Tips on Using Twitter for Customer Support

Ann All
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Earlier this week I wrote a post about how social software can help executives learn more about their companies' customers. I mentioned both using internal collaboration software to tap into employees' customer-related insights and using channels like Twitter and Facebook for a more direct view of customer conversations. Though companies have focused mostly on using social channels for marketing and brand building, an increasing number of companies also use them for customer support. A few weeks ago I wrote about T-Mobile's social support, sharing BizIntelligenceTV host Bruno Aziza's video interview with Dan Anderson, T-Mobile's emerging media manager.


Twitter appears to be especially popular for customer support. It's the primary focus of the Aziza/Anderson discussion. It's no wonder, given the statistic from a Burson-Marsteller survey shared in a recent Information Management article, that 19 percent of Twitter users seek customer support each month.


While that number alone is significant, consider that 42 percent want to learn about products and services, 41 percent provide opinions about products and services and 31 percent ask others for opinions about products and services. (You obviously want people raving about your company, not complaining about it, on Twitter.)


Anecdotally, my brother-in-law recently told me he went right to Twitter when he experienced a problem with AT&T service, never even considering using AT&T's website or a call center to seek help. When I asked why, he told me response times are quicker via Twitter. In theory this is great, although I worry about companies focusing on social support while neglecting more traditional support channels, a behavior Customer Experience Matters blogger Bruce Temkin calls "social schizophrenia."


I think Twitter probably works best for providing quick answers to relatively simple questions, perhaps by directing folks to the specific spot where they can find more detailed information online, a practice mentioned by the manager of Zappos' customer loyalty team when IT Business Edge's Susan Hall interviewed him for her story on Twitter. That saves time-starved customers from endless clicking on websites or navigating through lengthy IVR menus. (It can also offer an early indicator that sites or menus need a redesign. If you get lots of Twitter inquiries about return policies, for example, you'll probably want to make that information easier to find.) Customers with more complicated problems will probably end up needing to have it resolved elsewhere, though.


Considering nearly 200 million people use Twitter and given the results of the Burson-Marsteller survey, companies will need to at least consider a Twitter strategy for customer support.


The Information Management article, written by Zendesk Community Manager Tiffany Maleshefski, includes what I think is solid advice for getting a Twitter customer support program off the ground. Among her suggestions:

  • Start by educating everyone in the company about Twitter and why it will be used for customer support. I'd add this is a good time to find out if any employees already use Twitter. Create an opportunity for them to brainstorm with other employees and share best practices, based on their existing activity. When Susan interviewed Dell's enterprise evangelist for her story, he advised executives to follow top Twitter users before beginning to use it themselves. Similarly, I think it's a good idea to observe how companies seen as leaders in Twitter support, such as Dell, Zappos and Southwest Airlines (all sources for Susan's story), interact with their customers.
  • Echoing my earlier point, Maleshefski writes: "... Do not overlook building an efficient and elegant way of when it's time to take a conversation off Twitter and transfer it to email or phone."
  • Check out what people are already saying about your company on Twitter. She suggests conducting a Twitter search for your brand and product names. Look for mentions of @TwitterName or just your brand name without the @ sign. Another option is third-party tools provided by companies like Social Mention and oneforty. As Maleshefski notes, they can help you determine what percentage of tweets mentioning your brands are questions seeking support, vs. those involving general comments. Some tweets may alert companies to product and service issues of which they weren't aware, a point mentioned by T-Mobile's Anderson.
  • Determine the @Names or names you want to use. She mentions some companies use dedicated accounts for support while others do not. I think a separate support account makes sense, if for no other reason than it should make it simpler to respond quickly to customers' needs.
  • Write a bio that includes all the important details. I especially like Maleshefski's advice to include hours service is available if it's not offered 24/7, other customer service contact details and any related Twitter hashtags used by your company.


Maleshefski wraps with advice on how to respond to customer inquiries and handle complaints. She also offers a list of suggested data to monitor that should offer insight into how your customers use Twitter.

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