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How Fortune 500 Companies are using Twitter for Customer Service


Written by Guest Contributor Neal Schaffer

twitter for customer service

More and more Fortune 500 companies are making their presence felt in the social media sphere, particularly on Twitter. According to a recent study conducted by the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth, 308 or 62% of the 2011 Fortune 500 companies have Twitter accounts and have tweeted in the past 30 days, representing a 2% increase since last year.

On a per-industry basis, retail, food and consumer products, financial services, utilities, computer software and office equipment, and telecoms companies constituted those with the greatest Twitter presence. Additionally, among these companies, it appears that a good number are responding to mentions of their brand or company consistently, with 103 companies (35%) consistently responding with @replies or retweets within 72 hours, and others replying more often.

While companies can benefit from Twitter, as from social media, in a variety of ways, it is clear that Twitter is becoming a popular channel for customer service. Some tend to look at using Twitter for customer service as a last resort, but there are a growing number of companies who are sharing their reasons for proactively engaging on Twitter as part of their customer service efforts.

The National Consumers League (NCL) points out several advantages of adding Twitter to a company’s Customer Service arsenal. Consumers are getting increasingly tired by customer service phone lines, as well as the music they need to endure during the wait. As an alternative to phones, Twitter is proving to be an effective and immediate means to respond to customer needs for the growing number of customers that are on Twitter.

Since Twitter is a public service, consumers’ tweets are visible to everyone with a public account on the Internet, making it a powerful megaphone for consumers. With the phenomenal growth in Internet usage in recent years, consumers have begun posting business and product reviews online as well. Through Twitter, there’s a bigger potential for thousands of users to share negative brand experiences through the viral ReTweet functionality. Naturally, this is something that companies would like to manage, if not entirely avoid. Numerous Fortune 500 companies are now assigning staff and setting-up departments to monitor dissatisfied customers in order for them to respond directly to their concerns via a designated Twitter agent. Some well-known examples of these companies are cable provider Comcast, budget airline Southwest, and Bank of America.

The NCL notes that while the quality of Twitter-based customer service varies from company to company, consumers who have tweeted about their bad experiences have, in increasing instances, received a much quicker and more competent response and follow-up on Twitter than through a traditional customer service hotline.

To give a clearer picture of how companies are utilizing Twitter for customer service, let us take a closer look at some case studies.

Frank Eliason, then Director of Digital Care at Comcast, came up with what was then a marvel idea of using Twitter to interact with customers, especially disgruntled ones, by personally tweeting back to offer them tips and suggestions on how to fix the problems they had encountered with their services. He discovered that by doing a search for the word “Comcast,” he was able to find tweeters with service complaints he could easily address. This led him to being dubbed as the most famous customer service manager in the US by Bloomberg Businessweek. ”This is just one way people have gotten to know us,” said Eliason. “It’s a little more personal. More back-and-forth discussions, and it’s less formal. And it gives immediacy to interactions.”

Southwest Airlines has been connecting with customers through social media for five years now. Christi McNeil, Southwest Airlines’ emerging media specialist, states that they make use of Twitter to give people a behind-the-scenes look at the story behind the airline, to help break news, announce promotions, to help answer concerns of customers, and to connect to them at a “deeper level.” On Twitter, they have about a million followers and get to engage in a one-to-one communication with customers. Here, tweeters get to share their personal experiences aboard their flights–and perhaps post a picture or two. Useful and helpful info, such as how to secure an aisle seat for instance, also find their way into their Twitter feeds. As such, Mashable voted them as one of the Top 40 Best Twitter Brands in 2009.

Bank of America or BA, one of the largest US banks, set-up a Twitter customer service account that is manned by six customer service representatives. It’s a highly active account, tweeting messages to target customers every few minutes, with each tweet signed by the initials of the rep who tweeted it, thereby assuring accountability. A study of BA’s Twitter presence states that customers feel taken cared of in a personal way with the speed by which a response is received, which then leads to increased loyalty. Furthermore, the report adds that the way the BA Twitter account is handled illustrates going above-and-beyond in terms of online customer service, as other queries are entertained even if they’re not directed to the account.

If the statistics released by the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth is any indication, coupled with the above-mentioned case studies, customer service through Twitter is proving to be a potent tool for reaching out to one’s customer base. If your company hasn’t begun a Twitter customer service channel, it might be the time to begin looking at implementing one.

neal schafferNeal Schaffer is an author, speaker, and social media strategy consultant, and has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg Business Week, Yahoo!, and the American Express Open Forum


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