgent matter with my website going down. Can't get them on the phone. You think I'm going to send an email and wait for a response? Of course not!
Did this tweet cause one online service provider to wake up to Twitter? Prior to that tweet, this company was not an active tweeter, only sending out a single tweet on February 24th to let the world know that they were "embracing" Twitter. Guess when their 2nd tweet was? The night on the same day when I sent that above tweet out. Look at the tweets, and more importantly the date stamps in their first 2 tweets in their timeline:
What is interesting here is that, had they tweeted out the power outage to begin with, I may have been less inclined to announce the problem to my followers and more inclined to wait it out...
What about customers who can communicate via normal channels yet can't get their problems resolved? What do you do if you can't buy an air ticket at the promised discount price online and yet customer service can't remedy the issue over the phone? You resolve it via Twitter, which is exactly what I had to do during the Virgin America Twitter Campaign.
In all of these cases, Twitter was the quickest and most reliable way of getting the ear of Customer Service.
2.) Twitter is Slowly Becoming a Mainstream Platform...for Customer Service
Twitter is becoming a mainstream platform both for professionals, helped by the LinkedIn Twitter integration of almost a year ago, and Customer Service organizations. Late last year more than half of Fortune 100 brands had set up shop on Twitter, including famous Customer Support organizations from big brands such as @ComcastCares and @MicrosoftHelps. Those companies that don't support customers via Twitter may fear the potential realtime demands of customers who tweet. This may not necessarily be the case, though. When that online service provider responded to my tweet after Internet service was restored on my flight, they asked me to DM them my email address. I didn't get an email from them until the next day, but it made me feel that at least they were listening and working on the situation.. As more and more companies establish support lines over Twitter and we grow accustomed to using them because of their convenience, hopefully companies will start to understand what they be missing out on: Customer Support over Twitter can lead to a more satisfied customer. And the praise they may give you via a happy tweet after the problem is solved is priceless.
3.) Phone Support (& Coverage) Isn't Always What It is Advertised to Be
How many of you are satisfied with the experience of having to call the customer support line of any given company that you do business with? Probably very few. If you really want to provide your customers with support, you need to be where they are. Twitter is the only major public platform for realtime communication, so there you have it. And you know what? I bet you that people will wait longer to receive a tweet from you than they do when they are waiting on a phone for you to respond to them! Not to mention the cost savings that no doubt can be obtained by reducing burden on call centers... And don't get me started on long customer service calls that were broken up by dropped calls on a certain cell phone network only to have start the conversation all over again from the beginning...at least tweets don't "drop!"
4.) Your Customer is Already Online
We spend about as much on the Internet as we do watching TV, with 22% of our time online spent engaging in social media. Why force that person to have to make a telephone call from another device or send an email in hopes of getting a response someday when Twitter allows for realtime communication directly on the computer?
5.) Your Customer is On the Go
If you have a problem when you're outside or on the go, it is just more convenient to tweet out to a branded Twitter username from your phone than to have to find the customer service number on the tiny text that appears on most cell phone browsers. Don't even think of asking mobile users to find an email address, either. With 46% of active Twitter users regularly tweeting from their cell phones, setting up shop on Twitter may be one of the easiest ways to support your mobile customer.
6.) Reputation Management
This may go beyond your Customer Service department, but those in your Executive Team should be worried about any negative tweet that goes out about your company that is not monitored. Anybody has the potential to be an "influencer" because anyone can ReTweet their message to any number of followers. Sure, negative things will be said about any company because you can't please everyone...but, you can stop multiple tweets that could hurt your reputation and instead actually engage and communicate with the person having the issue to resolve it before tweets get out of hand.
As realtime communication, whether it be LinkedIn Status Updates, Facebook Posts, Tweets, or even FourSquare & Yelp Check-ins, increasingly permeates our lives, it's time to take a step back and really reconsider how Customer Support organizations should be strategically utilizing social media to support their customers where ever they are. First priority, especially for all of you online service providers, is to start getting serious about Twitter.
Is you company already supporting customers or have you had positive customer support experiences through tweeting?