Share By Sachin Shenolikar
Canceled. The finality implied by the word on the departure board next to your flight home is usually anything but.
The frustration mounts as the airline customer service rep directs you to the back of the line, where you wait — only to find out that the next flight out isn’t until the following day. After rebooking , you have nothing to look forward to but another line at the rental car kiosk. And so on.
Yet an updated twist to the typical “Trains, Planes & Automobiles” story is possible for today’s smartphone-toting traveler. Open the Twitter app and direct your anger at the airline’s handle in 140 characters. A few minutes later, you may well get a notification that an airline rep has responded to your tweet and can help rebook you immediately. Tweet — more politely this time — at the rental company, and your car could be waiting.
This is how customer service works in the social media era.
Twitter has become a reliable way for people to resolve issues efficiently and rapidly in a pinch. “You can get yourself up in the queue and get taken care of by customer service much more quickly,” said Chris Shaw, a senior consultant with digital strategy agency Webbmedia.
Customer service over Twitter has come a long way in the past five years. Early adapters went by what marketing expert Rohit Bhargava calls the “single hero model:” A zealous employee who recognized Twitter’s reach and started interacting with customers.
“Because that person was passionate about it and was already trained as a customer service rep for the company, (he or she) turned into a success story that everyone else started to look at,” said Bhargava, author of Likeonomics. Perhaps the most famous of these was Frank Eliason, who in 2008 created the handle @ComcastCares, and became a trailblazer in providing one-on-one customer service over social media.
“It’s much easier on Twitter to have your comment move up the food chain at a company,” Bhargava told Real Business. “A lot of managers now are checking Twitter, so it’s not as easily masked as an 800-number call that’s recorded but never really listened to.”
“It’s much easier on Twitter to have your comment move up the food chain at a company,”
Most large companies now have teams devoted to social media. While much of the focus is on Twitter, sites such as TripAdvisor and Yelp have also helped bridge the communication gap between customers and businesses. Many brands maintain a presence on Facebook, LinkedIn and Instagram, as well, though Twitter is the medium of choice for engaging directly with customers. Customers are learning how to leverage social media to get quicker — and better — responses to their issues.
Companies are also growing their businesses by keeping a watchful eye on rivals’ social media interactions. Shaw recalls having an issue with a rental car company last year, and he tweeted that it was one of the worst customer service experiences he’d ever had. While the offending company didn’t reply, three of its competitors did. The future won’t be just about customer service, “but also marketing and acquisition of competitors’ disgruntled customers,” said Shaw.
The next time you encounter a customer service roadblock, don’t throw your hands up in frustration. Instead, look down at your phone. A quick, easy solution just might be found in the Twitterverse.
Tips for Getting Good Customer Service on Twitter
Be Nice: “If you scream and drop a lot of curse words, customer service reps tend to think you’re an over-exaggerator,” says Shaw. “Yeah, they’ll answer you because they have to, but to resolve your problem appropriately it goes a lot further to be polite.”
Be Reasonable: “Make sure [your request] is something they actually have the ability to do something about,” says Bhargava. “Sometimes you’ll see a tweet like, ‘I can’t believe my flight got canceled because there’s a tornado.’ There’s not much [customer service] can do about that.”
Watch the Time: Because many companies are new to Twitter, they may not be monitoring it 24-7. Look at their account, and if they’re only addressing issues from 9 to 5, try to get your message out during office hours. “Otherwise, you’ll have to wait until the next day and will be back in the queue, and you’re not necessarily going to get a response quickly,” says Bhargava.
Keep It Private: When you tweet a complaint, send it directly to the company (don’t put a period before the @ so all your followers will see it). This will show that your goal is to have your problem solved, and not publicly humiliate the brand. “If customers manage their social media well, be authentic and polite, and tweet directly at the brand, they will have a much better experience that way,” says Shaw.