t could be said that using Twitter for customer support started back in 2008 when Frank Eliason (now with Citibank) launched the @comcastcares Twitter account. Frank, along with a team of employees, had a single mission: to publicly provide direct customer service in a real-time environment.
Today, more companies are jumping on the bandwagon every day, having finally realized that Twitter is a hotbed of customer complaints, questions, and concerns. Fortunately, there’s a bit of appreciation in there, too.
The trick for most organizations is understanding how to use Twitter for customer support in the most effective and efficient ways. Here are several recommendations to help you successfully handle customer service issues, 140-characters at a time!
Hire and Train the Right People
The most important step to effectively use Twitter as a customer support platform is to hire the right people and train them extremely well. These people will be interacting directly with customers, media, online influencers, and more, through their tweets. You need to be able to trust them at all times.
The bio published on your Twitter profile should also describe who is behind the tweets published on the account. Create a custom background that includes details about each employee. You can even include staff pictures, like UPS (@UPShelp) and additional customer service contact information.
Allow the team members to show their human side. For example, let them sign their tweets with their initials at the end, such as Virgin Mobile’s account (@VMUcare). Take this concept a step further by giving team members their own Twitter accounts and allowing them to sign their tweets with their individual usernames, like the employees from Best Buy (@Twelpforce).
Create a Separate Twitter Account
Separate the daily grind of customer service from your primary business profile by using a separate Twitter account for customer service. Remember, most issues can be isolated to individual problems and don’t affect the masses. You don’t want to clutter your main Twitter timeline with individual customer service tweets. Notice that most of the examples provided in this article are from companies with separate customer service Twitter profiles.
Also, use social media management software to organize your Twitter customer service account. Monitor keywords, including your brand and business name, and reply to tweets where customer service support would be helpful or appropriate.
However, don’t confuse customer service with public relations. Customer service tweets should provide helpful information and resolve problems. When conversations extend beyond individual problems, these tweets might be better handled by the public relations department. Make sure both functions and teams are integrated. Create a “hand-off” process so that all types of tweets and issues are handled by the right people, in the right way, and in a timely manner.
Publish Proactive and Reactive Tweets
You should be publishing both proactive and reactive tweets in your Twitter customer service timeline. Proactive tweets include announcements and warnings. For example, an airline might tweet about known weather problems that are likely to delay flights. Hopefully, these proactive tweets will reduce some incoming customer service complaints.
Reactive tweets are the responses to @mentions and direct messages, as well as any tweets that require customer service follow-up.
Be Active and Extremely Responsive
Twitter is “open” seven days a week, 365 days a year, and customers expect businesses to be available around-the-clock providing real-time customer service. In the best case scenario, your Twitter profile would be staffed at all times, but this isn’t always economically feasible for businesses.
An alternative is to state the hours that your Twitter customer service account is open for business. For example, @comcastcares has its hours of operation prominently displayed on its Twitter background, along with three other ways to get help.
In order to provide the level of real-time customer service that people expect, you need to be able to scale your resources to meet demand. Consider holding tweet chats to answer specific types of customer service questions at specific times (this is a great marketing differentiator, too).
Know When to Take It Offline
Twitter is best used for simple customer service questions. You only have 140-characters to respond, so your answer can’t be too detailed. Furthermore, many customer service questions and answers are very personal in nature. Identify which types of questions, issues, and concerns should be taken offline immediately and create appropriately worded responses that your Twitter team can use when this occurs.
You can take conversations offline through direct messages, email, or telephone. When a person needs to be directed to a different employee or department, make sure a process is in place to hand off these types of inquiries, so they don’t fall through the cracks.
Delta Airlines has a few standard tweets that are used to lead conversations offline. For example, scroll through the @DeltaAssist timeline, and you’re likely to find tweets that say something like, “Let me see what I can do. Can you DM the confirmation code?” or tweets that direct people to specific phone numbers to get help from different Delta departments.
Make sure you benchmark companies like the ones mentioned in this article to see how they use Twitter for customer service. There is so much you can learn simply from listening and watching.
Susan Gunelius: Susan Gunelius is a 20-year marketing veteran and President & CEO of KeySplash Creative, Inc., a marketing communications company. She has authored nine books about social media, content marketing, branding, copywriting, and blogging, and she is a marketing columnist for Forbes.com and Entrepreneur.com. Susan speaks about marketing, branding, and social media at events around the world and is often interviewed about marketing topics by television, online, print, and radio media organizations.