12 tips for using Twitter as a customer service tool

Customers are tweet grievances and questions constantly. Are you listening—or responding? Here’s how to do it the right way.

A number of brands are using Twitter as a customer service tool.

After all, customers often vent their frustrations about a company and its products on Twitter. The shrewd brands are there with a team of people to answer the queries and to help create brand loyalty.

In some cases, companies use it as a cost-cutting exercise with queries handled faster online and calls deflected from customer service numbers and other costly channels.

Here are a number of ways and examples to improve your customer service efforts on Twitter:

1. Use apps such as TweetDeck

If you’re going to understand your customers, you will need to see what they’re talking about online. And to get a clear picture of that conversation, you will need monitoring tools. One of the most popular one is TweetDeck, which lets you view numerous streams at once. By typing in your company name, you can see the mentions, links, and comments about your business. There are many other third-party apps and analytics out there so try them out and see what fits best.

RELATED: 20 free and extremely useful social media monitoring tools

2. Respond in speedy fashion

This is a simple but effective way to build trust and provide a positive experience. If you see somebody asking a question, don’t leave it until tomorrow. Respond as soon as possible. Even if you don’t have an immediate answer to their question, it’s much better to show that you’ve seen their tweet and are working to solve their problem. Plus, it’s important for people to see the activity on your account; nobody will comment or respond to a dormant account.

3. Never let customers reveal their private details

Once you reach out to a customer, make sure they don’t tweet you their private information in a public setting. The obvious examples are bank account details, passwords, and addresses, but phone numbers, account names (if it’s about an online platform), and email would also apply. Put yourself in their shoes: If you don’t feel comfortable sharing something, chances are your customers feel the same way.

4. Be polite and courteous

This might seem basic, but it bears repeating: Always make sure your tone on social media is polite, even when someone is criticizing your company. All it takes is one bad tweet to tarnish your reputation so make sure you’re taking the high ground when dealing with complaints.

If you’re getting heated up, step away from the computer and take a few minutes to regroup and gather your thoughts before replying.

5. Place your Twitter handle in prominent locations

If you use Twitter for customer service, direct people to your handle. Your website is an obvious place to highlight this, but use your other social media channels and emails to tell me people about it, as well. Customers need to be aware of your Twitter handle if you want them to tweet at you, so don’t neglect to promote it.

6. Create a separate customer service Twitter account

If you’re a bigger company that’s getting a lot of mentions and comments, it’s probably best to create two separate accounts to make things more manageable. This way, you’ll be able to have one platform for dealing with queries and questions, and another to deal with other topics (including promoting your customer service Twitter handle).

7. Personalize the experience

Too often, companies are faceless corporate identities on social media. If you make things a little more human, it can have a positive effect. A good way is to put the first name at the end of said tweets so people know there’s a person behind the response. If you wanted to take things a step further, you could include your personal Twitter handle instead of a name at the end of a tweet, or you could place the handles of the people who manager your company’s account in the bio.

RELATED: 10 amusing Twitter bios to inspire you

8. Create an FAQ from common questions

If you’re receiving a number of queries and questions, at least a few of the same or similar requests will appear regularly. If that’s the case, instead of answering the same question again and again, create a frequently asked questions (FAQ) page that answers them. Most people will look through your website before seeking information. An FAQ will free up time for you to focus on the uncommon questions.

9. Know when to move problems on

Sometimes, it’s impossible to solve a problem on Twitter. When that happens, direct customers to an email account or phone number to rectify the problem. Don’t try to solve a problem in 140 characters if it requires far more than that.

10. Know when to use direct message

If a problem can’t be resolved in one or two tweets, or if it gets particularly heated or involves personal information, make it a private conversation by sending a direct message (DM) to the other party involved. Remember, you can only send a direct message to someone who follows you, and you can only receive direct messages from people whom you follow.

Word of warning: Make sure you don’t accidentally tweet (to all of your followers) a direct message. Make this mistake has led to at least one PR meltdown.

11. State when you’re open

Unless you’re a massive company with offices in different parts of the world, chances are you’re only going to monitor your Twitter account during business hours. If so, name those times on your Twitter bio to avoid confusion.

Also, make sure you include the time zone; you might have customers from abroad trying to reach you.

12. Follow up

Something brands forget that when the problem is solved, there are still opportunities to interact with people. If you’ve solved a problem or redirected someone to another area, make a note of their username and a week later, send them a tweet to see how things are going. It’s the little things that will endear you to your fan base and get you good publicity sooner or later.

To see 10 companies that are doing customer service on Twitter well, visit the blog Simply Zesty.

Niall Harbison and Lauren Fisher are the founders of Simply Zesty, where a version of this story first appeared.

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