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Twitter customer service should not be lipstick on a pig

1-mayihelp-150x120Many major brands now use Twitter as a channel for customer support. The transparency of Twitter means that you are either there, engaging and helping users find answers and (hopefully) satisfaction. Or you run the risk of validating people’s complaints about your products and brands simply by lack of involvement.

A good analogy for the use of Twitter for customer service is one I’ve employed before and will do so again now. Let’s say you are out somewhere in a mall or other social setting where there are lots of people around and you suddenly overhear two people loudly complaining about one of your products or services. I would think most of us would want to politely intervene and see if perhaps we might be able to help. Myself, I’d offer a business card with my email address and ask them to contact me so I could investigate the problem.

I said “most of us” and perhaps that’s optimistic. Maybe those of us who would be motivated to respond are the type of people who are naturally suited to social media because we thrive in those situations – not everyone wants to stick their nose in and their neck out.

Without sounding cynical, and definitely in no way trying to paint disappointed customers as children, this kind of situation is something I label as the “crying child” situation. The parent certainly wants to resolve the issue which is upsetting the kid, but they are also embarrassed by the disturbance and that enhances their desire to fix the problem.

This same thing happens on Twitter where you may have people loudly and sometimes passionately complaining about a product or service experience – it happens countless times every day.

The first thing most social media support people do is make an enthusiastic offer to help and then invite you to follow them so you can continue the discussion in DM. This is the equivalent of taking your wailing child to the bathroom or for a walk in the parking lot – the initial concern being to reduce the disturbance. At least that’s how it can be perceived if your social media support efforts don’t have any real follow through.

I’m not questioning the desire or sincerity of those front line agents on Twitter who jump into the breech and try to help customers find answers and resolutions. However, I am going to make the case that the very passion and enthusiasm these people have, is most definitely a problem if the corporation they work for doesn’t share it.

Customer support (as currently implemented by most companies) via a channel such as Twitter is a façade. There’s very little chance at all that a CS agent there will be able to do anything more than give you an email address or a phone number to call or perhaps forward an email on your behalf. Far too often this is more of a PR exercise than any practical means of support for the customer.

Generally speaking, social media people are enthusiastic and amiable by nature. They really do believe that they can help someone with a problem and feel their accessibility via multiple channels such as Twitter and email is a real plus for the customer. I don’t disagree that this is all good, but it’s all bad when it’s just lipstick on a pig.

When the passion and commitment of your social media front line people is not reflected in your processes and not shared by your customer service reps or even supported by your corporate culture or values, you are shooting yourself in the head.

The objective of your customer support on social media should NOT be to remove annoyed customers to some “crying room”, but to resolve their issues to the best of your ability, thus creating more and more brand evangelists, telling others how wonderful you treat people.

If you are using social media for customer support than you must have some inkling of how powerful word-of-mouth advertising is today. So, why would you forget that halfway through the CS process and spit out a disgruntled and perhaps even vengeful customer at the other end?

You have 3 choices regarding customer support via a channel such as Twitter:

1 – Stay the hell off of it because you are in denial about the power of word-of-mouth and customer satisfaction is not your priority.

2 – Do it, but make sure you beat most of the enthusiasm and idealism out of your social media CS people so that they don’t create false expectations. Thus, making you look even worse regarding customer service than you do already.

3 – Make fundamental changes to your corporate culture, put the emphasis on building and maintaining customer relationships (rather than moving boxes), fix broken policies, procedures, knock down the silos and be, rather than just do social.

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