Twitter Customer Support The Right (And Wrong) Way

Twitter can be a great way to offer service and support at minimal cost for companies. But if the process goes wrong, the outcome often isn't pretty.

I'm spending part of this week at the Genesys G-Force 2010 conference in Melbourne, which is where big companies get together to discuss how they can set up effective customer service strategies. Traditionally this event is all about call centres, but this year the big new theme is around social networking, and how that can be used to resolve problems in a way that's efficient (good for the customer) and cheap (good for the shareholders).

Twitter ranks pretty highly in these conversations. Genesys' own research amongst its customer base suggests that 38% of people want customer service via Twitter. I am absolutely one of those people, but my experiences of Twitter customer service have been varied, particularly when a company aims for proactive service.

Having someone manning a Twitter account to answer simple questions is definitely helpful. When I was shifting over to Next G earlier this year, Telstra's Twitter support channel offered relevant answers, which was a big improvement on its initial format. But that involved me asking a specific question. When someone is monitoring Twitter for company mentions, notices that there's a potential problem and tries to resolve it online, the process needs to be particularly well managed.

I've had both good and bad experiences with this involving security companies. Earlier this year, I was testing BitDefender, and found that its anti-phishing features caused massive stability problems with Firefox. I mentioned this on Twitter, and got a response. But it was more than a day later, and it wasn't much help:

@gusworldau Having problems? Drop us a line through [email protected] and we'll make sure you get the support you need.

If I'm on Twitter, being asked to switch to an entirely different channel is not helpful. As Genesys VP Eric Tamblyn put it today: "That's really not what the customer was expecting, and it's not great service for the customer." Quite.

But the real problem was that when I did send an email, the response just said "Yeah, that doesn't work properly, we don't work well with Firefox". Far from "getting me the support I needed", it confirmed the product wasn't up to scratch. BitDefender was removed from my machine not long afterwards.

I'd shifted to BitDefender after giving up on Norton 2010. While that product had even more severe problems, Symantec handled the whole process much better. I mentioned in a tweet a very odd message "Symantec Service Framework stopped working and was closed."

One of Symantec's Twitter accounts responded within minutes, asking me which product and OS I'd had problems with. It also copied in a second account to ensure the right person was addressing my questions.

That second user advised me that the error indicated "an unrecoverable issue", and that I'd need to blitz the software from my machine and reinstall it (complete with a link to how to do that). As I'd already had other issues with Norton 2010 (it doesn't get on with Handbrake for starters), I replied that I'd probably uninstall it altogether and try something else.

The Norton Twitter account made a brief attempt to persuade me otherwise, but didn't go overboard. When it was clear that I wasn't going to be sticking with the product, a gracious offer to refund the remainder of my subscription was made.

While the problem wasn't solved, I ended up feeling much more positively towards Symantec than I would have otherwise. Twitter had proved a useful customer service medium, which goes to show the technology can be used that way: the company using it just has to make sure its staff have a clue.

Has Twitter helped you get better customer service? Tell us (and tell us why) in the comments.


Comments

    We provide support using Twitter for Carbonite. If the question looks complicated I usually take it off-line and DM the person. I don't think its ideal for complex answers. Facebook would be better.

    Not quite, expecting real support from Twitter alone is stupid.

    For simple queries like "What's your opening hours?" or basic sales/rates info then you can expect to get the answer without switching channels.

    However, for proper in-depth support, you usually need to identify your account/user/product, and that you're the authorized person. Using an inherently public system like twitter for this is beyond stupid.

    Also, Twitter does not integrate with ticket management systems very well, and has the expectation that an account is used by a single person at a time. Until Twitter is fundamentally changed, it simply won't be a good channel for getting in-depth help.

    You should expect to change channels to get proper in-depth support on a fault. For generic info, then the Twitter contacts should be able to respond directly (And swiftly).

    You do need to go through proper channels to get support. Companies can't just have tech support sitting around on twitter all day. A lot of the time the marketing department will handle twitter. That's just the way it is.

    Switching to email is fine. Everyone understands email if they were asking to switch to something obscure then it would be bad CS.

      I'd agree to some extent with complex solutions (though even then you could tweet links, as Symantec did). But if the answer is "sorry, no fix" - which it was for BitDefender - that's conveyed over Twitter quite easily, I'd say.

    I've had great service from Vodafone (@vodafoneau_help). Admittedly it was to fix a screw up made by one of their stores, but they immediately asked me to DM my number etc, looked at my account, and fixed my issue. Much easier than returning to the store or waiting on hold on the phone.

    I had an odd encounter with Harvey Norman's twitter. I ordered a samsung telly back in May, and it kept getting delayed and delayed. One day, after another call to the store where the response was 'we've heard nothing from samsung' I jumped on twitter and bitched about samsung not giving either their customers or retailers like HN any information.

    Within about 15 minutes the HN account was asking how they could help, so I gave a brief outline of my situation and said I just want to know some info about my telly. They asked me to DM invoice details, but by this stage I was feeling very wary so I just told 'em the store and the model of my television.

    They got onto the franchisee of the store, who in turn called me the next morning (a Saturday; they got my name from my twitter account) and ever since then they treated me fantastically. It was at the same time a very gratifying customer service experience but also a very odd 'how much do they really know about me' kind of experience.

    Hello Angus,

    My name is Jason and I work with BitDefender. I'm not the one who replied to your message (likely another member of our staff), however; when a problem arises, we often have to employ email as a communication tool.

    As you can imagine, technical issues with various computers (where there are multiple OS configurations, browser versions and so on) can get very involved and complicated; and are too detailed to handle in the 140 character limitation that Twitter represents.

    So, even though it would be great to keep the communication on one medium, switching to email allow us to more adequately diagnose and troubleshoot the issue.

    Also, for us, emails can easily be handled internally between departments. Not *everyone* in our global company is on Twitter. :)

    I apologize that you didn't get an adequate resolution to your problem. Rest assured that we're following up with our technical support team to raise the level of customer service given to our users and customers.

    -Jason

    Optus uses Twitter very effectively and gives great service - I had a problem that someone in a franchise store could not fix adequately yet the social media team got it sorted. They have definitely increased my loyalty (even though they definitely dont have the best coverage).

    Am I alone in thinking that twitter is stupid, at least for customer service? How is it any better than email or live chat?

    The myki Twitter is actually pretty good. I had a problem with my card and they asked me a few questions to find out what I'd done. Turns out I needed a positive balance to use my pass and I'd gone into a negative value because I travelled in Z2 when I only have a Z1 myki pass. Very helpful.

      Yes, myki also responded very promptly when I had a Myki issue today -- points for that.

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