Short and sweet

Short and sweet
Twitter is limiting, but customer service is still possible in the channel.

Twitter is limiting, but customer service is still possible in the channel. 

It was only a few short years ago that Kiwi companies flocked to Twitter on the advice of social media ‘gurus’, who screamed and cried and clutched at themselves as they preached the gospel of how essential it was for brands to have a presence there. Twitter was the next Facebook, they said, and if you don’t get with the times now, your customers will leave you behind. Everyone who was anyone in business quickly set up a Twitter account and employed a Bright Young Thing to put out a tweet or two in between their morning latte and their afternoon muffin.

However, new statistics claim that businesses are tiring of social media and simply don’t have time for it.

A couple of years ago in another journalistic guise, I questioned the must-do attitude towards some social media platforms for certain brands, positing that it would turn marketers into little more than customer service reps. For some brands (think Rose & Thorne) it makes total sense to be active on social media. For others (think power companies and banks) it can be a can-of-worms nightmare of the highest order.

Consumers, now used to social media, have gotten lazy and expect companies to solve their issues (my internet’s down, you stuffed up on my bill, there’s no hot water, my phone doesn’t work) simply by posting a poorly written message on social media. Some of the communications are so appalling that it’s hard to understand what the illiterate individual is trying to actually say. But I digress.

So how do you circumvent this and continue to use social media while managing the customer service aspect (and expectations)?

Personally I’d say avoid customer service via social media altogether, but for brands who are already there, that’s not realistic. However, one brand in the US has managed to maximise its customer service on Twitter by linking it up with YouTube.

Eyewear company Warby Parker gets loads of questions on Twitter, and many of the answers simply couldn’t be adequately given within the platform’s 140-character limit.

The company’s social media team started making videos of themselves answering the Twitter questions and then tweeting the link as a reply to the customer.

warby parker social media videos

Warby Parker started doing this as they’d noticed fewer calls to their freephone number and more tweets. The company got an odd and unexpected benefit: tweets with videos typically got 65 times more retweets than any other company tweet.

Co-founder Dave Gilboa said it had been “a win-win” in thinking about customer service as a valid marketing channel.

So who in New Zealand is ‘doing’ customer service on Twitter and making a good fist of it?

To mention a few, 2degrees (@2degreesmobile) and Orcon (@Orcon) are two high on the list, with Orcon head of brand and comms Quentin Reade active in answering customers’ questions. orcon is a twitter success story

Out of all the banks, Kiwibank seems to be making a good fist of it. And TUANZ chief executive officer Paul Brislen set the tone at Vodafone, where he made an art form out of it in his previous role at the telco.

Brislen says social media and Twitter in particular is all about reducing the gap between the customer and CEO.

“In the old days you’d phone the company, get angry, write a letter, wait for weeks, write a follow-up, finally you’d get so angry you’d write to the CEO who might respond,” Brislen says.

“All that’s gone out the window thanks to Twitter. Best practice is to get a response in minutes, not weeks, and quite often I’ll see people tweeting about a company while they’re on hold waiting for customer service to respond.

“It’s put the communication power back in the hands of the customer, which is great news for those of us who buy stuff.”

Brislen says now he only deals with companies he can contact via Twitter, wherever possible.

“It’s amazing which companies are there and which are not.”

So what are the rules?

Respond quickly, that’s the biggest one. Also, provide recommendations, with relevant links, and don’t hesitate to ask to shift the conversation to another channel if 140 characters proves too hard to communicate.

But the golden rule is, never ever forget the very public nature of Twitter.

(And check out Warby Parker, for tips.)