Customer service on Twitter: is it helping or hurting your reputation?

Customer service on Twitter: is it helping or hurting your reputation?

72% of customers who complain to a brand on Twitter expect a response within an hour.

That stat from Lithium Technologies has been floating around for awhile so companies have been ramping up their social media response time. But just because your people are responding quickly, doesn’t mean their solving customer problems. They might actually be making things worse.

Old NavyI stumbled upon the exchange you see here when I searched @OldNavy. I was expecting to see a line of clever fashion tweets but found that their timeline was loaded with meaningless customer service replies. As a potential customer, these responses don’t exactly fill me with confidence about the brand.

First of all, can we talk about the cutesy “Oh no!” Why not go all the way and make it “Oh noes” with a frowning emoticon? You want to sound human but this type of casual response makes it sound like customer service isn’t important.

Second; no one’s problem was actually solved. In two of the cases they were told to return to the store and one was asked to call a help line.

And then, there’s the sheer number of customer service replies in a 24 hour period. To be fair, you only see Old Navy presented this way if you search via Hootsuite (which I did) or when you choose to view “Tweets and Replies”.

I thought Old Navy had it bad until I searched a few top airlines on Twitter. Wow.

United TwitterThe number of useless customer service replies from airline reps is staggering. I understand why it’s happening. Traveling is stressful and when you’re trapped in an airport it’s easy to take your frustrations out on Twitter. Most of the time, that’s all people really want to do is vent. In all of the cases I reviewed, the customer service response only made the customer angrier. Offering “connection assistance” during an endless maintenance delay is just more fuel on the fire.

I ran my own, unscientific test this week when I fired off a frustrated Tweet to ATT.

att TweetThe response came in about a half hour later. I responded with my concerns about data plan overages. ATT asked me to call so they could suggest a better plan. Then Sprint jumped in saying they have just what I’m looking for. I called Sprint the next day.

That kind of poaching might not be nice but it worked. What really surprised me is that I didn’t hear from T-Mobile. Their team should have responded with a warm welcome from the nearest store. That would have really impressed me.

So how does a company respond without making the situation worse? First, customer service reps have to be trained to and allowed to go off script. These canned responses are more frustrating than the automated “press one for yes” call centers we’ve all grown used to.

Next, be prepared to take the conversation out of the public eye using Direct Messaging. This isn’t about showing everyone that you’re responsive, it’s about turning a customer around before they give up or shout louder.

Finally, take some time to think about this: do you really need to respond every time a customer mentions your company on Twitter? In my AT&T case, I chose to use their handle because I wanted to see their response. But what if I had left out the “@”? It’s just me and my friends discussing our experience with various wireless companies. If AT&T responds to those Tweets, it’s as if they’ve been listening to my private conversation. Sometimes people just want to vent. We don’t really want or expect a solution. In that case, it might be better if customer service reps moved on to someone they can actually help.