social mediaNot long ago our Executive Vice President of Global Sales, Tom Eggemeier, posted a blog in response to a Time magazine article predicting a sea of change in customer service strategy this year. Tom postulated that while customer service will become more important, it’s not that companies have ignored its importance in the past. It’s just difficult to make gains in this arena… very difficult.

Of the myriad channels for customer service, Twitter is probably the most difficult to tackle efficiently – consider this recent social customer service project that showed top brands responding less than 14 percent of the time. One of my favorite studies on social customer service comes from research website Software Advice.com. They sent 280 tweets in 30 days to 14 top consumer brands. Their team analyzed how long it took for the companies to respond when they did reply, as well as their total response percentage.

It’s impossible to expect companies respond to every tweet, especially considering some receive thousands of mentions per day. So their analysts specifically crafted questions that should receive a response, according to social customer service best practices. These fell into one of five buckets: urgent, positive, negative, FAQ or technical (requiring more than one tweet to respond).

From the project, they came up with several key takeaways. These included:

•    Respond Quickly, or Not at All: Several times during the experiment, a brand would take more than a day to respond to a message on Twitter. This is basically the same as not responding at all. To avoid an extended delay, companies should ensure their response policy requires agents to send a placeholder response if they don’t know the answer right away. Something like “@customername I am looking into this for you now. Sorry for the delay!”

•    Don’t Work in Operational Social Silos: Often times a positive customer-brand interaction can be re-used for marketing purposes. Think of it like a testimonial. In the credit card matchup in the race, MasterCard earned special recognition by capitalizing on an opportunity to market a Twitter customer service experience. When one of the participants asked whether the credit card is accepted globally, the MasterCard team responded and re-tweeted her message.

•    Really Answer Their Question… Really: One huge disappointment during the race was the reoccurring experience of not really getting our problem solved with the tweet provided. They would provide a link that still required digging around, or in one instance, just told us to call the local store. Understandably, 140 characters are limiting. But you can always break the conversation into several interactions.

•    Prioritize Messages with High Intent: Many of the messages we sent purposefully contained high intent trigger words. This included things like “thank you,” “mad,” “thinking of switching,” “buying,” etc. In a few instances the brands responded immediately, but more often than not there was no one on the other end of the line, if you will.

•    Don’t be a Robot: Twitter is for socializing. It’s a place to have real conversations with real people. During the race, we experienced several interactions that were extremely robotic, one-sentence answers that marginally solved the problem. Don’t copy and paste answers from a script, or your FAQ page. Be personable.

Overall, I was surprised by the lack of response. I assumed if anyone had a handle on efficient social customer service, it would be McDonalds, Coca-Cola, Walmart or any one of participants featured in the experiment. These results definitely indicate the need for an integrated social customer service strategy. If you have a deployed strategy, what are the things that seem to be working well and what if anything is more of a challenge. Let us know, comments welcome!

To learn more about social customer service, download our white paper Best Practices for Integrating Social Media and Customer Service.