Does Twitter Work for Customer Service?

Does Twitter actually work for customer service? Certainly, sometimes it works beautifully. Ben Schlappig, in How to Complain to Airlines and Hotels – and Get Compensated, notes that he received a phone call from a hotel's General Manager within half an hour of tweeting about an issue he had at the hotel, and has had many other instances of a quick customer service response after tweeting. 

Similarly, Frequently Flying tweeted and blogged today about his recent success in getting his Hilton HHonors promo honored, after tweeting @HiltonHHonors about it; this after getting nowhere on a phone call to a customer service representative. I want to just point out though, via the red highlighted sections, that the critical touchpoints were actually by phone. I wholly agree with this approach, assuming the customer is on board with it. Especially for more involved issues, why have a flurry of 140 character messages going back and forth when you could just talk through it by phone?

Does Twitter Work For Customer Service? It did for Frequently Flying with Hilton HHonors


Seeing his tweet prompted me to log in to my American Express Membership Rewards account to check up on an issue I thought had been resolved over Twitter almost 2 weeks ago. I had noticed that I was missing 55K Membership Rewards points that were to have posted to my account after meeting a minimum spend requirement. Initially, on October 10, I called Membership Rewards Customer Service and experienced a long hold time, followed by an agent that wasn't helpful. So I tweeted out of frustration, mentioning @AmericanExpress, and they proactively reached out based on that tweet to suggest contacting @AskAmex:

Does Twitter Work for Customer Service? AMEX responded to a mention


I then tweeted @AskAmex and asked them to follow me, so I could direct message them about the points issue. Within a few minutes, @AskAmex was following and one of the team members, Rachel, asked me to provide the relevant info so she could help:

Does Twitter Work For Customer Service? AskAmex Tweet Offering to Help


Rachel was great at keeping me posted about whom she was contacting and about how long I should expect to wait for another update:

Does Twitter Work For Customer Service? AskAmex's Rachel kept me posted on issue resolution


She confirmed the bonus, and noted that it could take up to 5 business days from that day, October 10, until the points were deposited in my Membership Rewards account:

Does Twitter Work For Customer Service? AskAmex Noted May Take 5 Business Days for Points to Appear



Fine. While I would naturally have preferred to get the points actually into my account that day, as occurred with Frequently Flying, 5 business days in this instance wasn't a big deal, and I figured the issue was resolved and I'd have the points by October 17 at the latest.

Well, unfortunately not. Prompted by Frequently Flying's tweet about Hilton HHonors, I checked my AMEX Membership Rewards account today, 9 business days after my earlier exchange with @AskAmex (which assured me the points would post no later than 5 business days later) and the points were still not there in my account. 

So it's back to the drawing board: I again tweeted, asked for @AskAmex to follow (they only follow for purposes of DM), got a different team member, and restarted the process. Only this time, @AskAmex wasn't nearly as helpful. After providing all the information, the new team member (not Rachel) passed the buck by saying that Rachel was out until Sunday:

Does Twitter Work for Customer Service? AskAmex agent passes the buck

I then forwarded Rachel's previous messages, confirming the bonus would post no later than Oct. 17, and provided the name of the contact whom Rachel had checked with. There was no response for over an hour, then this message, noting that the contact was out today and the other agent would get back to me Sunday:

Does Twitter Work For Customer Service? Not this time


Hmm, so there's really no one at Amex other than these two that can resolve this, and both are out today? So, my experience has been decidedly mixed. At the risk of stating the obvious, here's what I would advise organizations using Twitter as a customer service channel:

  • It's understandable for a large organization to have a Twitter customer service team, with multiple agents. But no one wants to have to start from scratch if their issue remains beyond the shift of a given agent. Either give all agents viewing access to each others' messages, or ensure that each team member provides enough detail in the CRM system so another agent can pick the issue up seamlessly.
  • A prompt response to an inquiry is great, but there needs to be follow-through. If a promise is made that something will be done by a certain time or date, have the agent set a reminder to double check and communicate with the customer.
  • Empower Twitter customer service agents (and non-Twitter ones, for that matter!) to fix the most common customer complaints (you are tracking these, right?) and provide compensation up to a certain amount for verifiable problems.
  • Along the lines of the above, ensure that the managers and decision makers who are responsible for the most frequently voiced customer complaints have mandatory stints responding to customer service tweets. Putting them on the “front lines” is the best way to get them to really listen to customers. A great example of this is Trader Joe's: all managers, including the CEO, spend some time every year working in the retail stores, interacting directly with customers.
  • If you have the customer's phone number (as was the case with Hilton HHonors and Frequently Flying) pick up the phone! Twitter can be convenient, but personal connections go much farther in building customer loyalty and creating a positive, memorable “moment of truth.”

What have your Twitter customer experiences been, good and not so good? Would love to hear them in the comments.

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