Posted February 15, 2011 8:30 pm by with 2 comments

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The answer to a customer service question should always be accurate, as simple as possible while still covering the problem completely and it should arrive in a timely manner.

For most companies, this means running customer service phone lines or responding to email, but some intrepid explorers are giving Twitter a whirl. It’s a logical step, seeing as how people love to use Twitter to complain about companies, so why not use the same method to turn the consumer around?

The folks at Fortune decided it was time to put this new option to the test, so they took their problems to eight companies known to have customer service agents manning Twitter. They dealt with banks, airlines, shopping sites and even got technical assistance for their cable TV. In each case, they delivered the question by Twitter, Phone and through the company website.

Care to guess which method was most effective most of the time? It was our old friend the telephone.

Of the companies tested, only Microsoft, Rubbermaid and Comcast Cable were able to completely solve the problem by Twitter but it wasn’t a short process. It took Comcast twenty minutes and several replies before the rep offered to refresh the box. Seven minutes into a phone call, the reporter got the same result and it took only five minutes when he connected through online chat.

What’s clear from their first hand testing is that poor customer service often stems from a failure to communicate and that’s hard to get around when you only have 140 characters. Simple answers and answers that can be solved through a forwarded link, are really the only kinds of customer service problems Twitter is equipped to deal with. Anything more complicated and the required amount of back and forth posting is simply too great.

Now if you’re thinking, not my end of the company, doesn’t matter. Think again. Poor customer service can undermine everything a good marketer puts out there and it can happen in a flash. We’ve talked about this before and it can’t be emphasized enough. Acquiring a new customer is hard work, keeping that customer is even harder, especially if you have the rest of the company working against you.

As a marketer, you may not be directly responsible for customer service issues, but you should still make it part of your routine to scan social media for problems. Sending a “how can I help you” tweet to an unhappy customer might be all that’s needed to prevent a public blowup. Just make sure that you actually do help them once they contact you or you’ll be compounding the problem.

The other thing we can take away from Fortune’s test is that social media isn’t the solution for everything. Yes, it feels like it’s the key cog in the works these days, but there’s still no substitute for talking to an actual human. Don’t let your social media drive keep you from practicing tried and true marketing and customer service techniques.

Now, let me get that door for you and if you need a place to stay, I can recommend a great hotel where they give you a hot, chocolate chip cookie when you check-in.

  • Gary

    The two biggest cell phone Carriers in my country are always in constant competition. Both carriers are good with extra minute bonuses every week, special family plans, daily deals on texting and so forth. But the one thing that makes a big difference between these two carriers is customer service. Carrier A has an outstanding customer service where they are always helping their clients with absolutely any issue that presents, whereas Carrie B gives the impression that they do not want to manage customer complaints and take too long to help the customers. Carrier A even has a facebook page and they use it to announce any events or special free-time talking minutes that can be of interest to their customers. They also deal with complaints in their facebook page. They are good at responding quickly and not only that, but they also fix the problem in short time. Good customer service has given Carrier A a good market positioning and has allowed the company to be more profitable. Carrier B will always be second as long as they provide their customers with a bad customer service.

  • I had never thought of using Twitter as a mechanism of support. Very interesting concept / idea.