Using Twitter for Customer Service in the Enterprise

There have been many innovative uses for Twitter since its inception, including finding out when your plants need watering  and many more creative uses are being devised even as you’re reading this post. On the business side, many firms are faced with the conundrum, whether they should use one account to handle all their customer inquiries, sales, promotions, and overall customer engagement. Or whether they should have a separate account dedicated solely to handling customer inquiries and leverage Twitter as a full-fledged customer support channel?

It makes good business sense to help your customers, regardless of where the query originates and for smaller companies, setting up a dedicated support forum on Twitter may be a no-brainer. However, for a large enterprise, it becomes much more challenging because of the sheer volume of queries received on a daily basis and related customer expectations. Here are some practical considerations for a medium to large-size enterprise before they start on their journey down the rabbit hole.

#1  Begin at the beginning…
By now, every organization with any credibility has a presence on Twitter in some shape or form. To determine whether or not to use that presence to handle customer queries, start with an investigation of the support queries your organization gets from Twitter. It’s not just the volume of queries, also analyze nature of queries to see if  you’re getting certain types of support questions more than others. For example: If you have an existing channel or support line for segment A customers, yet you see significant number of questions coming from them via Twitter, that’s an indicator that your customer behavior is shifting or your existing channels aren’t working or it could be a combination of both. Use the data to determine the business case for building out your customer support on Twitter.

 #2 Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Bat! How I wonder what you’re at?
If you’re a sizeable organization, you should already have an existing customer support center/s and related processes. Think about where  Twitter fits into your existing business processes and other Twitter accounts. The critical issue to consider here is whether you’re planning to replace the existing channel/process, supplement it or just address the occasional queries that come up via  Twitter. If your plan is some variation of the first two options, then you should put some thought into how to eliminate redundancies and avoid multiple staff members answering the same query. Include status tracking as part of your process to make sure you’re measuring the number of queries and whether they were resolved within an acceptable time frame. If you decide to handle queries as they come up using your existing Twitter account, you will still need to get some process in place to make sure the queries go to the right person/team for resolution.

#3 No wonder you’re late. Why, this watch is exactly two days slow.
Regardless of which approach you take, make sure you set clear expectation with your customers. Clarify in your Twitter account description as to what type of inquiries you will accept through the given account and when they can expect a response. If it’s an urgent inquiry, provide them with clear instructions on your escalation process. Don’t assume your customer has the same definition of  a “reasonable” response time. Your turnaround time may be 48hrs but if the customer assumes it’s 24hrs, don’t be surprised if you  find angry tweets about your company’s unresponsive customer support, the very next day.

#4 Everything’s got a moral, if only you can find it.
One often overlooked item in the broadly prevalent social media mania is the all-important human resource question. Many organizations underestimate the time and effort needed to effectively manage and respond to queries through social channels, so the key is to leverage the existing organizational synergies where ever possible. Despite all good intentions, if you set up a Twitter support channel but don’t have the staff to handle queries in a timely manner, you may find yourself doing more harm or good. One way to handle this with a limited staff is to incorporate Twitter queries into your existing support processes. Assign queries from this new channel to your existing support staff and if you have some social media specialists managing your account, make sure they know where to route the queries internally. While, you will have to provide the jnitial training and set up the   processes, but it will allow you to take advantage of pre-existing efficiencies and also give you some time to map out your plan for meeting potential increase in queries from this new channel.

#5  …But if I’m not the same, the next question is ‘Who in the world am I?
Last but not the least, the question to consider is whether the Twitter platform can scale with your needs. Using the Twitter platform as a supplementary promotional or sales channel is not the same as using it as a customer support channel, since latter often involves dissatisfied customers. I am sure you’re very familiar with the infamous Twitter Fail Whale and Twitter’s “unscheduled” down times.  So if you decide to use Twitter as your primary support channel, always bear in mind that if the Twitter site goes down (which is always a possibility), you will have some unhappy customers who can’t get to your Twitter account to have their issues resolved so make sure you have a back up plan in case of that eventuality.There is no right or wrong answer here, the decision on whether to have your company’s customer support account on Twitter should be made based on your customer and business needs. However, defining your plan upfront will help define your staffing needs as well as routing of the queries and how they should be handled. But the bottom line is to make sure that all queries, regardless of the channel, are routed to and handled by the appropriate team/s within a reasonable time frame.