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Twitter and Customer Care: Examples of Style

  |  July 18, 2012   |  Comments

How TechSmith, Time Warner Cable, and US Airways are using Twitter to show customers how and when they can expect to reach them.

Twitter is fast becoming (or, depending on your age or lifestyle, has been for years) a primary input to customer care. In a recent study, the expectation is that social media (aka, Twitter, Facebook, and support forums) will soon be the primary mode of communication - surpassing even the phone - between business and customers. Inside of five years, social media will account for 60 percent of the interactions, and customer care will easily represent the major part of this. But that's out in front of us, not right now, and in the words of Yogi Berra, "It is difficult to make predictions, especially about the future." So let's look at "right now," and at some specific examples of how businesses are using Twitter for customer care.

Over the past 30 days I've kept track of my own use of Twitter, and that of people nearby: as someone whose business depends in part on connecting future trends to present reality with strategic bridges, it's good to stop every once in a while and check in. It's easy to get "out there" in the world of social, and reality isn't always what one thinks it is.

The first of the cases involves my experience with TechSmith and its product Camtasia, software that is used to record (among other things) slide presentations. I am working on a new video book, and the publisher provided Camtasia. I had to install the software, and ran into an issue with the registration key not being accepted. I clicked "help," looked at the available support options, and then dialed the number shown. "We're sorry but our offices are closed…"

And so, violating my own suggested best practices (I do that a lot), at 9:17 p.m. I pushed a snarky post onto Twitter. Recall the USAF/Altimeter Response Matrix: legitimate questions deserve answers; wanna-be comics and brand detractors do not. Wow! Less than five minutes later Camtasia Product Manager Shane Lovellette posted back, offering to help. Note to self: never be a jerk online, for a whole bunch of reasons beginning with the fact that you will feel even worse when the firm you're poking at turns out to be really helpful! I quickly apologized.

Over the next few days (one of the coolest things about Twitter is that you can resolve issues at your own pace) Shane and the support team at TechSmith (@TechSmith) helped me resolve the issue. Turns out that it was my error in the first place: I was using a Version 7 key with Version 8, which had been released between the time the publisher provided the original key and the time I installed it. It was an excellent customer support experience, and my view of the TechSmith/Camtasia brand climbed as a direct result.

So what did we learn here? First, whether a brand or a customer, keep posts professional. We're way past the "cool" factor associated with the use of Twitter and let's face it: no one likes being the object of a jab. It's a lot like what we taught in manners' class: if you want help, try starting your request with "Please." Second, if you're a business, make sure that your Twitter handle is listed with your support and contact options! It turns out that TechSmith was way more attentive than appeared, and had more support options than were listed. It should get credit for that.

Twitter support can have "open hours," too, so list those if they apply. For example, the firm I work for provides software that powers social customer support: some of the brands using my firm operate 24/7 in call centers around the world. Others operate weekdays only, or Monday through Saturday. Some are open "8 to 5" and others offer 6 a.m. to 11 p.m., U.S. time zones. Other than "not responding," there is no "wrong answer," so plan and staff for whatever hours make sense given your business and given the level of support you're able to provide.

Why does this matter? I'm glad you asked. Two more recent support events of my own serve as illustration. In one case, I had a service warning (security issue) on our home network. I pinged Time Warner Cable (@TWCableHelp) (a customer of my firm) at 10:45 p.m. One minute later I had a response, and in less than 10 minutes - after several posts back and forth with the same agent my question was resolved. Then, separately, on the Fourth of July I got this idea: if it's Independence Day, why am I still watching commercials? I'd been on the road the day before, and coming back to Austin through Phoenix I saw a DISH Hopper advertisement in the airport. So, I posted to DISH (@DISH_Answers) (also a customer of my firm) while sitting by the pool using my phone: a few back-and-forths (Twitter is real time, after all) and like magic, my Hopper upgrade was scheduled. Importantly, the very last step involved a bunch of options: days, times, "will this date work…or how about that one?" so the social customer care agent offered to call me. I said "sure" and a minute later my phone rang and we worked out a date. That done, I went back to my cocktail and dove into the pool. BTW, Hopper was successfully installed, as scheduled.

What did we learn here? First, Twitter is a real-time but not necessarily synchronous channel. Twitter conversations move at the speed of the customer. Sometimes it's back and forth, and so being able to work with the same agent is important. Second, customers can "pause" the conversation: publish a post on Twitter, go to work, come home, and check for a response. It's important that your social response workflow accounts for this, for example, by moving posts to available agents when the initial agent is no longer online. It's the speed of the customer that should be setting the pace, and for both DISH and Time Warner Cable that's exactly the case. Finally, it's not just social media; it's out-of-home advertising (I saw an ad in the airport, which for me is more like "in-home"), it's social media (most of these interactions played out over Twitter), and it's phones (the DISH social care agent called me when the phone was the appropriate channel).

That last point, it's not all about social, is worth noting. My wife, who manages the online and social presence for singer-songwriter Jerry Jeff Walker, was working with QuickBooks and had a support issue. Intuit is well-known for being on top of social, so I suggested that she use Twitter. At 6 p.m. on June 29 (a Friday) I contacted Intuit (@Intuit) and asked how to get help via Twitter. At 8:45 a.m. on July 2 (the following Monday) I got a note back directing my wife to @IntuitPayroll. Ultimately my wife chose to use the phone.

What did we learn here? First, yes, some customers still prefer to call. Second, Intuit publishes its support hours, so I knew I probably wouldn't hear back until Monday: Intuit offers support Monday through Friday, 5 a.m. to 6 p.m. PST. That is perfectly OK, in that the support hours are listed on the site (tip: they should also be in the Twitter profile). Customers often "expect" instant help, day or night, and I am no exception. But that doesn't mean that you have to offer instant help, day or night. You have to satisfy your customers, and that means balancing things like support demands with the cost of that support, etc. Clear communication and consistent follow-through are key.

Finally, consider this interaction with US Airways just ahead of the Fourth of July holiday. I was in Salt Lake City, and was trying to check in using my phone. I completed the check-in, but could neither print nor request by email my boarding passes. I went to Twitter, where I saw this:

"Have a complaint/compliment to share with us? Go to usairways.com/feedback so we can follow-up directly. We aren't able to provide a proper response on Twitter."

"Oh jeez," I thought, "get a calendar with the year on it, please!" There's that snarky thing creeping up again…so I took a breath, and at 6:57 p.m. posted to US Airways' Twitter page: "I can't get a boarding pass online? Still have to go to kiosk after online check in?" To my amazement 10 minutes later I got a post back from US Airways saying, "Please DM and we'll look into this for you." And someone did. Ultimately, I posted the following:

"Thank you. You know, you undersell your Twitter capability: it is actually very good. I'd like to highlight this in my next ClickZ column."

Look at this conversation: from irritated customer to brand promoter in what, 15 minutes?

What did we learn here? First, you can build brand promoters quickly through great customer care experiences. Assuming a typical cost load for a social support agent, moving me to "promoter" cost US Airways about $10. I even posted back after landing in Austin, letting it know I had a very pleasant flight home. The social agent who handled my initial question made a positive contribution to the brand value of US Airways. The airline needs to update its message on Twitter and start earning "valuable miles" of its own.

In summary, here are the key takeaways:

  1. Participate. Each of the above illustrates the basic value of participation on the social web. None of these are "outbound marketing" examples, yet all of them show the ways in which Twitter drives brand value. Marketers, take note: customer care is your California.
  2. Have a strategy. Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., or 24/7? It's up to you. We all know where we're heading, so right now is a great time to develop a social media response program that starts you down the path.
  3. Have a multi-channel response strategy. It's not just Twitter: it's social + phone + email + chat + SMS +… You need to be where your customers are, using the channels that they're most likely to have handy when they need help. Take a tip from blogger Jeff Jarvis: go to your customers.

Above all, make sure you're telling your customers how and when they can expect to reach you. Take credit for what you do well, and measure and improve on the things you don't. The great thing about social is that it's being embraced by customers, and you can directly measure your performance and the value created as a result.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Dave Evans

Dave is the VP of social strategy at Lithium. Based in Austin, Dave is also the author of best-selling "Social Media Marketing: An Hour a Day," as well as "Social Media Marketing: The Next Generation of Business Engagement." Dave is a regular columnist for ClickZ, a frequent keynoter, and leads social technology and measurement workshops with the American Marketing Association as well as Social Media Executive Seminars, a C-level business training provider.

Dave has worked in social technology consulting and development around the world: with India's Publicis|2020media and its clients including the Bengaluru International Airport, Intel, Dell, United Brands, and Pepsico and with Austin's FG SQUARED and GSD&M| IdeaCity and clients including PGi, Southwest Airlines, AARP, Wal-Mart, and the PGA TOUR. Dave serves on the advisory boards for social technology startups including Palo Alto-based Friend2Friend and Mountain View-based Netbase and iGoals.

Prior, Dave was a co-founder of social customer care technology provider Social Dynamx, a product manager with Progressive Insurance, and a systems analyst with NASA| Jet Propulsion Labs. Dave co-founded Digital Voodoo, a web technology consultancy, in 1994. Dave holds a BS in physics and mathematics from the State University of New York/ Brockport and has served on the Advisory Board for ad:tech and the Measurement and Metrics Council with WOMMA.

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